~ ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی ~

Chapter Nineteen

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XIX. Religion and Philosophy Are Spoken
of as Being Prior and Being Subsequent

The jurist is similar to the prudent man;
they differ only in the principles they
employ to infer the correct opinion with respect
to particular practical things.
~ ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی

Al-Farabi~ Chapter XIX
from The Book of Letters

108. Because demonstrations are such that they are noticed only after these [dialectical and sophistical arguments], it follows that the faculties for dialectic, sophistry, and presumed philosophy or fanciful philosophy were prior to certain – namely, demonstrative – philosophy in time. If religion is set down as something human, then it is on the whole subsequent to philosophy in time; for by it one seeks to teach the multitude the theoretical and practical things inferred in philosophy, but by means of the ways that bring about an understanding of that – by means of persuasion, imagining, or both together.

109. The arts of theology [2] and jurisprudence are subsequent to religion in time and dependent on it.

Whenever religion depends on ancient presumed or fanciful philosophy,
the corresponding theology and jurisprudence that depend on it will conform to, or be even lower than, the two types of philosophy. [3] This is especially so if it leaves out the things it adopted from the two [types of philosophy], or from one of them, and replaces them with images and likenesses of them, and if the art of theology takes those likenesses and images as though they themselves are true and certain and seeks to validate them with arguments.

Moreover, it may happen that a subsequent lawgiver,
[4] in legislating about theoretical things imitates a lawgiver who was prior to him and had adopted theoretical matters from a presumed or fanciful philosophy. He adopts the likenesses and images by which the first lawgiver made it imagined that what he had adopted from that philosophy was true and not likenesses. And he seeks to make them imagined as well by means of likenesses that make those things imagined. Now if the practitioner of theology adopts those likenesses in his religion as though they are true, then what the art of theology in this religion looks into is further from what is true than in the first case. For there what was sought was only to validate an image of something presumed to be true or fancied as being true.

110. It is evident that the arts of theology and jurisprudence are subsequent to religion and religion is subsequent to philosophy, whereas the faculty for dialectic and sophistry is prior to philosophy and dialectical and sophistical philosophy are prior to demonstrative philosophy. Thus philosophy as a whole is prior to religion in the way the one who uses instruments is prior to the instruments in time, the faculty for dialectic and for sophistry is prior to philosophy in the way the tree being nourished is prior to the fruit or in the way the blossom of the tree is prior to the fruit, and religion is prior to theology and jurisprudence in the way the ruler who uses a servant is prior to the servant and the one who uses an instrument is prior to the instrument.

111. Since religion teaches theoretical things by means of evoking images and persuasion, and those who depend on it are not cognizant of any method of teaching other than these two, it appears that the art of theology depending on religion takes note only of persuasive things and thus validates anything theoretical only by means of persuasive methods and arguments – especially when the intention is to validate images of what is true as though they were themselves true. Persuasion comes about only through premises that are generally approved and generally accepted according to unexamined opinion, through enthymemes and examples, and on the whole through rhetorical methods – whether these are arguments or external matters.

The theologian
[5] is therefore limited to validating theoretical things according to what is common with respect to unexamined opinion. So he has this in common with the multitude. However, he sometimes scrutinizes unexamined opinion as well; yet he scrutinizes unexamined opinion only by means of some other thing that is unexamined opinion as well. At most, his scrutiny of that opinion succeeds in making it as reliable as one that is dialectical. So in this respect, he sets himself apart somewhat from the multitude. Moreover, he sets down as his goal in life what can be acquired through the art of theology. So in this, too, he sets himself apart from the multitude.

Moreover, since he is a servant of religion, and the status of religion with respect to philosophy is that status, the relationship of theology to philosophy also becomes, in a certain way, that of a servant, likewise through the intermediary of religion. For, in order to attain to a teaching common to all, it defends and seeks to validate, by means of what is generally accepted by all according to unexamined opinion, what was originally validated by demonstrations in philosophy. So in this, too, he sets himself apart from the multitude.

For this reason, it is presumed that he is one of the elect, not one of the multitude. It ought to be known that he is one of the elect also, but only in relation to the adepts of that religion, whereas the philosopher’s being [one of the] elect is in relation to all men and to [all] nations.

