Dalia Magdy Abdel Latif 900092619 Dr. Heba Raouf Plato, Aristotle and Alfarabi On The Notion of Citizenship Introduction Alfarabi was the first of all philosophers to try to link political philosophy with Islam. Alfarabi is significant because he was able to improve the classical political tradition of Aristotle and Plato and place it within the context of Islamic religious principles.Despite the fact that there is general agreement amongst scholars that Alfarabi clearly draws from Plato in his interpretation of the philosopher-king, there is disagreement over the extent to which the appearance of Aristotle’s citizen in Alfarabi’s work modifies this philosopher-king and whether or not there is an active role for the citizen. Although Alfarabi never explicitly states how his citizen should function within a political or social context, this paper seeks to find from different works and opinions of different authors made within his works to provide an interpretation of the role of Alfarabi’s citizen.Abu Nasr Muhammad Al-Farabi, referred to as simply Alfarabi, lived from about 870 A. D.
to 950 A. D. He spent most of his life in Baghdad. Not much is known about Alfarabi’s private life. He was born of Turkish descent in the Farabi district of Turkestan.
Alfarabi was generally known as the “second master “amongst his peers, Aristotle being the first. He was known as a logician, physicist, metaphysician, musician, and an astronomer. However, his most well-known achievements came when he began his broad interpretations on both Plato and Aristotle concept of the citizen.Many Muslims, Jewish and Christian philosophers turned to Alfarabi for a fuller understanding of the controversial, complex, and troublesome questions of philosophy. He tried to combine the philosophical learning of the Greek with Islam. Combining Aristotelian cosmology and psychology with Neoplatonic metaphysics and a curious political Platonism, he made a unique contribution of political thought of Islam” Alfarabi created a recognizable school of intellect that was pursued and developed by many other philosophers.Alfarabi tried hard to promote political order against an environment of instability and change. Plato’s Influence on Alfarabi Before Alfarabi, most of the Islamic world looked upon the works of philosophical thinkers as ineffective because of their inability to interrelate ancient philosophical works to the most basic Islamic principles.
However, Alfarabi became the first respected philosopher to succeed in linking the philosophical ideas of his predecessors to the important Muslim religious set of guidelines.He interpreted on Plato’s philosophy of how to set up a political community and placed it within an Islamic context. In order to understand how Alfarabi ultimately defines his citizen. Plato believes that the citizen does not have an active role in politics. The role of the individual can be divided into three certain classes within the community. The Guardians, or gold class, possess wisdom, “The quality of good judgment”.
While the Guardians rule by reason, the Auxiliaries, or silver class, exercise spirit under the rule of reason by the Guardians.They possess courage, which is a learned and basic awareness of what to fear. The largest class of workers, or bronze class, have self-discipline and control over their desires as Plato believed. They agree to live their lives ruled by reason and spirit. Similarly in Alfarabi’s Perfect State, he sets out to categorize the people in classes. Al Farabi believes that each citizen must “guide and imitate his superiors according to their capacity, choosing to aim precisely on the strength of its established rank in the universe”.However despite the fact that the citizens strive to mirror the actions of their superiors, they are confined to their natural rank with little or no opportunity for advancement.
“The excellent city ought to be arranged in the same way, all its parts ought to imitate their actions the aim of their first ruler according to their rank”. Alfarabi’s words clearly imply that although each citizen should try his best to imitate the actions those above them, they have no opportunity to move up to another class. A few scholars like Strauss, Mahdi, and Walzer recognize the similarities between the works of Alfarabi and Plato.Leo Strauss, for example, states that “there are a number of striking resemblances between many of the fundamental features of Islam and the good regime envisaged by classical political philosophy in general, and by Plato in particular”.
Both Alfarabi’s On The Perfect State and Plato’s The Republic begins with a God as the most important cause of legislation and claim that the citizen must understand the essential beliefs of the divine in order to be able to contribute to a good political regime. Both Plato and Alfarabi state that the rulers must attempt to make accessible to the citizenry the fundamental truths about the divine.Also, both claim that its citizens must be contributing to virtuous action on their way to achieving ultimate happiness. “Both consider the functions of the founder and legislator and after him his successors in the leadership of the community, of absolutely central importance for its organization and preservation”. The preservation of order was extremely important for Alfarabi, as it was for Plato.
Strauss believes that Alfarabi draws upon Plato to organize the “citizens hierarchically so that each class can attain the perfection of which it is capable and yet serve the class above it”.Strauss points out the similarities between Plato and Alfarabi to determine that the citizen is ruled by the classes that are superior to him. “The supreme ruler teaches the few in his capacity as philosopher, and he presents similitude’s and prescribes rewards and punishments for the many in his capacity as prophet.
