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When the discipline of logic in Europe was in its decline, after the Stoics and until the intellectual spur in the 12th century AD, a new scene of logical development emerged elsewhere in the East. The centre of logical composition shifted eastwards, to the Arab kingdoms, or sheikhdoms. Arabic curiosity in logic started to gain momentum from the 9th AD century onward, with Baghdad assuming a focal role in the school of thought. The town attracted many learned men interested in scientific work, in philosophy, and in logic in particular. One of the most well known of them was the Mulim scholar Al Farabi. Among his other later achievements, Al Farabi produced works on logic that had an enormous impact in the Arab world. He was one of the greatest thinkers of medieval Islam. As a result, he was called Al Mou'allim Al Thani, or the Second Teacher, after Aristotle, who was regarded as the first.

Al Farabi’s Life

Mohammed Ibn Mohammed Ibn Tarkhan Ibn Uzalagh Al Farabi, later called Abu Nasr Al Farabi, or simply known by the name of Al Farabi, was born in the year 878 AD. His place of birth was the small town of Farab in Transoxiana, or what today is Otrar in Turkistan. The facts about Al Farabi’s life are somewhat obscured. He had no interest in documenting his own life course, though a fair degree can be inferred from his numerous written works.

What is known is that he was multilingual from a very early age. Being of Turkic heritage, he also became fluent in Arabic in his formative years when he was taken to Baghdad. At that point in time, Baghdad was a centre of Muslim leadership as well as of Greek philosophy and science. It was Al Farabi’s father, working as the Caliph’s Turkish bodyguard, who took him to Baghdad. At this point, Al Farabi made this city his home and lived there for more than forty years, from 901 AD to 942 AD. In 942, he moved to another center of Islamic thought - Halab - or Aleppo in Syria today, under the patronage of Prince Sayf Ad Dawlah. Here Al Farabi would spend the final years of his life.

Overall, it seems that Al Farabi led a life in which he occupied himself with the study of different sciences. From the collection of works in the scripts he produced in philosophy, music, mathematics, and even medicine, it is obvious he did not have much time to spare for social activity. From the books he wrote, 117 have been preserved. Out of this number, forty-three deal with the subject that interested him the most - logic. Then, there are 17 books on music, 11 he wrote on metaphysics, 7 on ethics, 7 on politics, and 11 are commentaries, mostly on earlier philosophers. One of his most popular sociology books is about the perfect city. It is entitled Ara Ahl Al Madina Al Fadila, or the Model City and became one of the major influences in the study sociology. Another one of his most influencing books dealt with the subject of philosophy. The book was called Fusus Al Hikam, and it became the standard philosophy textbook in many learning centres in the Arab world. Another book that Al Farabi wrote was the Kitab Al Ihsa Al 'Ulum. It is on the subject matter of categorization of essential values of science in an innovative way. Besides the more serious disciplines, Al Farabi was fascinated with music and became a skillful musician. This helped him produce his books on music including the masterpiece Kitab Al Musica. This book alone had such an impact on musical advancement in the Arab world that it even became known and was used in Europe to the west and the India to the east.

One of the most important aspects of Al Farabi’s work is that he was able to take the Hellenic philosophical thought and adapt it to the Arab setting. He managed to find and give to his fellow Muslims answers to sociological and philosophical questions, with which they were preoccupied. Al Farabi maintained that philosophy could find a fertile land to flourish in Islam, and that it was in its decline in the west. He expressed his veneration for Islam. As a religion, to Al Farabi, the Mulsim faith was able to present truth in a symbolic manner to non-philosophers, who are not quite capable to find truth in its genuine existence. In relation to this notion, much of Al Farabi's scripts were addressing the description of the perfect organization of the state. Here, a strong Platonian influence can be felt. In his description, or prescription rather, of the perfect state, Al Farabi is firm on several essential points. Firstly, the state should be of Islamic order; its raison d’etre was to make possible the well being of all its citizens. The second essential notion was that the ideal state would have different institutions to help its citizens to become closer to religious salvation. It was also necessary that the head of the state be a true philosopher and that he is able to see the truth. In the case of unavailability of such a person, the state should not delegate supreme power to any other one person. Instead, an assembly of people should preside over the city together. However, this was not the preferred option. In the ideal case, a philosopher should rule the state, in analogy to God who rules the universe.

