Ibn Bajjah ابن باجة Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Yahya Ibn al-Sayegh ( Arabic أبو بكر محمد بن يحيى بن الصايغ ) (born c. 1095, , Zaragoza, Spain died 1138/39, Fès, Morocco) was an Andalusian-Arab Muslim philosopher, poet and physician who was known in the West by his Latinized name, Avempace. He is the earliest known representative in Spain of the Arabic Aristotelian-Neoplatonic philosophical tradition, and played a prominent role in introducing the ideas of Plato and Aristotle and the Islamic philosophers to the West. His main contribution to Islamic philosophy was his studies on soul, unfortunately not fully developed before his death. Building on the thought of al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajjah viewed perfection as a state in which the mind comes into contact with the Active Intellect (Divine Intellect) and becomes itself the Acquired Intellect (Intellectus Adeptus). He regarded the ability to reason as the essence of human nature, and the means by which a human being could raise himself to the Divine.
Ibn Bajjah ابن باجة Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Yahya Ibn al-Sayegh (known as Avempace, Avenpace or Aben in medieval Latin) was born in Saragossa, in what is today Spain, around 1095. His name signifies “son of the goldsmith.” Ibn Khaqan, a contemporary writer, relates that Ibn Bajjah was a student of the exact sciences and was a musician and a poet. He was also a philosopher and an apparent skeptic. He served as vizier to the amir of Murcia, before going to Valencia and then Saragossa. Among his students were Ibn al-Imam and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He is said to have rejected the Koran, to have denied the return to God, and to have regarded death as the end of existence. After the fall of Saragossa, around 1118, he went to Seville, where he wrote several treatises on logic. He then went to Xativa, where he is said to have returned tothe faith of Islam in order to save his life. Finally he retired to the Almoravid court at Fez, Morocco, where he died in 1138. In Akhbar al-hukama' (Information About Wise People), al-Qifti mentions that Ibn Bajja died from being poisoned by rival physicians.
Ibn Bajjah was the earliest known representative in Spain of the Arabic Aristotelian-Neoplatonic philosophical tradition, and played a prominent role in introducing the ideas of Plato and Aristotle and the Islamic philosophers, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (though Ibn Bajja never directly spoke of him), and al-Ghazali, to the West. His main contribution to Islamic philosophy was his ideas on soul phenomenology, unfortunately not fully developed before his death. Ibn Bajjah’s thought, particularly the idea of perfection as a state in which the mind comes into contact with the Active Intellect (Divine Intellect) and becomes itself an intellect (the Acquired Intellect, Intellectus Adeptus), influenced Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas both mention Avempace and his teaching in their works. They probably became acquainted with his thought through the works of his disciple Averroes, though certain passages in the "Contra Gentiles" suggest that Aquinas may have read Ibn Bajjah's "Valedictory Letter" firsthand.
Most of Ibn Bajjah’s writings were not completed because of his early death. His student, Ibn al-Imam, edited his teacher's works in 1135 (534 a.h.), including treatises on mathematics and medicine, commentaries on Aristotle and al-Farabi, and original philosophical treatises. The most important of these treatises are Tadbir al-mutawahhid ("The Hermit's Guide"or Management of the Solitary, French "Regime du Solitaire"), Risalat al-wada (Essay on Bidding Farewell, Valedictory Letter,cited in Latin as "Epistola de Discessu" and "Epistola Expeditionis") and Risalat al-ittisal al-'aql al faal bil-insan (Essay on the Conjunction of the Intellect with Human Beings). He commented on several of Aristotle's works, notably on the "Physics," "Meteorologica," "De Generatione et Corruptione", portions of "Historiae Animalium" and "De Partibus Animalium". Other works on philosophy included logical treatises, a work "On the Soul", , and a "Ibn Bajjah’s summaries of Aristotle on a variety of subjects have survived, most of them still in the manuscript form, in the Escorial Library.
Ibn Bajjah had a vast knowledge of the “exact sciences” of medicine, mathematics and astronomy. Even his critic, Ibn Tufayl, described him as possessing "the sharpest mind," "the soundest reasoning," and "the most valid opinion" of those who followed the first generation of Arabic thinkers in Spain. He was also a renowned poet.
Like his Eastern predecessors, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajjah viewed philosophy and the use of reason as the means by which the human intellect could reach its ideal, by becoming one with the Agent Intellect. His understanding of the human soul was based on two concepts: al-ittisal (conjunction), the state in which the human intellect comprehends the agent intellect; and al-tawahhud (solitude or union), referring to the complete oneness in spirit of those who achieve this ideal, and the isolation of the philosopher from a society which is lacking in knowledge.
Ibn Bajjah believed that the human soul developed through three stages corresponding to the lives of plants, animals, and the human mind. The plant stage represents embryonic life, when the soul receives nourishment and grows. The soul then moves on to the animal stage, the stage of sensation, movement and desire. Finally the soul acquires thought, and the capacity for rational speculation. Ibn Bajjah described the essence of human nature as 'aql (reason or intellect), which is either potential or actual. Potential intellect has the capacity to acquire its proper object, intelligible forms (as-sura al-'aqliyya); actual intellect is completely identified with its object.
To be in “conjunction” with the universals in the Agent Intellect, is to experience ultimate human happiness and to "witness" the truth. The “happy ones” are "numerically one with no difference among them in themselves whatsoever," and are only differentiated from each other by their “instruments,” or their physical bodies. The “happy ones” are incorruptible and eternal, because they are identified with intelligibles which are incorruptible and eternal, and are numerically one because they are all identified with the same intelligibles.
In al-Ittisal, Ibn Bajja compared truth, or the Active Intellect, to the light of the sun. The multitudes of the people grasp the sunlight as reflected in a mirror which catches its reflection from the water. Theorists grasp the sunlight as it is reflected in water; the philosophers grasp it in itself.
The original text of "The Hermit's Guide" is lost, but Moses of Narbonne, a Jewish writer of the fourteenth century, gave a detailed account of it. The purpose of the treatise was to show how man (the hermit) could, by the development of his own powers of mind, attain a union with the Active Intellect. Ibn Bajjah distinguished two kinds of action: animal action, which is a product of the animal soul; and human action, which is a product of free will and reflection. A man who smashes a stone because it has hurt him performs an animal action; a man who smashes the stone so that is will not injure others performs a human action. The first step in the moral progress of the hermit is to learn to be ruled by will and reason, so that his actions may all be human. Having attained this, the hermit must strive for higher perfection, so that his actions may become divine, by comprehending the spiritual forms, which ascend in increasing degrees of incorporeity from the ideas of the individual soul, through the ideas of ideas, then through abstract ideas of things, up to the Active Intellect itself, which is an emanation from God. The mind which has come into contact with the Active Intellect becomes itself an intellect, the Acquired Intellect.
A "knower," or "happy person," may exist in society in either a "virtuous city," whose members are all complete in knowledge, or a "nonvirtuous city" inhabited by the unenlightened multitudes. In a nonvirtuous city, the perfected person must live in isolation from the rest of society, because his complete knowledge makes him a "stranger" or a "weed," whose opinions are contrary to the opinions of society as a whole.
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This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.