The Political Foundations of Ibn Bajjah's "Governance of the Solitary"
Butterworth, Charles E.
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A first impression might lead one to characterize the "Governance of the Solitary," the most famous treatise by the medieval Arabic-Islamic philosopher Ibn Bājjah, as favoring radical individualism, and thus as breaking with the political orientation of ancient philosophy. In fact, the treatise returns to the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle, reaffirming the ancient principle that the human being is by nature political and that the highest life for the city and the individual is the same, the life of virtue pursued for the sake of happiness. For Ibn Bājjah, the highest goal intended for human beings by nature is political, namely, the perfect virtuous city. In the absence of the city oriented toward perfect virtue, the philosopher may find it necessary to lead a life of isolation. According to Ibn Bājjah, this solitary life seeks to preserve on behalf of the city the possibility of its deliverance from imperfection by pursuing the highest goal of the individual human being, namely, the attainment of conjunction with the divine intellect. By means of this intermediary goal, the solitary aims to deliver knowledge of perfect virtue to the city that is needed to bring about political happiness. Ibn Bājjah's account of the solitary shows that the philosopher does not abandon the city by pursuing philosophy in isolation, but in fact the isolated philosopher embodies the hope of bringing about the city's perfection. Practically speaking, this dissertation seeks to establish the second and third parts of the "Governance" as elaborations on the political teaching begun in the first part. To remain true to the author's intent, I argue that one cannot bypass Ibn Bājjah's concern for the perfect virtuous city in Part I, in order to present his teaching on governance as culminating in the life of the solitary described in Part III. The following study aims to take into account the treatise as a whole and to discuss it as faithful as possible to the original Arabic text.