Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]

For the Week of 10/8/08

Assignment 6


Lucretius and Ibn Tufayl


C—rdoba, in Moorish Spain of the 10th and 11th centuries, was possibly the largest and most sophisticated city in the world and the largest city in Europe for most of the Middle Ages.  In this period its population was nearly 500,000.

 

 

The main mosque, the Al-jama Mosque, now known as the Mezquita (meaning ŇmosqueÓ in Spanish), was once the second or third largest in the world.  Construction started in 784 and continued until 987. In 1236 Cordoba was conquered by the Christian forces of King Ferdinand III and the mosque was turned into a church and various alterations were made over the next 300 years. 

 

Interior of the Mezquita


C—rdoba was the birthplace of Averro‘s also known as Ibn Rushd (1126-1198).

 

In Latin texts he was simply referred to as ŇThe CommentatorÓ [on Aristotle], but he is much more than just a commentator.  He was very important in the movement that merged Aristotelianism with monotheism, in his case with Islam, and his philosophical arguments were extremely important in the West when they got around to merging Aristotle with Christianity. 

He proposed that God thinking of himself is His relationship to the world. [Think about this statement.]

 

He considered philosophy to be superior to theology, which he felt relied on metaphor and picturesque language to describe the workings of God. Theology was useful for ordinary, uneducated people, but philosophers were capable of understanding a higher truth. This idea, of course, does not play well with theologians, but it sure was attractive to the sciency types.

 

The main purpose of man is to become like God.  This idea is also very important to Ibn Tufayl. Think about this.  How do we become like God?  What do we need to do or think or make?

 

Averro‘s was well aware that the individual person should have an individual soul/form after death.  He did not want to promote a collective, undifferentiated soul theory as this would go against scripture. But, according to his reading of Aristotle, it is matter and only matter that gives form individual existence.  Without matter, forms are undifferentiated universals and cannot exist in plural or as individuals.  Put another way, identical forms without material existence cannot exist as separate forms, they exist as one universal form.  There is only one idea of chair, but there are many examples of material individual chairs.  Take away the individual material chair, and all you are left with is the software for a chair and there is, according to Aristotle and Averroes, only one universal code for chairness.  The problem as Averro‘s saw it, was that the human soul after death was a form (or software) without matter and would thus have no individuality, it would just be a universal human form (or the generic software for human).  His solution was to claim that individuality was maintained in a very subtle matter, Ňthe animal warmth which emanates from the heavenly bodies.Ó*  He suggested that the soul discarded the dead earthly body and informed this celestial stuff, preserving its material individuality which would otherwise be lost upon death.  [I cannot help but think that this celestial stuff that the soul inhabited after the death of the terrestrial body is aether/quintessence/5th-element/spiritus-like stuff.] This is confusing metaphysics.  I am confused and I have yet to read anybody who explains it very well or very confidently.  This short description should at least give you the idea that Averro‘s took Aristotle very seriously and that his philosophy is very sophisticated and his attempts to reconcile Greek philosophy with Islam were very influential in Christian Europe.  

 

*See Averro‘s, Averro‘sŐ Tahafut al-Falasifah, trans. A. Kamali, Lahore 1958, p. 357.


This reconstructed undershot water wheel was originally built to pump water up to the CaliphŐs palace. 

This type of pump is technically called a noria.

 

The na'ura (noria) is a very significant machine in the history of engineering. It consists of a large wheel made of timber and provided with paddles. The large-scale use of norias was introduced to Spain by Syrian engineers. An installation similar to that at Hama was in operation at Toledo in the twelfth century.
The Na'ura (Noria) of Albolafia in Cordoba also known as Kulaib, which stands until now, served to elevate the water of the river until the Palace of the Caliphs. Its construction was commissioned by Abd al-Rahman I, and has been reconstructed several times.

The noria was heavily exploited all over Muslim Spain. It was diffused to other parts of Europe, and,É, has shown remarkable powers of survival into modern times. 
[The noria is one of] [f]ive water-raising machines [that] are described in al-Jazari's great book on machines, composed in Diyar Bakr in 1206. É The fifth machine is the most significant. This is a water-driven twin-cylinder pump. The important features embodied in this pump are the double-acting principle, the conversion of rotary into reciprocating motion, and the use of true suction pipes. The hand-driven pumps of classical and Hellenistic times had vertical cylinders which stood directly in the water which entered them through plate-valves in the bottoms of the cylinders on the suction strokes. The pumps could not, therefore, be positioned above the water level. This pump of al-Jazari could be considered as the origin of the suction pump. The assumption that Taccola (c. 1450) was the first to describe a suction pump is not substantiated. The only explanation for the sudden appearance of the suction pump in the writings of the Renaissance engineers in Europe is that the idea was inherited from Islam [sic.] whose engineers were familiar with piston pumps for a long time throughout the Middle Ages.

 

The na'ura (noria) is a very significant machine in the history of engineering. It consists of a large wheel made of timber and provided with paddles. The large-scale use of norias was introduced to Spain by Syrian engineers. An installation similar to that at Hama was in operation at Toledo in the twelfth century.
The Na'ura (Noria) of Albolafia in Cordoba also known as Kulaib, which stands until now, served to elevate the water of the river until the Palace of the Caliphs. Its construction was commissioned by Abd al-Rahman I, and has been reconstructed several times.

