(Studies in the Scientific Revolution)

Assignment 1: Due 9/6/07

Exam Review: Ass1TufaylReview72.pdf [1.5 MB]


Welcome.  This is an assignment page.  All forthcoming assignments will have similar pages linked from the SciRev Syllabus.  In any given assignment page you will find instructions for all aspects of the upcoming assignment.  Assignments are due the day you see them on the  SciRev Syllabus.  This assignment, Assignment 1, is due on the 6th of September.  I will sometimes add review sheets to assignment pages before an exam.

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Read: Please read this class policy document. SciRev Class Policies These are your nuts and bolts for the class.


Read The Story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl (ca. 1105-1185).  IbnTuf_GoodmTran1972_100dpi.pdf [12 MB]  Ibn Tufayl’s name is also spelled, Ibn Tofail, Ibn Tofail, and sometimes called in the West, “Abubacer.” (In Latin the letter “c” is always hard like “k.”) His full name is Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Tufail al-Qaisi al-Andalusi, أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الملك بن محمد بن طفيل القيسي الأندلسي.  If you prefer to read Arabic, here is a link to the text in its original language (or so I am told):



This is the best example I have come across that demonstrates in one reading how Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, and Stoicism shaped Allah/God.

It is with and against this general model that subsequent SciRev Natural Philosophers will be thinking and acting. Some theological and physical particulars differ from person to person, and flavor of religion to flavor of religion, but the path from nature to God immediately preceding the Scientific Revolution is generally along these lines.  This story essentially describes an Averroistic and Avicenn-istic natural philosophy (see the short bio of AverroĎs below), a philosophy that heavily influenced people such as Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Robert Grosseteste in the 13th c.


Read over the notes on AverroĎs below and look at this small collection of images from Moorish Spain [167 KB]. The images are just to give your mind some context. 


Draw and write: Come up with a similar story 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.  You don’t need to write a 70 page essay.  Have your story describe how you think the world works.  Write something that a person in the year 2407 will use in a class on the history of eclivomatestria. [They won’t use the word “science” in the year 2407 because it will have been co-opted by a religion that worships Newton and the Atomic Bomb…. I don’t know… I’m just making this up.]  Illustrate your vignettes any way you want.  But I want some sort of illustration. 

AverroĎs (Ibn Rushd) 1126-1198  from Moorish Spain, born in Cordoba. Known in the West simply as "the Commentator" on Aristotle. He was a judge and physician as well.  He had more influence on Christian philosophers than Islamic ones.  He knew Ibn Tufail personally.

He is encountered in Limbo by Dante (Inferno Canto 4) along with Euclid, Galen, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Avicenna, Plato…etc.

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

Passive Intelligence is immaterial, eternal, and universal and when actualized, it is one for all men… thus immortality not particular.  (I’ll discuss this in class.) 

Much like Al-Farabi, an earlier Islamic philosopher (d. 950), he considered philosophy to be superior to theology, which relied on metaphor and picturesque language to describe the workings of Allah/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. 

The first cause is self-evident.  There must be an unmoved mover… Allah/God.

The main purpose of man is to become like Allah/God.  [This idea is also from Al-Farabi, but is particularly poignant for our reading of Ibn Tufail.


13th C. Christian myth of AverroĎs  [This myth tended to give him a negative image amongst Christian theologians, who, none-the-less studied him intently.]                   


AverroĎs actually proposed..              

AverroĎs 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 universals and cannot exist in plural.  Put another way, identical forms without material existence cannot exist as separate forms, they exist as one universal form.  The problem as AverroĎs saw it, was that the human soul after death was a form without matter and would thus have no individuality, it would just be a universal human form.  His solution was to claim that individuality was maintained in a very subtle matter, “the animal warmth which emanates from the heavenly bodies.”*  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.  This is confusing stuff.  I am confused and I have yet to read anybody who explains it very well or very confidently.  But this short description should at least give you the idea that AverroĎs took Aristotle very seriously and that his philosophy is very sophisticated.


*See AverroĎs, AverroĎs’ Tahafut al-Falasifah, trans. A. Kamali, Lahore 1958, p. 357.  This text was not available in Latin in the 13th c.


Selected works:          



The sources used for this thumbnail sketch of AverroĎs


Hyman, Arthur, and James J. Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages; the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. New York,: Harper & Row, 1967,  pp. 281-325.


Lindberg, David C. Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.


Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science : The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. To A.D. 1450. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.


Lindberg, David C. "Medieval Science and Its Religious Context." Osiris 10, no. Constructing Knowledge in the History of Science (1995): 60-79.


Weinberg, Julius R. A Short History of Medieval Philosophy. Princeton, N.J.,: Princeton University Press, 1974.  See especially pp. 127-139.


Themes that were debated in the Middle Ages and played prominent roles in the Scientific Revolution:


Start thinking about what sort of project you would like to work on.  I will be heavily involved in this decision, so don’t feel like you need to pick something out of thin air.  I will probably help you put together an initial bibliography and guide you into a topic that I need to have covered in class. If you have your heart set on something in particular, let me know what it is a.s.a.p. so that I can think it over and figure out how it will fit into class. I am thinking I will add an incentive to those who are willing to present the class part of the project in the earliest slots.  We will probably start the class presentations in 3 or 4 weeks.


If any of you can read in a language other than English, let me know.  We could try to play to one of your strengths.  Also let me know if English is your second language and you have trouble reading English quickly.  This course is reading intensive. 

Newswatch: Optional topical material: “As Brazil Defends Its Bounty, Rules Ensnare Scientists” by Larry Rohter from the NY Times, 8/28.

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