Al-Fārābī’s “fourth philosophy”

Aziz Hilal

PhD in Arabic philosophy

icon-calendar October 25, 2016

farabi25oct2016In his Kitāb al-ǧadal, al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) mentions a “fourth philosophy”. What he intends with this expression is a philosophy that would be adapted to non-specialists, both technicians in a particular given art (medicine, grammar, poetry…) and simple people (al-ǧumhūr). Unlike the first three philosophies (metaphysics, practical philosophy and logic), this fourth philosophy relies on commonly admitted premises (al-mašhūrāt), i.e. on the common cultural and ethical heritage (“justice is better than injustice”, “usury is a sin”, “one should honor his parents”, …) In other terms, a philosopher who needs to teach truth to non-philosophers should resort to the “local sciences” that common people share. This fourth philosophy is political and changing by essence. It is fundamentally a pedagogy and thanks to it, dialectics (al-ǧadal) is not considered to be a mere preparation to philosophia perennis but indeed a self-standing philosophy.

It is only in 1986, with the publication of the three volumes of al-Fārābī’s philosophical works by Rafīq al-ʿAǧam (Dār al-Mašriq, Beirut), that the major importance of al-Fārābī as a philosopher was re-established.

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