129 - The Second Master: al-Fārābī

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Peter begins to look at the systematic rethinking of Hellenic philosophy offered by al-Fārābī, focusing on his logic and metaphysics.



Further Reading

• P. Adamson, “The Arabic Sea Battle: al-Fārābī on the Problem of Future Contingents,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 88 (2006), 163-188.

• D. Black, “Knowledge (ʿIlm) and Certainty (Yaqīn) in al-Fārābī’s Epistemology,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 16 (2006), 11-45.

• T.-A. Druart, “al-Fārābī and Emanationism,” Studies in Medieval Philosophy, ed. J.F. Wippel (Washington DC: 1987), 23-43.

• J. Lameer, Al-Farabi and Aristotelian Syllogistics (Leiden: 1994).

• U. Rudolph (ed.), Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī: Die Prinzipien der Ansichten der Bewohner der vortrefflichen Staat (Berlin: 2022). [collection of articles in German and English]

• R. Walzer (ed. and trans.), Al-Farabi on the Perfect State (Oxford: 1985).

• F.W. Zimmermann, Al-Farabi’s Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle’s De Interpretatione (London: 1981).


Entry on al-Farabi on the online Encyclopedia Iranica



Crr on 19 May 2013

Thanks once again Peter. The

Thanks once again Peter. The "great chain of being" theme (sic) and Aquinas' debt and or affinity with the Arabic literature is becoming progressively clearer. I am not sure if you have addressed the plausibility of Lovejoy's account of the former concept previously, if indeed it is relevant to do so. But I always thought Nietzsche's madman parable could be fruitfully interpreted with this concept in mind.

Wojciech Wciorka on 20 May 2013

the giver of forms

Thanks, I thought wahib al-suwar (playing the double role of informing matter and potential intellects) was Avicenna'a idea.

roman prychidko on 22 May 2013

Al- Farabi

Two point for clarification Peter.
1.Is matter the result of a combination of the 4 elements which then goes on to create form. Or does matter aways exist and combines with the elements to create form.
2, Is the heirachical sciences as follows logic, physics,metaphysics,ethics ,political philosophy. Sometimes you mention metaphysics as number one yet it is third in the above structure.


In reply to by roman prychidko

Peter Adamson on 22 May 2013

Matter and curriculum

Hi Roman,

Good questions. Here are some attempted answers:

1. Matter is ambiguous. It could refer to prime matter which underlies the elements, or to the four elements. When I said that for Farabi form is emanated by the giver of forms (the active intellect) onto matter, ultimately that means onto prime matter but in general what is happening is that elemental mixtures, and even more complex compounds (e.g. blood) would be the recipient of the form.

2. You're right to notice that. The idea is that metaphysics is the first philosophy, but needs to be reached via logic, physics and psychology - through which we prove that there is a prime mover (God) and so on. Then having proved that we come back down to re-confirm our physical theory, now demonstratively because we are reasoning from causes to effects rather than effects to causes as before. Finally we can draw inferences about political and ethical issues by seeing the implications of this system - for instance, until we have done some metaphysics we don't know about the providential order of the universe which is mirrored in practical philosophy. Thus you could think about it as an arc, starting at the bottom with logic, ascending via physics to metaphysics, and then coming back down to complete the picture with practical philosophy. That's maybe an oversimplification but is more or less how Farabi presents it in works like the Attainment of Happiness.

Thanks for listening!


In reply to by Peter Adamson

HABIBAH BINTI OSMAN on 16 February 2020

Al Farabi

You are right Mr. Peter because the knowledge for the reality of Godness have highest position in the knowledge hierarchy but because the society nowadays is leaning to equalize the standard of all knowledge, people today misunderstand so they think in a wrong way.

sameer on 17 May 2015

I found Alladin's lamp here...

I always wondered if I can find historical development of philosophical thoughts in one place - here I found it. It feels like I got Alladin's lamp and whatever I need to know, I can find here.

Thanks a lot for putting this material together :)

samaneh beidaghi on 29 June 2015

useful information

Hi Dr Adamson,

Its really exellent that we can find a lot of professional information about Islamic philosophers and their audio files together.

I study Islamic philosophy and suprised about it.

I think its very useful for un-Islamic students and enthusiasts to philosophy.

Best regards

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