Thursday, November 20, 2008

On al-Farabi

Farabi is one of the great Arabic philosophers you just can't ignore in any serious study of the subject. He was not racially an Arab, but it would be inaccurate to label him otherwise. One of the things which interest me greatly about him is how he was one of the first philosophers who attempted to produce systems of thought: Opinions of the Inhabitants of the Perfect City and the Political Regime.

His approach to philosophy was similar to Aristotle's in that he divided it into Theoretical and Practical but unlike Aristotle, he did not write treatises on the subjects distinctly but aimed at showing how these two aspects of philosophy were connected. Any attempt at philosophy was to begin with a study of logic and sciences of magnitudes, physics, psychology and then metaphysics. Inevitably his study would lead us to the First Cause, God, and then it lead back down to the practical philosophy, which is what he is concerned with in the two works I mentioned above. You could not accept his practical philosophy if you did not believe in the premise of God, and you could not accept God as a premise if you did not follow the path of theoretical philosophy which was detailed in his curriculum.

Another interesting thing about al-Farabi is the interest in him by the Straussians, philosophers who were influenced or were educated by the famous Leo Strauss (a German Jewish philosopher of the Twentieth century). Strauss believed that Plato, al-Farabi and Maimonides all had to cloak the true meaning of their philosophy for fear of persecution. This was detailed in a paper by Strauss titled "Persecution and the Art of Writing". Vigorously opposed to the Straussian interpretation of Arabic philosophy are other philosophers such as Gutas, whom I mentioned in my previous post on the matter, and by Miles Burnyeat, who had written a paper attacking Strauss called, "Sphynx without a secret". One thing which is not mentioned much or emphasised is the influence that al-Farabi had on another great figure of the twentieth century, Ayotollah Ruhollah Khomeini...

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