Al Farabi

872 - 950 AD

al_farabiAl Farabi was a Muslim mathematician, logician, philosopher and educator. He has had a strong influence on science, philosophy and educational theories over the centuries. He was born in Wasij, in in Turkistan, in 872 AD. His father, of Persian origin, was an army commander at the Turkish court. Al-Farabi moved to Baghdad, where he studied the ancient classics including grammar, logic, philosophy, music, mathematics and sciences and combined these with his studies of the Koran and Sufism.

He advanced the view that philosophy and revelation are two different ways of arriving at the truth. In his books Social Psychology and Model City he argued that an individual needs to improve himself through social interaction.

Al Farabi's views on psychology are found in his metaphysical and political writings. He theorized that the souls of rational creatures come from the soul of the world. He forwards that there are five powers of man's soul

  1. the power of nutrition
  2. the sense power,
  3. the imaginative power,
  4. the appetitive power,
  5. the rational power which has two parts:
    1. the theoretical power whereby man acquires knowledge
    2. the practical power that guides man's action

Al Farabi, drawing from Aristotle's De anima, offered a psycholinguistic view of the soul. He divided it into four faculties. The first was appetitive, related to a subject's aversion or attraction to an object. The second was the sensitive, or one's perception of objects. The third was imaginative, in which the the subject stores or retains images of perceived objects. Finally, Al Farabi proposes the existence of a rational faculty, or the faculty of the intellect. He saw the intellect as a gift of imagination, and a key faculty underlying a person's skills, rhetoric oratory, symbolism, and rituals.

Al Farabi follows Greek commentaries on Aristotle's De anima and lists several stages in the human intellect as it becomes actualized. He proposes four stages in the carrying out of the intellect, potential, actual, acquired, and the agent.

  1. First is the potential intellect, that is a person's capacity to form abstract forms from sensory forms of objects. This is shared by all human beings
  2. Second is actual thinking, in which the person forms intellectual knowledge from the sensory forms. This understanding is abstract in that it removes the nonessential aspects of the object (e.g., time, place, quality, and physicality) and converts the understanding primary concepts (intelligibles)
  3. Third is the fully actualized intellect, or acquired intellect, in which the objects of thought become perfected
  4. Lastly, Al Farabi proposed an active intellect (not part of the person's intellect) or spiritual substance that is separate, transcendent, and is the efficient cause of human knowledge.

Al Farabi wrote over 100 books on many different topics and founded his own school of Islamic Philosophy.