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Part II. Theoretical Philosophy

Chapter II



"Particular sciences," says Alfarabi, "restrict themselves to one or several departments of being. For instance, physics is the science of being as affected by physical properties. Mathematics is the science of being which deals with quantities and numbers. Medicine is the science of being insofar as it is healthy or sick. Metaphysics, however, knows no such restrictions. Its field is all reality, namely, Being. And it is all equally extensive with the concept of Being (One, True, Good.)" 23

Metaphysics, in the opinion of Alfarabi, treats of things which are separate from matter. In this connection he distinguishes two kinds of immaterial: the first, immaterial quoad esse or immaterial beings, such as God and the human soul, which exist without matter; and the second, immaterial quoad conceptum, or concepts, such as substance, accident, cause, quality, the content of which is free from all matter.

Metaphysics, insofar as it treats of immaterial concepts, of those general notions in which matter is not included, may be called General Metaphysics or Ontology, that is, the science of Being. And because it treats of immaterial beings, it may be called Special Metaphysics. It could then be divided into three parts: Metaphysical Theology, which deals with God and His attributes; Metaphysical Cosmology, which treats of the ultimate principles of the universe; and finally Metaphysical Psychology, which treats of the human soul.

Since Alfarabi holds that immaterial may be quoad esse and quoad conceptum, his whole metaphysical thought may be divided accordingly, that is, into Ontology, Metaphysical Theology, Metaphysical Cosmology and Metaphysical Psychology.

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The mind, in all its operations, exerts the function of synthesizing the many in the one. In fact, we cannot understand the meaning of a scene presented to our senses unless we unite its parts into a perceived whole. Perception is an act of the mind which involves synthesizing. The act of imagination involves both analysis and synthesis in the sense that nothing can be imagined without synthesizing the many in the one. The act of judgment, whereby one thing is affirmed or denied of another, cannot be had except by synthesizing both terms, subject and predicate, in one act of comparison. Syllogism, too, is simply the synthesis of two judgments in a third one. Of all these operations of the mind, the concept, more than all others, represents the synthesizing function of the mind, for the concept is by definition the apprehension of the one in the many.

For Alfarabi the concept means exactly that and nothing more. "The concept," he says, "has a content signifying the synthetic, the universal, the one. The universal in reference to the particular is like the genus and species in reference to individuals. The individuals, called "First Substances," precede the universal, called "Second Substances." The former alone have substantial existence, and because of that, one is led to think that First Substances are more substances than the Second Substances. On the other hand, the universal, being permanent and subsistent, has more right to the name of substance than mortal individuals." 24

"How do universals exist?" asks Alfarabi. "The universals

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do not exist in act," he says, "that is, they are not things existing in themselves, but they exist only in individuals, and their existence is accidental in the sense that they are subject to the existence of individuals. That does not mean, however, that universals are accidents, but merely that their existence in act can take place only per accident."

As to the definition of universals, Alfarabi says that "The universal is unum de multis et in multis (the one found in many and affirmed of many). The inference is that the universal has no existence apart from the individual (non habet esse separatum a multis)." 25 Here we must recall that Albertus Magnus quotes the Alfarabian definition of the universal, a fact which proves beyond all doubt that both he and his pupil, St. Thomas, were acquainted with the writings of our philosopher. [See Albertus Magnus, De praed. II, 5]

Some may ask, "Is the opinion of Alfarabi on the nature of universals right or wrong?" I hold that it is right, because he believes that the universal exists really in the individuals, and not in the manner in which it is abstracted from individual characteristics. All Christian philosophers in the Middle Ages maintained the same solution on the question of the universals. In fact, St. Thomas writes: "Universalia non habent esse in rerum natura ut sint universalia, sed solum secundum quod sunt individuata." (De Anima, art. 1.) In another place he says: "Universalia non sunt res subsistentes, sed habent esse solum in singularibus." (Contra Gentiles, Lib. I, cap LXV).

