The first major work of Oriental scholarship after d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque was Simon Ockley's History of the Saracens, whose first volume appeared in 1708. A recent historian of Orientalism has opined that Ockley's attitude towards the Muslims — that to them is owed what was first known of philosophy by European Christians — "shocked painfully" his European audience. For not only did Ockley make this Islamic pre-eminence clear in his work; he also "gave Europe its fiat authentic and substantial taste of the Arab viewpoint touching the wars with Byzantium and Persia. "* However, Ockley was careful to dissociate himself from the infectious influence of Islam, and unlike his colleague William Whiston (Newton's successor at Cambridge), he always made it clear that Islam was an outrageous heresy. For his Islamic enthusiasm, on the other hand, Whiston was expelled from Cambridge in 1709.--Edward W. Said ( 2003) Orientalism, 75-6 [*Said is quoting A.J. Arberyy.]
Some other time I return to Said's remarks about Whiston. In re-reading Orientalism, Ockley's name rang a bell. He is, in fact, the translator of Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (Translated by Simon Ockley 1708); it's the translation I have used here at D&I when discussing Ibn Tufayl. (Sadly Said does not mention the translation.) In his "preface" to the translation Ockley (1678-1720) explains what he takes to be the main point of Ibn Tufayl's book, "The Design of the Author is to shew, how Human Capacity, unassisted by any External Help, may, by due Application, attain to the Knowledge of Natural Things, and so by Degrees find out its Dependance upon a Superior Being, the Immortality of the Soul, and all things necessary to Salvation." That is, the book is read as an inductive, naturalistic argument for the very possibility of knowledge of nature, God, etc. So, one may think that Ockley wishes (i) to promote so-called natural religion. This despite the fact that in his Appendix, Ockley concedes that the book relies on outdated Philosophy and mistaken Divinity (one being "Aristotelian, the other Mahometan").
This is not to deny that most of the Appendix is devoted to undermining (i). Ockley sets out to deny the idea "That God has given such a Power or Faculty to Man, whereby he may, without any external Means, attain to the Knowledge of all things necessary to Salvation, and even to the Beatifick Vision it self, whilst in this State." That is, against the position he associates with Malebranche in his own day, Ockley defends the necessity of (Mosaic/Christian) prophecy and revelation (in light of man's cognitive weakness) which, in turn, is (largely) dependent on God's will (and the presence of the holy spirit).
In addition to promoting natural religion, in the first sentence of the Appendix he attached after his translation, Ockley commends the book for the "lively Image and Representation which it gives of unspotted Virtue, unfeigned Love of God, and Contempt of the Things of this Life." That is, Hayy Ibn Yagzan the purported hero of the novel is treated as (2) an exemplary model of ascetic virtue and piety.
Yet, the reason given for translating the text, anew (apparently there already existed two translations from Latin not Arab), is to "other Persons whom I would willingly incline to a more favourable Opinion of Arabick Learning" (emphasis added). That is he wishes to correct a biased and unfavorable or unflattering view of the intellectual achievements of the 'Arabs' in twelfth century Spain. (He also mentions Averroes in the same, brief Preface). In particular, it combats the idea that Islam is, in principle, incompatible with great intellectual and scholarly attainment. Unfortunately, Ockley does not tell us who may be the source of the meme that Islam is incompatible with Enlightenment. Remarkably for an an early modern, Ockley does not treat the embrace of Aristotelianism as a sign of intellectual weakness.
As an aside, and curiously enough, neither in in his preface nor in his longer Appendix does Ockley mention the relationship between Islam and Enlightenment is, in fact, a major sub-plot of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. In the translated story, but not in Ockley's comments we are exposed to the failure of Hayy Ibn Yagzan's mission to convert the people who grow up in society to the truth. For, the (exoteric) meaning of the text very strongly suggests that true virtue and political/social life are incompatible.**
Ockley's position becomes clear when we see how he understands progress:
Indeed, if it were in Religion, as in Arts and Sciences, it might with a great deal more Reason have been expected; that considering the vast Distance of Time since the first planting of the Christian Religion to this present Age, we might have been improved to a Degree of Prophecy. For Arts and Sciences receive their Beginnings from very small Hints at first, and are afterwards improved proportionally to the Industry and Capacity of those who cultivate them; and therefore we may reasonably expect, that the longer they continue, the more they will be advanc'd. But the case is vastly different in Religion, which is always best and purest at its first setting out. And there is a very good Reason to be given, why it should be so; for after the first Covenant made by God with Mankind in the Person of Adam: every other Dispensation has found Men under a State of Corruption, and in the actual Possession of Errors, diametrically opposite to those Truths which it came to instruct them in; and therefore it was requisite that the means to remove these at first, should bear Proportion with the Difficulties they were to encounter. Appendix § 11.
Ockley thinks that religion inevitably declines (due to the Fall and the necessity of always and everywhere of having to remove errors in religion first), while the arts and sciences necessarily improve over time. This helps explain why Ockley does not hold Ibn Tufayl's Aristotelianism against him. For, Ockley is relying on a tacit symmetry principle: on Ockley's account the natural philosophy of his own day will become as dated to future readers as Ibn Tufayl's science seems dated to him. In addition, there is no reason to think that modern Christians are superior to 12th century followers of Islam. For, his own age is one of half millennium of additional religious decline.
There is a further symmetry principle at work in Ockley's Appendix. For in it, Ockley argues that there is no prophecy after Christ. (This means that he systematically discounts the prophetic status of the Qu'ran.) But he goes on to suggests, somewhat on the sly, that although Ibn Tufayl is is a sincere Mahometan, he agrees with him because Ibn Tufayl allows Hayy Ibn Yagzan to gain knowledge without exposure to Islam/revelation. In fact, Ockley treats the religious errors of his audience's day (inclination toward mysticism, enthusiasm, etc.) as analogous to the 'errors' of Ibn Tufayl (" If I have not spoken all the while particularly to my Author, the reason is, because I write to Christians, and chiefly have regard to those Errors, held by some of that Denomination, which are common with those of our Author."). So, his readers have no right to feel superior to Ibn Tufayl neither in science because it is intrinsic to science that future ages will surpass the earlier ones nor in religious matters because each later age is further removed from the truth.
Let me close by returning to Said. Early in Orientalism, he notes that "Unlike Michel Foucault, to whose work I am greatly indebted, I do believe in the determining imprint of individual writers upon the otherwise anonymous collective body of texts constituting a discursive formation like Orientalism." (23) This remark I find endearing because it it is an embrace, as an article of faith ("I believe") of a certain form of authorial agency. The embrace of agency also entails the possibility of failure. We can, thus, lament that Ockley's was not the 'determining imprint' on his century.