Our Ancestors, of Happy Memory, tell us, that there is an Island in the Indian Ocean, situate under the Equinoctial, where Men come into the world spontaneously without the help of Father and Mother. This Island it seems, is blest with such a due Influence of the Sun, as to be the most temperate and perfect of all places in the Creation; tho' it must be confess'd that such an Assertion is contrary to the Opinion of the most celebrated Philosophers and Physicians, who affirm that the fourth Climate is the most Temperate...
There's much more to be said about this Argument, in order to the explaining it fully, but it is not suitable to our purpose; I have only hinted it to you, because it helps the Story a little, and makes it something more probable that a Man may be form'd without the help of Father and Mother; and there are some which affirm positively that Hai Ebn Yokdhan was so, others deny it, and tell the Story thus...
Those who affirm that Hai Ebn Yokdhan was produced in that Island without Father and Mother tell us, that in that island, in a piece of Low ground, it chanc'd that a certain Mass of Earth was so fermented in some period of Years, that the four qualities, viz. Hot, Cold, Dry, Moist, were so equally mix'd, that none of 'em prevail'd over the other; and that this Mass was of a very great Bulk, in which, some parts were better and more equally Temper'd than others,and consequently fitter for Generation; the middle part especially, which came nearest to the Temper of Man's Body...That the Matter being thus dispos'd, there was, by the Command of God, a Spirit infus'd into it; which was join'd so closely to it, that it can scarce be separated from it even so much as in thought; which did as constantly influence this Mass of matter as the Sun do's the World...So that Spirit which comes by the Command of God, do's at all times act upon all Creatures...such is Man particularly, which is hinted before where 'tis said that God made Man after his own Image.--Ibn Tufayl Hayy Ibn Yaqzan translated by Simon Ockley (1708).
I have mentioned Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan -- a twelfth century philosophical, Utopian novel -- before. The tale is offered to an unnamed disciple who is interested in the esoteric knowledge (or mysteries) emanating from the East sometimes mentioned in Avicenna's work. We quickly learn that the student is not yet ready or skilled to experience mystical experiences himself, but he can be told about its nature. At the end of the narration we're told that some of the esoteric knowledge has, in fact, been revealed in the tale, esoterically: "I have not so delivered the Secrets which are comprehended in these few Leaves, as to leave them without a thin Veil or Cover over them, which will be easily rent by those who are worthy of it; but will be so thick to him, that is unworthy to pass beyond it, that he shall not be able to get through it."
Be that as it may, the two passages quoted above occur near the start of the story, in which the autobiographical narrator, presumably Ibn Tufayl himself, offers two competing traditions on the origin of the hero of his tale about Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Here I leave aside, momentarily, the other tradition.
The tradition recounted above is a species of rationalization. Once one reflects on it, it quite clearly reports an intellectual debate (that is, some affirm, others deny) over or search for a naturalistic explanation of not just the manner of creation, but also the precise location (near the equator off the coast of India) of the Garden or Paradise. These Theistic intellectuals clearly accept the Quran's narrative that there must have been a first man, and offer an account of how this possible (and continues to be possible). These theistic intellectuals accept a modified version of the principle of sufficient reason because given that there is no reason to limit God's active power, it follows that if Adam is possible so is Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.+
Near the start of the Phaedrus (229b-e), Socrates and Phaedrus discuss the myth of Boreas and Oreithyia, and there, too, some (sophistical/wise) intellectuals try to locate the place and mechanism of the recounted narrative. That is, rationalization involves accepting the truth of myth as an allegory to be explained by either a hidden inner meaning or by way of naturalization. Rationalization does not deny myth altogether. As it happens, with an appeal to the scarcity of time, Socrates refuses to engage in such rationalization not because he insists on the falsity of myth, but because one such explanatory rationalization invites open-ended further rationalization (229d). As I have noted before in dialogue with Rene Brouwer's work on the Stoics, other options are rejected, too, including the assimilation of myth to rustic wisdom, and this has non-trivial consequences in the subsequent history of philosophy.
As it happens, and noted above, in Ibn Tufayl's narrative another account of the origin of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is given. This origin narrative does not deploy God's creation to explain the origin of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, and tells us of how at infancy Hayy Ibn Yaqzan was cast in the sea in ark by his mom who feared for his life from the wrath of her tyrant brother. The alternative account does involve a reference to God's creation: Hayy Ibn Yaqzan's mother is faithful to God (with a nod to Quran 76:1-3, she believes in God's creative participation in forming the fetus inside the womb),** but not to her brother, the King. The alternative tradition is reminiscent of Moses, Oedipus, and, as it unfolds, Romulus and Remus. In this alternative tradition, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is a political refugee cast out from society (I return to this point before long).
Here I close with an observation. From the vantage point of the rationalizing project mentioned above, this alternative story of the origin of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is pious but unsatisfactory because it fails to address the pressing questions that motivate the rationalizing project in the first place. In addition, while Hayy Ibn Yaqzan's mother believes the revealed account of God's creation, the narrative in which she figures is compatible with the eternity of the world because it fails to explain the origin of manin accord with rational principles. It is no surprise, then, that the debate between the eternity and creation of the world is central within Hayy Ibn Yaqzan's own intellectual development. I hope this is sufficient, tantalizing invitation to join us in exploring Hayy Ibn Yaqzan's voyage, which is really the voyage of each of us--but I am getting ahead of myself.
+Of course, these intellectuals are faces with explaining why God's generation of men does not go back into eternity.
**I owe the reference to note 71 in L.E. Goodman in his modern translation of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.