Politics and Excellence

Politics and Excellence: The Political Philosophy of Alfarabi

Miriam Galston
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 252
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv4rq
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  • Book Info
    Politics and Excellence
    Book Description:

    Widely recognized as one of the most original and profound philosophers that the medieval Islamic world produced, Alfarabi (870-950) wrote many works of political philosophy addressing the issues that dominated Greek political thought as well as new questions raised by the advent of revealed religion. Taking into account Alfarabi's major political treatises, Miriam Galston develops a theory explaining how together they form a coherent philosophy of politics. Her inquiry centers on Alfarabi's discussions of the nature of happiness, the attributes of ideal rulers, the best form of government, and the relationship between political science and theoretical inquiry. Based upon a new interpretation of Alfarabi's method of writing, Galston explores his use of dialectic, which she traces, in part, to his belief that personal discovery is a condition of philosophic understanding and to his desire to create for the reader a dialogue between Plato and Aristotle.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6149-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION, CITATION, AND TRANSLATION
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-21)

    The last several decades have witnessed a revival of interest in the philosophic works of Alfarabi, the tenth-century Muslim philosopher whom the medieval Islamic intellectual community considered the greatest thinker since Aristotle. This interest in Alfarabi is due in large part to the discovery, publication, and translation of many of the philosopher’s works previously available only in manuscript or not known to be extant. Although many of the newly available works treat topics in the area of logic and metaphysics, numerous political treatises have also recently been published or translated. These developments create a need for a new assessment of...

  6. Chapter I ALFARABI’S METHOD OF WRITING
    (pp. 22-54)

    Philosophic discourse has been the object of philosophic inquiry since the time of Plato. According to Socrates, as presented by Plato in thePhaedrus,² concern with the relative merits of oral and written communication can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian king Thamus, who expressed the fear that the invention of writing would eventually dull people’s memories and breed a class of men laden with information, but lacking genuine wisdom (Phaedrus274–275). Plato’s Socrates asserts the superiority of oral instruction to its written counterparts and, as a corollary, advances the view that those who really know will only...

  7. Chapter II THE PROBLEM OF HAPPINESS
    (pp. 55-94)

    Practical philosophy¹ has been variously defined as knowledge that culminates in action, the investigation into what is human or subject to volition and art, and reasoning about contingent beings and events. Although Alfarabi refers to these definitions and sometimes presents them in his own name, he prefers to characterize practical philosophy in terms of its most significant theme, a theme implicit in the above definitions.

    Practical philosophy is not what investigates everything subject to human control, in whatever manner or condition it occurs. After all, mathematics investigates many things that tend to be the product of voluntary action—for example,...

  8. Chapter III THE ROYAL CRAFT
    (pp. 95-145)

    In the preceding chapter the theme of the philosopher’s participation in political life was examined from the perspective of the philosopher’s well-being. The question raised was, “Do individuals need practical virtues in addition to theoretical ones in order to tap their human potential to the fullest, i.e., in order to be perfect or happy?” The theme of the relationship between philosophy and politics in Alfarabi’s thought is examined again in the present chapter, this time from the perspective of the well-being of political life. The question raised here is, “Do cities or nations need to be governed, at least in...

  9. Chapter IV CITIES OF EXCELLENCE
    (pp. 146-179)

    Alfarabi’s understanding of the regime or city of excellence is ordinarily viewed as a reworking of the city in speech elaborated by Socrates in Plato’sRepublic.² So understood, the city of excellence should not only be governed by philosophers; it should have as one of its goals the education of a philosophic élite. These two doctrines are not in principle inseparable: history provides examples of philosophers who believed that the best political order should sacrifice the development of élites of whatever kind to the well-being of the majority of members of a community, or that the best political order should...

  10. Chapter V THE AUTONOMY OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
    (pp. 180-222)

    One of the deepest perplexities raised by Alfarabi’s works is whether and in what fashion political knowledge properly rests on the totality of theoretical inquiry, i.e., on natural philosophy and metaphysics as well as on political philosophy.² That there exists an especially close connection in Alfarabi’s writings between metaphysics and political philosophy or science has often been noted. This connection is most apparent inAl-Siyāsah Al-MadaniyyahandAl-Madīnah al-Fāḍilah, two treatises that summarize the basic conclusions of theoretical and practical inquiry, beginning with the nature of the source of all being and culminating in the types of political regimes, perfect...

  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 223-234)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 235-240)