Psychology and philosophy of mind in Farabi’s thought

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With the exception of his Risalah fi’l-aql (“Treatise on the Intellect”), al- Farabi’s left no independent treatises on philosophical psychology and the philosophy of mind. His views on these topics are contained in his metaphysical and political writings. The most detailed presentation of his views on the human soul occurs in the Mabadi ara ahl-madinah al-fadilah (“Principles of the Opinions of the People of the Virtuous City”), where al- Farabi adopts an Aristotelian approach to psychology.

Soul’s faculties
The soul’s principal faculties are identified as the nutritive, sensitive, imaginative and rational, they are ordered hierarchically to one another, and within each there are “ruling” and “subordinate” elements. Al- Farabi does not separate the common sense off as a distinct faculty, but treats it simply as the ruling faculty within the sensible soul “in which everything that is apprehended by [ the five senses] is collected”. Nor does not al- Farabi have any doctrine of “internal senses” to unify his treatment of the common senses, imaginative and memorative faculties, and he does not mention anything like the faculty that Ibn Sina (Avicenna) will later call “estimation” (wahm). Like Aristotle, he locates the psychological seat of the common sense and the imagination in the heart, attrition that later internal sense philosophers will modify in the light of Galenic physiology, placing the organs of these faculties in the brain. As for the appetitive activities of the soul, al- Farabi view them as intimately tied to the activities of the corresponding cognitive powers which give rise to them. Thus, for every cognitive faculty sensation, imagination and reason – an apparition towards the objects perceived naturally supervenes upon their acts of apprehension. Al- Farabi does not isolate an appetitive faculty as the origin of all sensible and rational voluntary acts, but it does not serve to explain the actual arousal of desire. Rather, it functions principally as the motive power though which the soul controls the body, enabling it to seek what the soul perceives as desirable, and to flee what it perceives as harmful.

Functions of imagination
Al- Farabi’s view of the imaginative faculty deserves special attention because of the role assigned imagination on prophecy and divination. According to al- Farabi, imagination(takhayyul, equivalent to Aristotle’s phantasia) is retentive and a judgmental faculty, responsible both for the retention of the images of sensible things after they have absented themselves from the senses and for exercising control over them by composing and dividing them to from new images. To these two function al- Farabi also adds a third function, that of imitation (muhkah), using the Arabic term equivalent to mimesis as it had been used in Aristotle’s Poetics. By means of this ability, the imaginative faculty is able to represent objects with the images of other objects, and thereby to extend its representative ability the depiction of sensible qualities to encompass the imitation of bodily temperaments, emotions and desires, and even immaterial realities. This mimetic ability of the imagination provides the psychological underpinnings of al- Farabi’s claim in his logical writings that the art of poetics has as its goal the evocation of acts of imagination, takhyl. In the context of psychology, al- Farabi’s also employs prophecy and divination. To understand this explanation, however, one must first understand al- Farabi’s conception of the rational faculty and the process of intellectual cognition.

stages of intellect and knowledge in Mashaiee Tradition
Al- Farabi’s account of the faculties and stages which characterize intellectual cognition belongs to a tradition of interpreting Aristotle’s De anima that goes back to the Greek commentators, Aristotle’s rather loose descriptions in De anima, 3.4 and 5 of an intellect “become all things” and intellect “which makes all things” are gives the standard labels “potential” and “agent” intellect. (Often these are rendered as “possible” and “active”. In the Madinah fadilah, al Farabi also use the Alexandrian term “material intellect” as a synonym for the potential intellect.) The potential intellect is indentified as a faculty within the individual human soul, the agent intellect, however, is treated as an immaterial eternal substance that functions as the efficient, moving cause of human intellection, enabling universal concepts to be abstracted from sensible images.

In addition to the potential and agent intellects, this tradition also identified a variety of distinct stages between potency and actualization within the human intellect and affixed them with their own labels. In al- Farabi’s psychology, this development yields four different meanings for the term “intellect” (aql): (These are the subdivisions of the meanings of “intellect” within psychology, which is itself only one of six meanings of the term identified in the Risalah fi’l – aql.) (1) the potential intellect (al-aql bi’l-quwwah),(2) the actual intellect(al-aql bi’l-fi’l), (3) the acquired intellect(al-aql-mustafad), and (4) the agent intellect (al-aql al- fa’al). Following Alexander of Aphrodisias, al- Farabi’s indentifies the potential intellect as a pure disposition for abstraction the forms or quiddities of the object to be known from their corresponding sensible images. As this potential into actuality, and thus becomes the second type of intellect, an actual intellect. The process of actualizing intelligible is of course a gradual one, which has as its goal the acquisition of all the intelligible and all the sciences available to human knowledge. When eventually the intellect reaches this goal (which probably only a few individuals can achieve), it loses all remaining tinges of potency, and thus is rendered pure form and pure actuality. Since on Aristotelian principles anything is intelligible to the degree that it is form and actuality, only at this point does the intellect realize its full capacity for self-contemplation. This, then, marks the attainment of the third stage of intellect, the acquired intellect. At this stage, by virtue of having become fully actualized, the individual human intellect attains a rank akin to that of the other immaterial intellects, including the agent intellect, and becomes one or similar in species with them. As a consequence, it is now able to contemplate not only itself and the intelligible it has acquired form material things, but also the agent intellect and the other separate immaterial substances.

Disagreement about Farabi’s viewpoint con corning the agent intellect
This last consequence of the doctrine of the acquired intellect is upheld, with only minor variations, in all Farabi’s extant discussions of intellectual cognition, and it is implied by the eschatological theories of his political philosophy (discussed under “Practical Philosophy” below). But mention must be made of the conflicting evidence provided by later philosophers such as Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Bajiah, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) who tell us that in a commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics al- Farabi repudiated the possibility of a direct cognitional union or “conjunction” (ittisal) with the agent intellect. More precisely, according to Averroes al- Farabi rejected the ontological transformation that the doctrine appeared to require that is, its assertion that, through intellectual development, generable and corruptible mortal human being could become an eternal and incorruptible separate intellect. How al- Farabi would have reconciled this claim with the doctrines expressed in his surviving works, and whether it represents al- Farabi’s mature and considered view on the matter, must remain an open question ,however, given the lamentable loss of the Nicomachean Ethics commentary itself.

the role of imagination in theory of prophecy
Against the backdrop of al- Farabi’s teachings on the acquired and agent intellect, and on the imaginative faculty, the psychological aspects of his theory of prophecy can now be outlined. A according to al- Farabi, prophecy in his various manifestations is the result of an interaction between the intellect and the mimetic capacities of the imaginative faculty. What makes prophetic knowledge unique is not its intellectual content per se, for belongs equally to the philosopher and the prophet: and imitation of the selfsame truths known demonstratively and intellectually in philosophy. But all prophets possess, in addition to their intellectual capacities, the gift of an especially keen imaginative faculty. This gift allows their imaginations to receive an influx or emanation of intelligibles from the agent intellect, an emanation that is normally reserved for the intellectual faculty alone. Since by its nature the imagination cannot, however, receive abstract intelligible as abstract, the prophet exploits the mimetic abilities of the imagination to represent these intelligibles in concrete, symbolic form. In this way, what is normally available only to the select few who can attain the level of the acquired intellect can be communicated by the prophet, under the guise of sensory images, to a much wider, non- philosophical public.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:184to187


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