These should be accepted by the citizens, as true, fixed, and permanent; that is, the citizens should expect definite rewards and punishments for belief and unbelief, and for obedience and disobedience”.Strauss believes that the role of Alfarabi’s citizen is to accept a inferior status to those with more knowledge and to obey those with control over them. Walzer agrees with Strauss’ assessment: “Alfarabi seems to be convinced that the ordinary man is born to be dependent on his superiors and is simply the product of the reigning political life”.
The best state for Alfarabi is one that is comprised of true justice, proportionate equality, and a body of citizens who are willing to fulfill the tasks naturally endowed to them.The citizen is asked to execute duties which they are born to do with no opportunity for advancement or profession in politics. Alfarabi’s people have predefined roles, roles defined by God just like Plato. If they are born to be a ruler they will have that opportunity. However, if they are born to do something else they will have no opportunity to be actively engaged in politics.
According to Fakhry, “the Philosophical elite is far from being accessible to human reason” . Alfarabi believes that no man can reason himself into the role of the ruler.His appointment to be ruler must be one of destiny: “Men are destined both by nature and by habit to either be rulers or be ruled” . Alfarabi’s distinction amongst classes is taken directly from Plato’s concept of three separate classes: the gold, the silver, and the bronze. The rulers, or gold class, have supreme knowledge and are the only type of individual suited for governance: “The man in whom these conditions are fulfilled is worthy of the office of chief ruler, since he is better than anyone else” The rulers are born to rule and are given that ability by the divine.
This means that no other citizen can achieve this level because he is naturally less well-off. If the citizen has no opportunity for advancement, can he achieve happiness? After all, happiness for Plato and Alfarabi lies in the fulfillment of one’s natural compatibilities to reason. Can the citizen achieve this in an environment where his reason may be blocked at the expense of the ruler? According to Galston, “The harsh fact is that happiness is in principle outside the grasp of virtually all men except for philosophic elite”. Galston asserts that the best happiness can only be attained by those in power.Although they are supposed to seek the best good for the citizenry, the citizens submit to their beliefs of the ideal state. “The question of the character of the citizens’ excellence may thus be complicated by the circumstance that only those highest in authority actually pursue the ultimate goal of the city of excellence” Although each individual is working towards achieving the best city-state, the happiness of the citizen may be compromised by the elite if they so choose. Alfarabi sets up a strict sense of order within his ideal state just like his predecessor, Plato.
Aristotle’s influence on Alfarabi While there is extensive evidence and research confirming Plato’s influence on Alfarabi, there is significantly less discussion of Aristotle’s effect on Alfarabi. Aristotle raises the question “Who is a citizen? ” Aristotle defines his citizen in terms of his eligibility for office of the state: “what effectively distinguishes the citizen proper from others is his participation in giving judgment and in holding office” His definition of the citizen states that “as soon as a man becomes entitled to participate in office, he is considered to be a citizen of the state.Therefore, while specific details of political regimes may vary from state to state, the term citizenship is valid for all forms of governance so long as the government permits some form of participation and entitlement. Alfarabi also believes in the importance of citizen engagement, but not to the extent of Aristotle. There is disagreement amongst scholars about the role of Aristotle in Alfarabi’s writings. Alfarabi’s works, as Strauss suggests, aim toward presenting ideas in a way that are “couched in terms understandable to the citizens”.
According to Strauss, “The virtuous regime can be defined as the regime in which men come together and cooperate with the aim of becoming virtuous, performing noble activities, and attaining happiness. It is distinguished by… the concerted effort of the rulers and the citizens to teach and learn these things, and to develop the virtuous forms or states of character from which merge the noble activities useful for achieving happiness”. Although Strauss most certainly argues that Alfarabi draws upon Plato, even he points out language that resembles ideas of Aristotle as well.
The CitizenFollowing Plato in The Republic, Alfarabi explains the most important principle of democracy to be freedom. Mahdi explains that of the six regimes of types of governance, including tyranny and oligarchy, democracy “occupies the privileged position of supplying the most solid and the best starting point for the establishment of the virtuous regime and for the rule of the virtuous human beings”. A democracy promotes the concept of “rule by the people.
” Although Alfarabi never promotes the concept of a democratic government, he praises democracy for its ability to encourage rule by the people.He also calls a democracy a “free” regime. “Freedom means the ability of everyone to pursue anything he desires and to be left alone to do anything he chooses in the pursuit of his desires” .