I do not agree with Munk who thinks that all Arabian philosophers are Nominalists concerning the question of universals. Alfarabi, for example, is not a Nominalist, because he holds unequivocally that the universal is blended with the individual. That some Arabian thinkers, such as Moses Maimonides, are Nominalists, I admit: but that they all are so, I cannot grant. [See Munk, Melanges de philosophic juive et arabe, Paris, 1859, A. Franck, p. 327]

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"The most universal concept," says Alfarabi, "is Being and what is coextensive with Being itself (One, True, Good)." "Being cannot be defined," he says, "for it is self-evident, fixed in the mind, precedes all other concepts and is the simplest of all. It is the simplest, because to define a concept is to analyze its content, and Being, having the least content, resists all efforts to resolve it into simpler thought elements. To try to define it by words serves only to make our mind attentive and directed to it, and not to explain the concept which is clearer than the words by which it is defined." He goes on to say that "Just as in the demonstration of a proposition it is imperative that the judgments be coordinated in order to arrive at an ultimate judgment-principle, in like manner in the definition of a concept, it is necessary that the concept be resolved into other simpler concepts until one arrives at the simplest and most universal concept, which is Being." 26 Now, St. Thomas describes Being in much the same way. Not only does he unfold the same ideas as those of Alfarabi, but the suprising thing is that the ideas are couched in exactly the same words as those of Alfarabi. A glance at the writings of both Alfarabi and St. Thomas bears this out.

Here is what St. Thomas says about Being:

Illud autem quod primo intellectus concipit quasi notissimum, et in quo omnes conceptiones resolvit, est ens. 27

In another place he says:

Videlicet, ens, unum, verum, bonum; quae re idem sunt, sed ratione distinguuntur. Sicut enim in demonstrationibus resolvere oportet omnes propositiones usque ad principia ipsa, ad quae necesse est stare rationem, ita in apprehensione praedictorum oportet stare ad ens quod in quolibet cognito naturaliter cognoscitur, sicut et principium in omnibus propositionibus que sunt post principia. 28

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For Alfarabi ens, unum, verum et bonum convertuntur. By that he means that the concept of Being coincides with that of unity, truth and goodness, and that every being is one, true and good. 29


According to Alfarabi, Necessary Being is that which exists in itself or that which cannot but exist. Contingent Being is that which receives its being from another, and whose non-existence is possible. 30


Potentiality is the capability to exist. Every created being, before it existed, had only a possibility to exist: it was in potentiality. Actuality is that which exists in reality. That which is in act is perfect, and that which is in potentiality is imperfect. Potentiality and actuality constitute the nature of reality, which means that reality is being in becoming. This theory of potentiality and actuality is the central point in Metaphysics, toward which substance and accident, essence and existence, matter and form converge, and upon which their own value depends.

A thing, though actual at any given moment, is in potentiality in respect to future modifications. Hence, substance and accident. Substance is that which exists in itself and is the foundation of certain accidents or accidental differences. Its fundamental characteristic is to exist in itself and not in another as its subject. 31 Accident is that which needs a subject in which

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and by which it may exist. For example, a coat is a substance, because it exists in itself; white or black are accidents, because they do not exist without a substance in which they may inhere. 32

In every created being there are two constituent principles, essence and existence, which are conceived as actuality and potentiality respectively. Essence is the reason why a thing is what it is. Existence is the actuality of essence. 33

To the question, "What is the nature of the distinction between essence and existence in created substances?" Alfarabi replies that "A real distinction occurs here and that existence is one thing and essence is another. If essence and existence were one thing, then we should be unable to conceive the one without conceiving the other. But, in fact, we are able to conceive essence in itself. If it is true that man has existence by essence, this would be like saying that to conceive man's essence is to imply his existence." He continues with the same idea saying that "If existence should enter into composition with the essence of man like one entering into the essence of two, this would mean that it is impossible to conceive perfectly the essence of man without his existence as a part of the essence. Just as the essence of two would be destroyed by taking away a unity from it, so would the essence of man be destroyed by taking away existence from it. But this is not true, because existence does not enter into composition with the essence of a thing, for it is possible to understand the essence of man, and not to know whether it exists in reality. On the other hand, if there was no distinction between essence and existence in created beings, then these could be said to exist by their essence. But there is one being alone whose essence is His very existence, and that is God. 34

