The Political Writings: Selected Aphorisms and Other Texts (Agora Editions)

Alfarabi, The Political Writings

by Alfarabi

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Farabi made contributions to the fields of logic, mathematics, music, philosophy, psychology, and education.


Al-Farabi wrote: The Necessity of the Art of the Elixir[30]


Though he was mainly an Aristotelian logician, he included a number of non-Aristotelian elements in his works. He discussed the topics of future contingents, the number and relation of the categories, the relation between logic and grammar, and non-Aristotelian forms of inference.[31] He is also credited for categorizing logic into two separate groups, the first being "idea" and the second being "proof".

Al-Farabi also considered the theories of conditional syllogisms and analogical inference, which were part of the Stoic tradition of logic rather than the Aristotelian.[32] Another addition Al-Farabi made to the Aristotelian tradition was his introduction of the concept of poetic syllogism in a commentary on Aristotle's Poetics.[33]

Al Farabi, Aristotle, Maimonides

In the handing down of Aristotle’s thought to the Christian west in the middle ages, Farabi played an essential part as appears in the translation of Farabi’s Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle’s de Interpretatione that F.W. Zimmermann published in 1981. Great is the influence of the Persian master on Maimonides, the most important Jewish thinker of the middle ages. Maimonides wrote in Arabic a Treatise on logic, the celebrated Maqala fi sina at al-mantiq. In a wonderfully concise way, the work treats of the essentials of Aristotelian logic in the light of comments made by the Persian philosophers: Avicenna and above all Al Farabi. To use Maimonides’ words, if Aristotle is the First Master the second one is undoubtedly Farabi. Rémi Brague in his book devoted to the Treatise stresses the fact that Farabi is the only thinker mentioned therein.


Farabi wrote a book on music titled Kitab al-Musiqa (The Book of Music). According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Mehdi Aminrazavi:[34] the book of Kitab al-Musiqa is in reality a study of the theory of Persian music of his day although in the West it has been introduced as a book on Arab music. He presents philosophical principles about music, its cosmic qualities and its influences. Al-Farabi's treatise Meanings of the Intellect dealt with music therapy, where he discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul.[35]


As a philosopher, Al-Farabi was a founder of his own school of early Islamic philosophy known as "Farabism" or "Alfarabism", though it was later overshadowed by Avicennism. Al-Farabi's school of philosophy "breaks with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle [... and ...] moves from metaphysics to methodology, a move that anticipates modernity", and "at the level of philosophy, Alfarabi unites theory and practice [... and] in the sphere of the political he liberates practice from theory". His Neoplatonic theology is also more than just metaphysics as rhetoric. In his attempt to think through the nature of a First Cause, Alfarabi discovers the limits of human knowledge".[36]

Al-Farabi had great influence on science and philosophy for several centuries[citation needed], and was widely considered second only to Aristotle in knowledge (alluded to by his title of "the Second Teacher") in his time. His work, aimed at synthesis of philosophy and Sufism, paved the way for the work of Ibn Sina (Avicenna).[37]

Al-Farabi also wrote a commentary on Aristotle's work, and one of his most notable works is Al-Madina al-Fadila where he theorized an ideal state as in Plato's The Republic.[38] Al-Farabi represented religion as a symbolic rendering of truth, and, like Plato, saw it as the duty of the philosopher to provide guidance to the state. Al-Farabi incorporated the Platonic view, drawing a parallel from within the Islamic context, in that he regarded the ideal state to be ruled by the prophet-imam, instead of the philosopher-king envisaged by Plato. Al-Farabi argued that the ideal state was the city-state of Medina when it was governed by the prophet Muhammad as its head of state, as he was in direct communion with Allah whose law was revealed to him.


Al-Farabi thought about the nature of the existence of void.[38] He may have carried out the first experiments concerning the existence of vacuum, in which he investigated handheld plungers in water.[39] He concluded that air's volume can expand to fill available space, and he suggested that the concept of perfect vacuum was incoherent.[38]


In psychology, al-Farabi's Social Psychology and Model City were the first treatises to deal with social psychology. He stated that "an isolated individual could not achieve all the perfections by himself, without the aid of other individuals." He wrote that it is the "innate disposition of every man to join another human being or other men in the labor he ought to perform." He concluded that to "achieve what he can of that perfection, every man needs to stay in the neighborhood of others and associate with them."[35]

His On the Cause of Dreams, which appeared as chapter 24 of his Book of Opinions of the people of the Ideal City, was a treatise on dreams, in which he distinguished between dream interpretation and the nature and causes of dreams.[35]

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