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Thought Experiments: The Case of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan

Session C: August 3 - August 13, 2021
9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Philosophy and Society
Scotland Long

In this course, we will read the short adventure novel Hayy Ibn Yaqzan by the Spanish-Muslim philosopher Ibn Tufail, which is a classic work in the philosophy of education. Tufail’s novel has been called a ‘‘thought experiment’’ because it tells the story of a young child, Hayy, who grows up on a deserted island and acquires intelligence through his many experiences. The novel influenced many significant thinkers on the role of nature and nurture in learning, including John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Tufail’s novel is short enough to work through in one week, so we will supplement our classroom discussions with readings from other Islamic and European philosophers on the topic of education and learning, including Avicenna, Locke, and Rousseau, most especially Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Rousseau’s Emile. What sorts of things should we spend time learning? What is the proper role of experience versus reading? By the end of the course, students will be familiar with some of the key debates regarding the nature and purpose of education and be able to discuss these questions in light of some seminal philosophical texts.

Learning outcomes:

The course has two goals:

  1. to prepare students to engage with challenging college-level readings and participate in a discussion-format course and
  2. to critically reflect upon their own intellectual goals by learning about key issues in the philosophy of education from both western and non-western perspectives.

Day 1 - Nature vs. Nurture: An Ancient Problem
Day 2 - Ibn Tufail’s World: Medieval Spain and Islamic Philosophy
Day 3 - What is a ‘‘thought experiment’’? Hayy’s early years.
Day 4 - Avicenna: the benefits of group learning Hayy (cont.)
Day 5 - What is Empiricism? Hayy (cont.)
Day 6 - Locke on ‘‘Understanding’’ Hayy (cont.)
Day 7 - Rousseau: The Idea of a Tutor Hayy (cont.)
Day 8 - John Dewey and American Education Hayy (cont.)
Day 9 - Education today: current problems and future solutions Hayy: Conclusion