The noria was heavily exploited all over Muslim Spain. It was diffused to other parts of Europe, and,É, has shown remarkable powers of survival into modern times. 
[The noria is one of] [f]ive water-raising machines [that] are described in al-Jazari's great book on machines, composed in Diyar Bakr in 1206. É The fifth machine is the most significant. This is a water-driven twin-cylinder pump. The important features embodied in this pump are the double-acting principle, the conversion of rotary into reciprocating motion, and the use of true suction pipes. The hand-driven pumps of classical and Hellenistic times had vertical cylinders which stood directly in the water which entered them through plate-valves in the bottoms of the cylinders on the suction strokes. The pumps could not, therefore, be positioned above the water level. This pump of al-Jazari could be considered as the origin of the suction pump. The assumption that Taccola (c. 1450) was the first to describe a suction pump is not substantiated. The only explanation for the sudden appearance of the suction pump in the writings of the Renaissance engineers in Europe is that the idea was inherited from Islam [sic.] whose engineers were familiar with piston pumps for a long time throughout the Middle Ages.

 

Largely taken from

D. Hill, Studies in Medieval Islamic Technology (Ashgate: Variorum, 1998), art. V, 179.

A diagram of a noria-sytle pump with the waterwheel powering it.

   Can you figure out how this works?


Read McClellan and Dorn pp. 103-116. 13pp

 

Read Grant pp. 70-87 and 92-94. Grant_HistoryNatPhil-Islam-Excerpt-3.4MB.pdf  19pp

 

Read: Lucretius pp. 148-166 (lines 771-1457 in Book V). 18pp

 

Read the following pages in Ibn TufaylŐs The Story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan- pp. 103-119 and 125-127.  18pp

IbnTuf_GoodmTran-JustStory-secured-3.6MB.pdf

Ibn Tufayl lived from ca. 1105-1185 in Moorish Iberia (Spain).  I am only assigning a short section from this story, which summarizes Galenic-Aristotelian-NeoPlatonic-Islamic philosophy from the 12th century.  Ibn Tufayl was a bit of a radical for the period, but his general approach is similar to many other Islamic, Christian and Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages.  Islamic natural philosophy heavily influenced later Medieval Christian philosophy.  People like Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, and Robert Grosseteste all read Islamic philosophy very much like Ibn Tufayl.  Unfortunately, many of the Christian philosophers are very hard to read and are incredibly long winded.  In contrast to the rather boring Christian tradition, this story by Ibn Tufayl was written to instruct a non-philosopher and tells how to find God from His book, the book of nature, via observation and natural philosophical speculation.  By simply observing and experimenting on nature, the divine and the One [Good, Being, É and other Platonic terms] can be revealed.  I only assigned the more experimental parts.  Later parts are very Aristotelian and Islamic. This is one of my favorite readings.

 

Optional but recommended: If you donŐt know much about the history of Islam, you might want to read this overview, written with Ibn Tufayl and the history of science in mind. Newsome-et_al-EARLY_ISLAM-notes.htm

 

Write: Write a 1.5 (+-) page single-spaced essay on any or all of the above readings. DonŐt rehash the reading.  I have read it already, thank you.  Explain a difficult passage, elaborate on it, look up references made, comment on it, compare it to something else. Think about it. Cite all sources. 

 

            -A suggestion that might be fun: You might riff on this assignment by trying to write up a modern scientific theory using only vocabulary and concepts that you imagine were available to someone from the year 100 or 500 BC or AD or whenever.  Model it loosely after Lucretius stylistically if you can. You might use poetic metaphor to explain yourself. Comment here and there (parenthetically or in footnotes or in the margins) about observations you have on LucretiusŐ explanations. You might deal with the issue of how does one explain a complicated idea before there is a language in place to explain it.  Perhaps think of it as you trying to explain to a time traveler from the past, how a microwave over works, or how a CRT works, or how a cell phone works, or a tape recorder, or a radio, or a laser, or an electric motor, or an electric stove, or a computer program,É etc.  DonŐt just create a story which goes over the head of the time traveler, really try to explain the theory in terms that they will understand.  [In the process of writing this you may find that you donŐt really understand how microwave ovens or cell phones work.  If this is the case, then fake it.  DonŐt be upset by this, but explain it as best as you understand it.  We humans tend to be awfully smug about gadgets and what the human race has done without actually understanding what we have actually done.] 

 

            -Another suggestion that might be funÉ do a comic book (like the Enuma elish assignment) on the Ibn Tufayl reading.  Be sure to cite and comment sufficiently.

 

            - É or try to combine the two above suggestionsÉ???

 

            -ÉorÉ Come up with a similar story like the Ibn Tufayl about a character that you may name whatever you want.  Put this character in a similar situation and have him/her discover how the world works.  Just write up one or two episodes describing a moment of exploration and discovery and contemplation.  Model it on a part of the Ibn Tufayl text. Have your story describe how you think the world works. Write yours like a primer for your stupid little brother/sister or similar.  Illustrate your vignettes if you want.  But some sort of illustration would be nice. 

 


Here are the citations for the above works:

 

Ibn Tufayl, Abu Bakr, and Lenn Evan Goodman. Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzān: A Philosophical Tale Translated with Introduction and Notes. Translated by Lenn Evan Goodman. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

 

Lucretius Carus, Titus, R. E. Latham, and John Godwin. On the Nature of the Universe. Translated by R. E. Latham and with Introduction and Notes by John Godwin. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

 

Grant, Edward. A History of Natural Philosophy: From the Ancient World to the Nineteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

 

Newsome, Daniel, et al.  Overview of Early Islam.  Draft Outline for HHS130.  New York: Mifami Press, 2008. Newsome-et_al-EARLY_ISLAM-notes.htm


Review materials: posted 10/10/08

 

Ibn_Tufayl_Hayy-review-1.4MB.pdf

 


eLibrary

 

Back to Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]

 

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Optional News Story

 

-Here is an article on out of body experiences that fits in well with the Ibn Tufayl reading.  Later in the story, the main character, Hayy, transcends the physical world and has what some might describe as an out of body experience.

Blakeslee_NYT_Out-of-Body.htm