Alfarabi enjoys this concept because he believes his citizen should be able to equally engage in whatever they may choose. He believes this because “the actions that are determined and directed toward happiness strengthen the part of the soul that is naturally equipped for happiness, and actualize and perfect it- to the extent that the power resulting from the perfection is achieved… through political activities .Alfarabi upholds that the citizen does have consent to participate in political activities, even if in a limited role, because the citizen must strive for happiness by utilizing his ability to reason. The foundation of “rule by the people” and equal engagements are the two principles that define the basis of Alfarabi’s authoritative powers:“Authority is justified only on the basis of the preservation and promotion of freedom and equality”. Alfarabi faults democracy for allowing the rulers to become instruments of the people. The ruler therefore rules only at the will of the citizens. A close investigation of the democratic regime shows that, ultimately, there are really no rulers and ruled; there is one supreme will, which is that of the citizens, and the rulers are instruments serving the desires and wishes of the citizens” (Mahdi, Alfarabi, 146).
Alfarabi maintains that the rulers should be able to maintain power and not be forced to succumb to wavering political ideas of the citizenry. Alfarabi, like Plato, defines in great detail his model of classes. The ruler-prophet is perfect, necessary, self-sufficient, eternal, uncaused, and is “not susceptible of being defined” (Fakhry, History, 121).He has divine attributes and possesses unity, wisdom, and supreme knowledge, enabling him to establish a direct connection with the divine. The ruler is equipped to rule because he has a direct connection with the divine.
According to Alfarabi, “not every man is equipped by natural disposition to receive the first intelligible (the Divine’s principles), because individual human beings are made by nature with unequal powers and different preparations”. Some men have a natural deficiency preventing them from being able to receive the wisdom from the divine and communicate with the prophet.The ruler does however have this connection and is therefore more fit to rule because they can learn the divine’s intentions.
As discussed in the section Plato’s Influence on Alfarabi, Alfarabi clearly explains how the ruler-prophet becomes the ruler philosopher in his ideal political society. However the question remains, what is the role of the citizen in Alfarabi’s ideal society? Alfarabi clearly states the citizens are entitled to a inferior status as compared to the ruling class. “The virtuous city is then compared by Alfarabi to a sound body, whose organs cooperate in ensuring the health of the animal, as well as its survival. Like the body, whose organs differ in rank or function, the parts of the city differ in rank and function too” The role of the citizen is to support and provide for the rulers like a vein supports and provides for the heart. Alfarabi, in While the ruler is concerned with philosophy, the citizens must exercise habit and submit to the philosophy of the ruler.
Citizens obtain jobs as farmers, bricklayers, innkeepers, scribes, bookbinders, grain merchants, and other typical professions to earn a living and support the community as a whole.Their professions serve not only to generate an income for themselves, but to provide goods and services for the entire city, effectively facilitating the attainment of happiness for all. In a political context, the citizen does not have an effective means of participation. “The supreme ruler is the source of all power and knowledge in the regime, and it is through him that the citizens learn what they ought to know and to do”. Citizens cannot vote nor stand against the laws and ideas of the philosopher king. Alfarabi believes that his citizen must have a profound trust in their rulers. As God or the First Cause of the world directs everything else, and as everything else is directed toward Him, the case ought to be the same in the virtuous city; in an orderly fashion, all of its parts ought to follow in their activities in the footsteps of the purpose of its supreme ruler” (Alfarabi, On The Perfect State, 57. 1-3).
He possesses unlimited powers and cannot be subjected to any human being or political regime or laws” (Mahdi, Alfarabi, 133). Alfarabi believes that the prophet-king has an established connection within the Gods and because of this connection, he is able to foresee concepts that the common man cannot perceive.Therefore, it is impossible to doubt his intellect or his command because the citizenry has inferior knowledge and wisdom on which to base their disapproval. The prophet-king “has the power to confirm or abrogate previous divine laws, to enact new ones, and to change a law he had legislated at one time for another if he deems it better to do so” (Political Regime 80. 16). He alone has the power to order the classes of people in the regime and assign to them their ranks (Mahdi, Alfarabi, 133). Alfarabi further defines his citizen by explaining the non-ideal citizen.He points out several qualities of the citizen that are opposed to a good city.
Alfarabi disapproves of societies in which men seek personal advantage. This occurs in cities that grant their citizenry too many freedoms. “The truly freemen, by contrast, are those, who in seeking the good or avoiding the bad, will not attach any importance to the pleasure or pain attendant on the choice; but will choose an action for its own sake” (Mahdi, Essays, 98). This principle establishes that men will naturally work towards personal interests if they are given the chance.Therefore, Alfarabi is justified in his limited role for the citizen within his society. Because they do not have supreme knowledge, their actions only lead them toward personal gain and not towards the attainment of happiness for the society as a whole.
