Farabi, al-

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Farabi, al-

Farabi, al- (äl-färäˈbē), d. 950, Islamic philosopher. He studied in Baghdad and later flourished in Aleppo as a sufi mystic (see Sufism). He died in Damascus. Al-Farabi was the author of an encyclopedic work drawn largely from Aristotle; he was one of the earliest Islamic thinkers to develop a philosophical method reconciling Aristotle and Islam, though he believed human reason to be superior to revelation. Political theory was one of his major concerns; he believed that the philosopher was the proper ruler of the state. In his own philosophy he is clearly influenced by Neoplatonism, especially that of the Greek school of Alexandria. A renowned musician, he is considered the greatest Islamic music theorist. He is known in the West by the name Alfarabius.


See bibliography by N. Rescher (1962).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Farabi, Al-


(more fully, Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Tarkhan). Born A.D. 870 in Farab; died 950 in Damascus. Eastern philosopher and encyclopedic scholar; the leading exponent of Aristotelianism in the East.

Farabi studied philosophy and natural science at Halab (Aleppo) and Baghdad. His philosophy combined Aristotelianism and Neoplatonic emanationism. Farabi held that god (“that which essentially exists in itself”), who begets the world (“essentially existing because created by another”), does so in eternity through a succession of “emanations.” The first such emanation consists of cosmic “intellects,” each of which corresponds to a particular celestial sphere; the last link in this chain of intellects is that “active intellect” which governs the creative and destructive processes of the physical world. The ultimate purpose of human knowledge is to achieve union with this active intellect.

In his treatises on society and ethics, Farabi developed the idea of the “city of virtue”—an ideal city ruled by a philosopher who was also an imam, or leader of a religious community; the truths conveyed to the ruler by the active intellect would be transmitted to the people in the form of symbols and imagery. In contrast to this ideal sociopolitical system, Farabi described the imperfect “cities of ignorance,” or states that embodied negative moral qualities.

Farabi wrote commentaries on Aristotle and Plato, and he was honored as “the second master” (the first being Aristotle). Farabi’s The Great Book of Music is a major source of information on the music of the East and the ancient Greeks’ musical system. Farabi’s ideas, which influenced ibn Sina (Avicenna), ibn Bajja, ibn Tufayl, and ibn Rushd, also left their mark on the philosophy and science of medieval Western Europe.


In Russian translation:
Filosofskie traktaty. Alma-Ata, 1970.
Matematicheskie traktaty. Alma-Ata, 1972.
Sotsial’no-eticheskie traktaty. Alma-Ata, 1973.
Logicheskie traktaty. Alma-Ata, 1975.
O razume i nauke. Alma-Ata, 1975.


Gafurov, B. G., and A. Kh. Kasymzhanov. AI-Farabi v istorii kul’tury. Moscow, 1975.
Khairullaev, M. M. Farabi, epokha i uchenie. Tashkent, 1975. (Bibliography.)
Madkour, J. La Place d’al-Farabi dans l’école philosophique musulmane. Paris, 1934.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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