112. The jurist is similar to the prudent man; they differ only in the principles they employ to infer the correct opinion with respect to particular practical things. That is because the jurist employs as principles only premises adopted and generally received from the founder of the religion [6] with respect to particular practical things, whereas the prudent man employs as principles premises that are generally accepted by all and premises he has attained through experience. For this reason, the jurist becomes one of the elect in relation to a particular religion, while the prudent man becomes one of the elect in relation to all.

113. Therefore, the elect who are unqualifiedly so are the philosophers who are unqualifiedly philosophers. The rest of those who are reckoned among the elect are so reckoned only because they have a similarity to the philosophers. For instance, everyone who is put in charge of political rulership or takes it upon himself, is qualified to take it upon himself, or is disposed to take it upon himself considers himself one of the elect. Thus, he has a certain similarity to the philosophers inasmuch as the practical ruling art is one of the parts of philosophy.

Likewise, among the adepts of each practical art, he who is skilled considers himself to be among the elect because he has exhaustively scrutinized what the adepts of that art adopt on the basis of appearance. Further, not only does the skilled adept of every art call himself by this name, but sometimes the adepts of every practical art call themselves “elect” in relation to someone who is not an adept of that art. For he discusses and looks into his art only by means of things particular to his art, while the others discuss and look into it only by means of unexamined opinion and by means of what is common to everyone in all the arts. Moreover, physicians call themselves “elect,” too, either because they have taken upon themselves the governance of seriously sick invalids, because their art has natural science in common with philosophy, because they need to scrutinize the unexamined opinions present in their art more exhaustively than happens in the rest of the arts on account of the danger and harm that may befall people from the slightest error on their part, or because the art of medicine turns to its service many of the practical arts such as the arts of cooking and chilling [7] and in general the arts beneficial to human health.

So in all of these arts there is a similarity to philosophy in a particular way. Yet not one of these people ought to be called “elect” except metaphorically. To be set down as elect first of all with respect to unqualified goodness are the philosophers, then the dialecticians and sophists, then the lawgivers, and then the theologians and jurists. The vulgar and the multitude are those we defined, regardless of whether or not there is among them someone who takes political rulership upon himself or is qualified to take it upon himself.

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[Footnote 1: This translation is based on a newly edited, albeit as yet unpublished, version of the text prepared by Muhsin Mahdi. The new edition builds on and improves Mahdi’s original edition of the text: Abã Nas r al-F~r~b§, Kit~b al-H urãf (Beirut: D~r al. . Mashriq, 1969), which is also entitled Alfarabi’s Book of Letters (Kit~b al-H urãf), Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Arabic . text, edited with introduction and notes, Muhsin Mahdi (Recherches publiées sous la direction de l’Institut de Lettres Orientales de Beyrouth, Série 1: Pensée Arabe et Musulmane, Tome XLVI; Beirut: Dar el-Mashreq Publishers, 1969). The division of the text into parts, chapters, and sections followed here is that proposed by Mahdi in the original edition, and numbers in square brackets within the translated text refer to the page numbers of that original edition.] Back to text

[Footnote 2: The term is kal~m, most often translated as “dialectical theology” so as to emphasize the particular approach used within Islam. Here, however, Alfarabi seems to be speaking about theology in a more general sense, that is, not in a purely Islamic sense. Unless otherwise noted, this term will always be translated here in the generic sense.] Back to text

[Footnote 3: Namely, presumed or fanciful.] Back to text

[Footnote 4: Literally, “the one who sets down conventions” (w~d i'al. naw~m§s). Naw~m§s (sing. n~mãs) is the Arabic translation of nomoi (sing. nomos), the Greek word for conventions or laws.] Back to text

[Footnote 5: The term is mutakallim and is thus related to the term kal~m; see n. 2, above. Though usually translated as “dialectical theologian,” the term will be translated here in the more generic sense as “theologian” unless otherwise noted.] Back to text

[Footnote 6: Literally, “the one who sets religion down” (w~d i ´ al. milla); see n. 4, above.] Back to text

[Footnote 7: Reading al-bard for sense, rather than al-h ard . (“intensifying” or “straining”).] Back to text