Alfarabi cannot achieve his ideal citizen in a democratic system. He explains how the citizen is an undesirable citizen in a democratic city. “ Freedom in this city eventually generates a variety of perverse traits, pursuits and desires, leading ultimately to widespread division and chaos” (Mahdi, Alfarabi, 110).Freedom is the downfall to Alfarabi’s political system. He asserts that granting the citizen freedoms will cause the ruler to “continue to be subject to the will of the public” (Mahdi, Alfarabi, 110). Additionally, Alfarabi believes that “the ruler is either their [the citizens] equal or their inferior” (Alfarabi the Political Regime, 50).
The ruler is their equal when he provides the citizens with good things to keep them happy and satisfy their want and desire. The ruler is their inferior when he does not act in accordance to the citizen’s wishes because they can dispose of him instantly.In order to achieve happiness, the ruler is to answer to one and only one body, the divine. Furthermore, Alfarabi describes that there is an explicit rank in his idea system: “The ranks and order among the citizens of the city, as regards to ruling and serving, vary in excellence according to their natural dispositions and according to the habits of character they have formed” (Alfarabi, On Political Science, Jurisprudence and Theology, 39). Alfarabi maintains that although there is some opportunity to enhance one’s own rank through virtuous reasoning and ctions, the citizen will always have a “subordinate status” as compared to that of the ruler (Alfarabi, On Political Science, Jurisprudence and Theology, 39).
In a democratic city where the ruler must appease the people to maintain power, he may be forced to compromise the interests of the divine in order to keep his popular support. This will not allow the city to attain ultimate happiness because it is the divine and the divine only who understand how they citizens can achieve their happiness. Therefore, Alfarabi contends that a democratic city is not the ideal city-state.The citizen is not simply inferior of the ruling class.
Alfarabi tries to explain that the citizen has a substantial input in governance. He claims that the citizen has an important rational faculty that can be utilized to achieve happiness. The citizen’s reasoning can challenge the ruler’s reasoning, to ensure that “the virtuous city is governed through reason and its citizens aspire to the happiness that comes from an intellectual development which, at its highest and best, culminates in the serene contemplation of the truths of the Active Intelligence” (Collinson 30).The citizen is responsible for trying to achieve happiness for both himself and his fellow citizenry. The citizen must investigate virtues and good deeds and distinguish them from obstacles such as vices and evil deeds. He must collect “knowledge of the nature of these things, their modes and relationships with each other until he gains a rational understanding of their working. This is political science; it is the science of the things through which every citizen attains, by political association, the happiness to which his natural disposition conditions him” (Rosenthal 121).It is in this political association that the citizen must share his knowledge and opinions.
Alfarabi believes that the best way to do this is through reasoning and intellectual development that occurs through the process of deliberation. Conclusion Scholars have been varied in their assessment of Alfarabi’s beliefs. Strauss believed that Alfarabi’s citizen was to accept everything as “true, fixed, and permanent” with no opportunity to deliberate (Strauss 209). Walzer concluded that Alfarabi’s citizen was “born dependent on his superiors and simply the product of the reigning political life” (Walzer 468).
Collinson insisted that “Alfarabi transposes his pattern of structure into the political realm, producing a theory of the state that is both hierarchical and authoritarian” (Collinson 29). This happens because Alfarabi never explicitly devotes a work to the idea of “the citizen. ” While there is evidence of a clear structural order within Alfarabi’s politics, Alfarabi concludes that the citizen does in fact have a role in politics. He shows that the citizen can step outside the boundaries of the strictly ordered society and participate in politics.Alfarabi does this because he asserts that the citizen must have a realm to use his ability to reason.
The citizen can use active reasoning to discover his ultimate happiness. The key to finding the role for Alfarabi’s citizen lies in understanding his close imitation of Plato’s and Aristotle’s citizen. The virtuous reasoning of the citizen can best be developed through political activities.
What is interesting about Alfarabi is that his true political belief is contained in terms and interpretation of both Plato and Aristotle’s works.While many philosophers seek to directly answer fundamental questions about politics, liberty, and justice, Alfarabi never fully explains his vision for the citizen. Alfarabi tried to move Islamic philosophy in a particular direction. He wanted to grant the citizen more rights and more of a role in politics. he can be praised for the way he developed the concept of the citizen at a time where such ideas were not popular.
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