Interpretation and Clarification of Aristotle’s works

What really generated Arab admiration for Al Farabi was Al Farabi - the philosopher and the logician. As a great man of philosophy, Al Farabi ventured into a vast area of philosophic exploration and the product of this earned for Al Farabi his fellow Muslims’ trust in him. To show their respect for Al Farabi, his admirers proclaimed him the supreme philosophical authority after Aristotle, as mentioned above - The Second Teacher. Al Farabi should have been flattered with this title, as he himself was an illustrious analyst of both Aristotle’s and Plato’s ideas and works.

In his study of Aristotle's psychology, Al Farabi observed that intellect is found in four senses. Man’s ability to think is his closest connection with God. First, there is the sense in the human spirit that thinks; this is potential intellect. When this ability is used to obtain the Platonic archetypes from material substances, it is the actual intellect. Furthermore, it can come to think of archetypes themselves and thus of itself; this is the acquired intellect. Such transformations have need of an efficient reason; this is the Agent Intellect. The Agent Intellect is the lowest self-existent intellect of the lunar sphere, unswervingly attached by emanation with the first intellect, the eternal divine act of perception of the self. Therefore, as the Agent Intellect is perceived as the very intellective activity which projects the temporal world, man is the very result of this process - a perfectly structured body on the material side and a rational soul on the spiritual side.

Building upon the accumulated heritage of the Greek school of philosophy, Al Farabi increased the sphere of theoretical truth seeking and established its mode. He was specifically interested in the relationship that exists between language and logic. Through his copious interpretations of the logical works of Aristotle, Al Farabi was the first to explain in Arabic the full set of the scientific and nonscientific figures of argument. Because of this work, he succeeded in establishing logic as an essential element in philosophic analysis. On the whole, Al Farabi’s books on natural science borrowed from and defended the groundwork and notions of Aristotle's physics by clarifying some less complete areas.


The Similarity between Religion and Philosophy in Al Farabi

The expansive collection of theological and political texts Al Farabi produced shed light for Arab philosophers on the question of similarity or dissimilarity between religion and philosophy. Al Farabi offered an intricate series of problems that later philosophers could revise and build upon in various ways. However, he was firm on his statements. In an excerpt from one of his scripts he notes, “It is very difficult to know what God is because of the limitation of our intellect and its union with matter. Just as light is the principle by which colours become visible, in like manner it would seem logical to say that a perfect light should produce a perfect vision. Instead, the very opposite occurs. A perfect light dazzles the vision. The same is true of God. The imperfect knowledge we have of God is due to the fact that He is infinitely perfect. That explains why His infinitely perfect being bewilders our mind when we think of it. But if we could strip our nature of all that we call 'matter', then certainly our knowledge of His being would be quite perfect”. Maintaining the notion that religion is analogous or parallel to philosophy, Al Farabi thus proposes that the true prophet lawgiver is the same in nature as the true philosopher king. Furthermore, in Al Farabi, religion is the unifying element in any society. Because societies may be flawed and corrupted, likewise can religions, and both degrade their members. Therefore true religion is analogous to the highest philosophy. It can be experienced by the one who has achieved the highest and true human state through elevating the active intellect to a level where it exists as a pure channel of the agent intellect.

Al Farabi: Significance

Throughout his life of restless scientific inquiry, Al Farabi produced an impressive, to put it mildly, collection of scripts and books on an equally impressive range of subjects. From his analyses of Aristotle's works and books on logic, Al Farabi succeeded in creating a psychology based on reason. In his texts, his recurrent theme dealt with the abilities of the soul, with the intellect and its relation with the body. He also explored questions of unity and the One, pondered upon the intelligence and the intelligible, and developed a metaphysical model of the world in experiments on matter, time, space, measure, wisdom and knowledge of the Divine. In addition to this, Al Farabi, presented the study of ethics in a different perspective, contributed to the development of musical theory and categorized the different sciences. His work on political issues and the ordering of the state was admirable for its truly innovative and yet extremely logical approach. One of its main themes - Al Farabi's division between the scholarly leaders, who were the philosophers and prophets, and the masses, who could perceive truth only through symbols, soon became well known in Islamic thought.



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