The meaning of Farabi’s metaphysics

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Al-Farabi’s metaphysical teachings have posed cretin interpretive difficulties to modern scholars, not only because of the attribution to him of the works mentioned above which are now generally believed to reflect Avicennian teaching but also because of the ambiguity of the attitude he takes in his authentic writings towards Aristotelian and Neoplatonic metaphysics. Recent scholarship has shown that al- Farabi very carefuuly avoids mentioning Neoplatonic emanational metaphysics in his accounts of Aristotelian philosophy, and that, with the exception of the Kitab al- jam (“Harmonization of the Opinions of Plato and Aristotle”, he never treats the spurious Theology of Aristotle as an authentic work. The most plausible interpretation of al- Farabi’s metaphysics in the light of these observations is that recently by Druart, arguing that al- Farabi personally upheld the emotional cosmology central to Neoplatonism, even while he recognized that it was not Aristotelian. Emanation was, in short, adopted to fill in the lacuna that al- Farabi felt had been left by Aristotle’s failure to complete his account of the part of metaphysics that comprises theology or divine science, in which the causal relations between devein and natural beings is set forth.

Criticism and correction of Aristotle’s metaphysics
Viewed from this perspective, al- Farabi’s emotional theories from an integral part of his contribution to the discussion with Islamic philosophy of the nature and scope of metaphysics and its relation to nature philosophy. Al- Farabi’s influence on subsequent developments in this area is attested to in a well – known episode from Avicenna’s autobiography, in which Avicenna relates how he had read Aristotle’s Metaphysics forth times and yet still remained confused as to its purpose. Only after chancing upon a copy of al- Farabi’s opusclum Fi aghrad al- Hakim fi kitab al- huruf (“On the Aims of Aristotle’s metaphysics”) was his perplexity finally dissolved. Although Avicenna does not make explicit exactly how al- Farabi’s exceedingly short treatise resolved his mental impasse, it appears the Avicenna was impressed by al- Farabi’s remarks regarding the relationship between Aristotle Metaphysics and the science of the theology or “divine science” (al-ilm al-ilahi) For al- Farabi opens his treatise by nothing that while Aristotelian metaphysics is often described as ‘divine science”, the text is fact dedicated to the study of being and its principles and properties, not to the study of divine, separate substance. Al- Farabi observes that many readers have been confused by this point, expecting the entire to the about God, the souk and the intellect, and finding that these topics are all but missing, save from book Lambda (Gutas). Al- Farabi then proceeds to outline a conception of metaphysics as the sciences which studies the common properties of being qua being. He affirms that theology is indeed a part of this science, not as is its primary subject but rather only to the extent that “God is a principle of absolute being” (al-wujud al-mutlaq).

In these corrections of what he takes to be the previous misreading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, al- Farabi affirms that divine science is indeed an important part of metaphysics, while acknowledging that only a very small portion of Aristotle’s text –a single book is devoted to the topic. Perhaps this why al- Farabi declares at the end of his Falsafah Aristutalis (“Philosophy of Aristotle”) that “we do not possess metaphysical science”

Theory of emanation as the basis of Farabi’s
But the major doctrine of Neoplatonic metaphysics known to al- Farabi, the theory of emanation, has as its focal point divine beings and their causal likes to the sublunar world, And it is this doctrine that provides the metaphysical foundations for al- Farabi ‘s two most important personal works, al- Madinah al- fadilah and al- Siyasah al- madaniyyah (“The Political Regime’), also known as the Mabadi al- mawjudat (“Principles of Beings”) in virtue of its metaphysical parts.

The pillars of theory of emanation
The theory of emanation espoused by al- Farabi in these works rests upon the twin pillars of Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology and the metaphysics of the divine. The framework of emanation is provided by cosmology. The universe is viewed as a series of concentric spheres: the outermost sphere, called the first heaven, the sphere of the fixed stars, and the spheres of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and finally, the Moon. The mechanics of emanation as a theory explaining the generation of the universe from God draws upon a variety of sources. In its basic premise it represents radical departure from Aristotle, for whom God was not efficient cause of the very existence (wujud)of all other beings, but only the first cause of motion in the universe. Many of the properties of al- Farabi’s emanational God are Aristotelian, however: God is one, immaterial, eternal, and acts of necessity. Most importantly, however, God is characterized by al- Farabi as an intellect whose principal activity is self-understanding, echoing Aristotle’s conception of God‘s activity as a “thinking of thinking” (noesis noeseos). It is God‘s intellect activity which, in a al- Farabi’s scheme underlies God‘s role as the creator of the universe. As a result of his self-contemplation, there is an overflow or emanation (fayd) from God of a second intellect. The second intellect, like God, is characterized by the activity of self- contemplation, but it must, in addition to this, contemplate God himself. By virtue of its thinking of God, it generates yet a third intellect, and by virtue of its self-contemplation, it generates the celestial sphere that corresponds to it, the first heaven. Al- Farabi then repeats this dyadic pattern of emanation for each sphere in the cosmology and its corresponding intellect, arriving at a total of ten intellects others then God. (The use of a dyadic model separates al- Farabi from earlier Neoplatonic thinkers and from the later Avicenna, who use triadic models to a account for the emanation of a distinct rational soul for each celestial body. Al- Farabi does not distinguish the soul as moves of the sphere from its intellect. See, for example, al- Farabi(1964): 34-5, 53.) The terminus of the emanational process is our own world, whose corresponding intellect in none other than the agent intellect familiar from Aristotle’s De anima.

Theory of emanation and the link between metaphysics and physics
Through its culmination in the agent intellect, al- Farabi’s adoption of the Neoptatonic metaphysics of emanation provides whereby Aristotle philosophy can be placed in a more systematic framework than the Stagirite’s own writings allow. For in Aristotelian terms, natural philosophy includes the study of psychology: hence one and the same being, the agent intellect, represent the upper terminus of physics and the lower terminus of metaphysics. In this way, emanation allows al- Farabi not only to fill in the gap between the theological and ontological elements with metaphysics but also to forge a link between the theoretical sciences of metaphysics and physics that is not clearly articulated by Aristotle himself.

Sources

History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:187to189

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