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Ibn Bājjah


IBN BĀJJAH (d. ah 533/1139 ce), known in Arabic as Abū Bakr Muammad ibn Yayā ibn al-āʾigh and in Latin as Avempace, was the founder of Islamic metaphysics in Andalusia. Ibn Bājjah was also a poet and musician, an astronomer who dismissed the Ptolemaic epicycles, a politician, and a man of affairs. Born in Saragossa, reportedly of Jewish ancestry, he became a vizier when Saragossa fell to the Almoravids in 1110, but he was subsequently imprisoned while on an embassy to the former ruler. After his release, he avoided the Christian conquest of Saragossa by withdrawing to Valencia, only to be imprisoned for heresy at Játiva. This time Ibn Rushd's father or grandfather secured his release. He served twenty years as vizier to Yayā ibn Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn, lived in Seville and Granada, circulated to Oran, and died in Fez, reportedly poisoned.

Some thirty brief works preserve Ibn Bājjah's philosophy. Despite the distractions that, according to Ibn ufayl, prevented him from fully clearing the storehouses of his wisdom (Goodman, 1983, p. 99), Ibn Bājjah contributed three distinctive, closely related ideas to the philosophical progression from al-Fārābī to Ibn Rushd.


His theory of the soul's "conjunction" (ittiāl) with the divine (namely, the Active Intellect) explains the common goal of mysticism, philosophy, ethical self-perfection, and metaphysical quest Platonically, as the consummation of an intellectual progress by which humankind is purified of material attachments and regains its true spiritual identity. By speaking of "contact" rather than simply union, and by interposing the Active Intellect between humankind and God, Ibn Bājjah attains a balance that eluded the more "inebriated" mystics (whom he criticized for their sensuality) and avoids their twin paradoxesthat humanity's identity is lost when it is finally fulfilled and that human becomes God just when it has annihilated the self. For pantheistic oneness Ibn Bājjah substitutes at-oneness, by reading "union" cognitively, as communion. Thus the intellectuality of Ibn Bājjah's vision preserves a quasi identity for the beatified soul.


The beatified souls, which ceaselessly sanctify God, are united to the Active Intellect by their contact with it; lacking matter as a principle of individuation, they cannot be differentiated from one another. This artful application of the Neoplatonic insight that the notions of ordinary arithmetic do not apply to disembodied substances is later taken up in Ibn Rushd's mono-psychism; it is further clarified by Ibn ufayl's deployment of the Plotinian argument that the notions of identity and difference proper to the arithmetic of bodies are inapplicable to spiritual substances. Maimonides, who proudly stated that he studied under a disciple of Ibn Bājjah, treated Ibn Bājjah's approach (when properly qualified by the realization that disembodied things can still be differentiated as cause and effect) as the solution to the problem of the arithmetic of souls.


Much as Plotinus had recoiled from "this blood-drenched life," Ibn Bājjah looked to fulfillment for the individual despite rather than through the social community and its cultural traditions. In a synthesis of prophetic and ascetic withdrawal, he suggests, like al-Fārābī, that the spiritual adept find a true home beyond the very categories of this life. The gesture is completed again in Ibn ufayl's vivid contrast of the cultural confinement and symbolic opacity of legalism and ritualism with the free and individualistically responsible insight of the spirit of the "solitary."

Ibn Bājjah's philosophy contrasts sharply with his worldly life, but Ibn ufayl, the disciple who never met him, clearly paints in the lines of force that mark the powerful movement of the philosopher from revulsion with pettinesses, shams, and hypocrisies to the higher, purer realm that achieves fuller definition by the contrast.


Majid Fakhry has gathered a number of Ibn Bājjah's works in a collection, in Arabic, entitled Opera Metaphysica (Beirut, 1968). It includes, among others, the texts of The Regimen of the Solitary, The Human Goal, Farewell Epistle, and On Contact of the Intellect with Man. D. Miguel Asín Palacios has edited and translated into Spanish "Avempace botanico," Al-Andalus 5 (1940): 255299; "Tratado de Avempace sobre la union del intelecto con el hombre," Al-Andalus 7 (1942): 147; "La 'Carta de Adios' de Avempace," Al-Andalus 8 (1943): 187; and El Regimen del Solitario por Avempace (Madrid, 1946). The last of these was edited and translated by D. M. Dunlop as "Ibn Bājjah's Tadbīruʾl-Mutawaid (Rule of the Solitary)," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1945): 6181. M. S. Hasan Maʾsumi has translated into English Ibn Bājjah's ʿIlm al-nafs (Karachi, 1961). See also my English translation, with commentary, of Ibn ufayl's ayy Ibn Yaqān, 2d ed. (Los Angeles, 1983), an important work by a disciple of Ibn Bājjah.

L. E. Goodman (1987)

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