Alfarabi is a Neo-Platonist inasmuch as his mystic tendencies are numerous in his Metaphysics, Psychology and Political thought. As a Neo-Platonist, he follows the groundwork of the Neo-Platonic doctrine made of religious Mysticism and Emanatist Monism. Thus, Alfarabi's philosophy is entirely theocentric in the sense that it holds God as the center of the universe. God is One; this One is the Absolute which transcends everything. From the One flows the plurality of things gradually coming down the scale of perfection to the existence of matter. The goal of man is to return to God. This return is to be accomplished by virtue and philosophical thought.
Like the Neo-Platonists, Alfarabi holds in his treatise on The Agreement Between Plato and Aristotle, that there is no essential difference between the philosophy of Plato and that of Aristotle. 1 Therefore, the Emanatist Monism as well as the reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle may be regarded as the outstanding features which make Alfarabi's philosophy depend on
that of Plotinus. But outside of these Neo-Platonic features, all the philosophy of Alfarabi may he said to be saturated with Aristotelism which, by its empirical method, suited better his scientific mind.
Alfarabi lays down several rules for teachers honestly striving to train youth in philosophy. No youth should start the study of philosophy before he is well acquainted with the natural sciences. For, human nature requires a gradual rise from the imperfect to the perfect. Mathematics is a very important subject in training the mind of the young philosopher because it helps him pass easily from the sensible to the intelligible, and also because it familiarizes his mind with exact demonstrations. 2
The study of Logic, as an instrument to distinguish the true from the false, is of great educational value before beginning the study of philosophy proper. 3
The training of one's own character, instincts and tendencies must come before entering into philosophy, for unless that is done, the chances are that the student will never fully grasp the higher and more solid truths, because his mind is still clouded by sensibility. 4
Philosophy is studied primarily to obtain a knowledge of God as the Creator and Efficient Cause of all things, the One, Immovable. 5
The student of philosophy must be instructed in the sources from which the different philosophies take their names. For example, he should be told that some philosophies derive their names from the manner in which they are taught, such as the philosophy of Peripateticism, which was discussed with students while walking up and down a garden. He should be taught that other philosophies take their names from the author, such as Platonism from Plato and Aristotelism from Aristotle; and that others take their names from the goal they propose, such as Epicurism, setting pleasure as an end. 6
In teaching, two extremes must be avoided. The teacher must be neither excessively strict nor excessively lenient. For, if he is too strict he errs through excess and if he is too lenient, he errs through defect. If the teacher becomes unpopular be-cause of his severity, his excessive leniency will also tend to make him unworthy of respect. The teacher, therefore, should avoid excess as well as defect. 7
The young man must be persuaded to persevere in the study of philosophy by calling his attention now and then to the old Arabic saying, "The drop wears away the stone",--"Gutta cavat lapidem". 8
The teacher should see that his student attends only to one
thing at a time. For, only one thing can be well mastered at a time. The reason for this rule is to have the student concentrate his attention upon the object of study and make a success of it. 9
For Alfarabi, philosophy is nothing else than thought, that is, the science of concepts. The end of philosophy is to know God as the Creator of heaven and earth.
Alfarabi's philosophy can be divided into Logic, Theoretical philosophy and Practical philosophy. The Theoretical could be subdivided into Metaphysics and Psychology, while the Practical philosophy into Ethics and Politics.
xiii:1 Alfarabi, On The Agreement Between Plato and Aristotle, in Collection of various treatises. Arabic ed. Cairo 1907. Muhammad Ismail, pp. 1-39.
The main theories of Plato and Aristotle that need to be reconciled are the following:
a) Some thought that a world of difference existed between Plato and Aristotle, because Plato, in his Timaeus, says that the noblest substance is the nearest to the soul and intellect, and therefore the farthest from the senses. Aristotle, on the other hand, says that the noblest substance is the individual (first substance). Here the disagreement between Plato and Aristotle, in Alfarabi's mind, is not real, because both of them speak of the same thing from a different point of view. For Aristotle the individual is nobler in Logic, because in Logic he sees beings lying in the region of the senses, and from them he abstracts the universal, the rational, the intelligible. For Plato the universal is nobler in Metaphysics, because there he sees beings that cannot change and will not change. [op. cit. pp. 8-10]
b) With regard to the theory of knowledge, Alfarabi interpreted the Platonic hypothesis of reminiscence in an empiric sense. He says p. xiv that Aristotle proved in Analytics that our ideas are acquired by means of the senses, and because of that, they are by no means a reminiscence. Their formation, however, occurs so rapidly and unconsciously that the soul comes to imagine it has had them all the time, so that thinking of them would seem to the soul like recollecting or remembering them. According to Alfarabi, Plato held the same opinion when he said that to think is to recollect, for the person who thinks tries to get at what experience has written on his mind, and once he finds the object of his thought, then it looks to him as if he had recollected. [op. cit. pp 23-25]
c) Alfarabi does not agree with the opinion of his contemporaries, who hold that Aristotle believed in the existence of the world ab aeterno, while Plato did not. According to him, the true teaching of Aristotle was that time is the measurement of the motion of the world, and consequently, the product of motion. That explains why he was obliged to believe that God created the world without time, and that time is the result of the motion of the world. [op. cit. pp. 26-27]
xiv:2 Alfarabi, What Must Precede the Study of Philosophy, in Collection of various treatises, 1 Arabic ed., Cairo, 1907, Muhammad Ismail, n. 3, p. 61.
xiv:3 Id. op. cit. n. 3, p. 62.
xv:4 Id. op. cit. n. 3, p. 62.
xv:5 Id. op. cit. n. 4, p. 62.
xv:6 Id. op. cit. n. 1, p. 58.
xv:7 Id. op. cit. n. 8, p. 63.
xv:8 Id. op. cit. n. 8, p. 63
xvi:9 Id. op. cit. n. 8, p. 63