~ ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی ~

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ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی

al-Farabi, Abu Nasr (c.870-950)

Al-Farabi was known to the Arabs as the 'Second Master' (after Aristotle), and with good reason. It is unfortunate that his name has been overshadowed by those of later philosophers such as Ibn Sina, for al-Farabi was one of the world's great philosophers and much more original than many of his Islamic successors. A philosopher, logician and musician, he was also a major political scientist.

The ruins of Otrar in Kazakhstan

Al-Farabi has left us no autobiography and consequently, relatively little is known for certain about his life. According to some accounts, he was born in Otrar, Kazakhstan, but there is controversy as to his actual birthplace. Otrar is mentioned in numerous sources such as medieval Arab, Persian and Turkish authors. These sources refer to it as one of the Zhetysu (Seven Rivers) towns. The town was situated at the junction of different geographical landscapes and was at the intersection of the caravan ways of the Great Silk Road.
Despite the controversy over his birthplace, it is agreed that he was born in Central Asia and serves to highlight the contributions of scientists, writers and scholars from this part of the world who have made major contributions to the advancement of civilization.

His philosophical legacy is large. In the arena of metaphysics he has been designated the 'Father of Islamic Neoplatonism', and while he was also saturated with Aristotelianism and certainly deploys the vocabulary of Aristotle, it is this Neoplatonic dimension which dominates much of his corpus. This is apparent in his most famous work, al-Madina al-fadila (The Virtuous City) which, far from being a copy or a clone of Plato's Republic, is imbued with the Neoplatonic concept of God. Of course, al-Madina al-fadila has undeniable Platonic elements but its theology, as opposed to its politics, places it outside the mainstream of pure Platonism.

In his admittedly complex theories of epistemology, al-Farabi has both an Aristotelian and Neoplatonic dimension, neither of which is totally integrated with the other. His influence was wide and extended not only to major Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina who came after him, and to lesser mortals such as Yahya ibn 'Adi, al-Sijistani, al-'Amiri and al-Tawhidi, but also to major thinkers of Christian medieval Europe including Thomas Aquinas.

We chose to feature Chapters 19 through 25 of Part 2 of the Book of Letters as they cover a small portion of Al-Farabi's teachings and writings as concerns languages and language differences.

If you are interested in learning more about Al Farabi, a good starting point is The Philosophy of Alfarabi And Its Influence on Medieval Thought By REV. ROBERT HAMMOND.

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