ALFARABI, ABU NAṢR MOHAMMED:
By: A. Loewenthal
Arabian philosopher; born in Farab, Turkestan, about 870; died in Damascus about 950. He studied at Bagdad, then the seat of Greek philosophical learning, and traveled in Syria and in Egypt. The influence exerted by his philosophical works impressed itself permanently upon Jewish literature. Some of his writings are extant only in their Hebrew versions. He is the author of many essays on the "Logic" of Aristotle, of an introduction to his "Metaphysics," and of commentaries on his "Physics" and "Nikomachean Ethics." Of his original works the following are the best known: (1) "The Book of Principles" (Sefer ha-Teḥalot), translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Samuel ibn Tibbon, 1248, and edited by Filipowsky in the Year-Book "Sefer ha-Asif" (1850-51). This work is a concise presentation of the entire Peripatetic philosophy. In it Alfarabi discusses the six principles of all Being, and the unity of God: (1) The divine principle, or the primary cause,—which is a unity; (2) the secondary causes, or the intellects of the celestial spheres; (3) the active intellect; (4) the soul; (5) form; (6) abstract matter. Only the first of these principles is absolute unity; the others representing multiplicity. The first three principles are not bodies, nor are they in direct relation with bodies; neither are the last three by themselves bodies, they are only united with them. Corresponding to these principles, there are six kinds of bodies: (1) the celestial; (2) the rational-animal; (3) the irrational-animal; (4) the vegetable; (5) the mineral; (6) the four elements. All these principles and bodies combined in a whole form the Universe. He teaches that God can not consist of conceivable parts; that, unlike man, who needs six different things to produce anything, He has no cause for His action but Himself. The problem of prophecy is also treated in this work, prophecy being in his opinion merely a natural manifestation of the intellect, permitting man to predict the future. Alfarabi declares for the freedom of man's will, and protests against the use of astrology. The first, or metaphysical, part of the book is followed by a political one, a dissertation on the various forms of government. The welfare of both individual and state depends upon speculative science. The prince must always be a philosopher. (2) "The Distribution of the Sciences," translated and condensed by Kalonymus ben Kalonymus of Arles (1314), a work that was of much value to Jewish authors because of its encyclopedic presentation of the sciences. (3) A "Treatise upon the Nature of the Soul," translated by Zerahiah ben Isaac, probably in 1284, in Rome, and edited by Edelmann in "Ḥemdah Genuzah." (4) , an essay on the various meanings of the word "intellect" in Aristotle, translated into Hebrew by Jedaiah Bedersi, 1300, and published in 1858 by Michael Rosenstein.His Logic.
Concerning Alfarabi's value as a philosopher, Maimonides remarks that in order to learn logic one needs occupy himself only with Alfarabi's writings, since all that he wrote, especially the "Book of Principles," is "fine flour"; that he was a distinguished scholar, and hence much could be learned from him. But even before Maimonides' praise of Alfarabi, he was a great favorite among Jewish students. Moses ibn Ezra (1130) quotes from a collection of philosophical aphorisms by Alfarabi, and cites a passage concerning poetry taken from his encyclopedia. The view that all creatures stand related to each other in a determined order of gradation, which is to be found in Judah ha-Levi ("Cuzari," i. 31), seems to have been drawn from Alfarabi's "Principles." It was especially Alfarabi's monotheistic tendency which attracted Jewish minds; with him metaphysics and the unity of God are identical. The idea expressed by Judah ha-Levi, that the limitations of our powers of sight do not permit us to conceive God ("Cuzari," v. 21), is derived from Alfarabi. ButAlfarabi's views concerning prophecy are stoutly contested by Judah ha-Levi.Influence on Jewish Philosophers.
Alfarabi claims that prophecy emanates from a soul of purified reasoning powers; the soul associates itself with the active reason and receives from it aid and instruction. From this naturalistic explanation of prophecy Judah ha-Levi totally dissents, holding the opinion that prophecy is in reality God speaking (i. 87). Nevertheless, Alfarabi's conception of prophecy was shared by Abraham ibn Daud, who speaks of three gradations of reason: reason "in potentia," "in actu," and the "intellectus acquisitus." Maimonides also adopted Alfarabi's views concerning prophecy, while at the same time insisting on the selection by the divine will, and on the prophet's inner preparation by a higher moral standard and imaginative faculty (Moreh, ii. 36) and follows him in his classification of the soul-powers in his "Eight Chapters." From him, too, in all probability, Maimonides borrowed a passage concerning the seven divisions of medical science, which are to be found in Alfarabi's distribution of the sciences. Finally, in his "Moreh," ii. 27, Maimonides has made use of Alfarabi's commentary upon Aristotle's "Physics." Other writers likewise reflect Alfarabi's influence upon Jewish literature; Abraham b. Ḥiyyah Albargeloni, Joseph ibn Aknin, Shem-Ṭob Palquera, and Moses di Rieti knew and availed themselves of Alfarabi's writings.On Immortality.
While Alfarabi's teachings were generally held in the highest esteem, his view concerning the immortality of the human soul was vigorously combated by Jewish authors. Arabic philosophers endeavored to solve the problem of immortality, left unsettled by Aristotle, by suggesting that during man's life the human intellect combines with the Active Intelligence of the Universe. Alfarabi considers this hypothesis as utterly absurd. Man's supreme aim is rather to elevate his capabilities to the highest degree of perfection attainable. This conception, which was expressed by Alfarabi in the lost commentary on the "Nikomachean Ethics," brought much reproof upon him; and for it Immanuel ben Solomon, in his "Final Judgment" (c. 28), consigns him to the infernal regions.
- Steinschneider, Al-Farabi's, des Arabischen Philosophen Leben und Schriften, St. Petersburg, 1869;
- idem, Hebr. Uebers. index, s.v. Farabi;
- Brockelmann, Gesch. d. Arabischen Literatur, 1898, i. 210;
- Schmölders, Documenta Philosophorum Arabum, Bonn, 1836;
- Casiri, Bibl. Arabico-Hispaniensis, vol. i.;
- De Rossi, Dizionario Storico degli Autori Arabi, 1807.