Political Philosophy

Farabi was the first thinker to define the classical political philosophy of Plato's Republic, harmonised with Aristotelian epistemo-logical, ontological and cosmological principles within the broader frame of Islamic religion. While political philosophy in the structure presented in Farabi's independent studies does not continue after him, his study of the typology of political regimes, the concept of law and the role of the lawmaker, and the identification of an ideal form of Islamic government, called the ''Virtuous City'', has indirectly but permanently marked the fundamental ideas of political philosophy in Islam.

For example, Farabi's entirely new types of works on political philosophy, such as the Attainment of Happiness and the Political Regime, include a novel approach to technical discussions of prophecy and creation, the role of the lawgiver and divine law in the city.16 For the first time, political thought is presented in a framework defined by the metaphysics of the one and the many, integrated with Aristotelian theories of intellectual knowledge. Here the domains of practical philosophy are redefined in a metaphysical system designated and named the ''science of politics''. These are put forth as a means for the attainment of happiness and identify the institution of just rule. In fact the entire range of political views concerning the role of the human being in the ''city'', of the enlightenment of the citizen through knowledge and justice, and of human salvation in resurrection, is stipulated as the end of the process and practice of philosophy.

Farabi's most technical work in political philosophy explores the foundations of the ideal city and relates the study of being and of cosmology to politics by constructing interconnected realms of the soul, the city and the cosmos. These highly refined texts impacted a limited audience, and influenced the Latin tradition more than they did the Islamic. Islamic political philosophy was defined almost entirely by Farabi's most popular work, The Ideas of the Inhabitants of the Virtuous City,17 a text that employs a less technical language and so was more accessible to a wider intellectual audience. As an expression, the ''Virtuous City'' is invoked continuously to indicate the ideal Islamic state. This text had an essential impact in the spread of political doctrines of just rule by allowing philosophical discourse about the Islamic revelation, prophecy and law, and of the beliefs and actions of the Muslim community as a whole within a rational system.

In The Virtuous City Farabi describes prophecy as a type of knowledge based on Aristotelian theories of intellectual knowledge and later formulations by the Peripatetic commentators of the Active Intellect. These theories make it possible for the human being, not restricted by God's will and the action of God's choice, to obtain unrestricted, ''prophetic'' knowledge. Here Farabi, in a novel philosophical way that is unique in the Islamic intellectual tradition, integrates Plato's ideas of the ideals of the Republic and the rank of the philosopher-king/philosopher-ruler with Aristotelian metaphysics and epistemological theories. Farabi argues that anyone who is devoted to philosophical inquiry and undergoes a rigorous intellectual training can experience conjunction with the Active Intellect. Anyone who achieves this - which, as an epistemological principle, acts as a ''giver of forms'' or ''giver of science'' (the dator formarum and dator scientias of the Latin texts) - will come to know all the intelligibles and will gain perfect knowledge. This bestows the authority to rule the ideal city.

This epistemological theory forms the core of Faribi's political thought and is later taken up by Avicenna, who refines and reformulates the structure of union with the Active Intellect into a unified theory of prophecy. Avicenna's work in this regard is incorporated in his discussions of psychology and epistemology and is regarded as one of the most significant components of Islamic philosophy as a whole. Avicenna's doctrine of prophecy serves the later definition of seventeenth-century Shi'ite political doctrine. In all subsequent refinements of intellectual Shi'ism, the ''Virtuous City'' concept describes legitimate, divinely inspired, just rule by the philosopher-ruler, now called the ''jurist-guardian''.18


Islamic Peripatetic philosophy is defined by the highly creative work of Avicenna. Avicenna's corpus sets him apart from all his predecessors because it represents the first complete system within which every aspect of philosophical inquiry from logic to metaphysics is well defined, systematically argued and properly situated within the structure of existing philosophical systems.

The holistic system is best exemplified in his work known as the Healing (al-Shifa'), in which the entire range of philosophical subjects is reconstructed in Avicenna's own style, rather than as a non-argumentative commentary on the texts of Greek masters. In this system, political theory is incorporated within metaphysics, and prophecy is described in terms of a generalised theory of intellectual knowledge. This generalised theory is also capable of defining mystical knowledge.

The other most significant features of Avicenna's system are a number of innovative analyses of being, modality and the determinants of being. These include the distinction between essence and existence and the ontological distinction between contingent and necessary being, which leads to the logical construction of the ''Necessary Being'', all described by Avicenna for the first time in history.19 This ontological construct serves to harmonise philosophy with religious ideas, especially since the Islamic intellectual tradition accepts the identification of the Necessary Being with God, who is responsible for a necessary and eternal creation, beginning with the intellects, souls and the heavenly spheres.

Avicenna's novel and famous thought-experiment known as the ''Flying Man Argument'' served to define the idea of primary self-consciousness as an act of self-identification. Avicenna was the first thinker to state that an individual suspended with no spatial or temporal referents will necessarily affirm his or her own being. This served as the model for the later Illuminationist views of identity relations in being and knowing as foundations of knowledge.20 Many problems related to religious notions such as prophecy and immortality are also analysed in Avicenna's system and provided a basis for later thinkers to make philosophy more easily integrated into religion. His theories of prophetic knowledge, for example, are based on the notion of ''holy intellect'', and he is the first philosopher to express the idea that through exegesis of qur'anic teachings, the validity of demonstrated, rational truth may be further proved.21 Avicenna's students, notably Bahmanyar, continued his systematic philosophical work, which served to solidify the definition of Islamic Peripatetic philosophy and contributed to its acceptance as the first clear ''school'' of falsafa in Islam.

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