Volume 17, 2018
Ibn Tufayl’s Hay Ibn Yaqzan
Language, Community and Identity
The paper discusses Ibn Tufayl’s Hay ibn Yaqzan, a philosophical novel written in Andalusia in the 12th century. The novel’s eponymous character is a solitary individual growing up in a deserted island, who only meets another human being and gets initiated into language at an advanced age. As Ibn Tufayl presents it, in solitude Hay has developed elaborate ways of thinking, discovered God as the ultimate cause of the world and worships him in a direct, personal way. Given the context of Ibn Tufay’s story, the paper focuses on the relation between language and thinking. Drawing on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations it criticizes the idea that language and community are inessential to human identity and ways of thinking. It argues that Ibn Tufayl should not be interpreted as putting forward a dualist picture of the self like Descartes’, but rather, as influenced by the Sufi ideals of genuine faith and personal experience of God.