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The distinction between essence and existence in. all created beings is brought in by Alfarabi to differentiate these substances from God, Who is absolutely simple and pure act. It reveals the true genius of Alfarabi, from whom St. Thomas drew the following:

Omnis autem essentia vel quidditas intelligere potest sine hoc, quod aliquid intelligatur de esse suo facto: possum enim intelligere quid est homo, et tamen ignorare an esse habeat in rerum natura. Ergo patet, quod esse est aliud ab essentia vel quidditate, nisi forte sit aliqua res, cujus quidditas sit suum esse, et haec res non potest esse nisi una et prima. 35

The finite, concrete thing is composed of two other principles, matter and form. Matter is nothing but a reality indeterminate as body. Because of its indetermination, it has only the aptitude to become, by virtue of the form, this or that body. Form is the principle that determines matter to be actually such a body. Neither matter can exist without form, nor form without matter. As long as the wood remains indifferent to being a cradle, it is a cradle in potentiality, and becomes a cradle in actuality the very moment it receives the form of a cradle. Furthermore, all finite beings are capable of receiving not only the form proper to them, but also the opposite. Matter and form are real elements or principles of being, and together they form a real and integral whole. If either were taken away, there would be no concrete thing at all. That is the reason why form is immanent in matter. 36


Closely related with the concept of being are the laws of

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thought and reality. If the concept of being is true, likewise the first principles are true. If the concept of being is based on reality, so are the first principles, which are not only the laws of thought, but also of reality. In fact, every first principle implies the fundamental idea of being.

The principle of contradiction is: It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be at the same time.

The principle of excluded middle is: A thing either is or is not.

The principle of causality is thus formulated by Alfarabi: "Whatever exists after having not existed, must be brought into being by a cause; nothing (not-being) cannot be the cause of being." 37 Alfarabi arrived at the principle of causality through the analysis of the idea of motion. Motion or change involves a transition from not-being into being, from potentiality into actuality. And since not-being of itself cannot rise to being, we legitimately infer a something which causes the change. Change, like limitation, implies a something beyond itself, something to which change is due. That explains precisely the axiom, "Quidquid movetur, ab alio movetur", namely, that change implies a real and objective cause, of which Alfarabi and the Schoolmen felt very certain.

It is to be noted that Alfarabi, after having formulated the principle of causality in a philosophical way, wound up in mystic tendencies. He says,

In the world of created things we do not find either produced impressions or free choice unless it is the result of a cause. Man cannot do a thing without relying on external causes, which are not of his choice, and these causes rely on the order, and the order on the decree, and the decree on the judgment, and the judgment comes from the commandment. And so everything is de-creed. 38

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[paragraph continues] It should be noted, however, that apart from these mystic tendencies, Alfarabi is quite Aristotelian and deserves much credit and praise for passing on to us the following ontological truths:

Being cannot be defined. All subsequent philosophers, both Arabian and Scholastic, accepted it and made it their own.

Reality is being in becoming, actuality in potentiality, unity in difference. Hence, the different concepts of substance and accident, essence and existence, matter and form, cause and effect.

Concepts are not merely symbols or names, but on the contrary, they have real significance, and their primary function is to synthesize the many in the one. For him, therefore, concepts stand for the universal and the one, applicable to many and found in many (unum de multis et in multis) .

Finally, every event must have a cause. This is a proposition that expresses the essential dependence of every effect on some cause. We can now see how the Ontology of Alfarabi treats of that which is, the nature of which is actuality in potentiality.

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The Theodicy of Alfarabi, which considers God in Himself, does not differ much from the Christian both in the arguments proving God's existence, as well as in the exposition of the various attributes which constitute His nature. There are, undoubtedly, certain flaws here and there on some non-essential points, but as a whole I can say that one who reads his Theodicy gets the impression of reading an essay written by a Christian Father. In this section we shall deal at length, not only with the arguments by which Alfarabi proves God's existence, but also with each of the attributes of God as he considers them, in order to bring out the perfect similarity that exists between Christian Theodicy and the Theodicy of Alfarabi.


One of the preliminary questions which confronted Alfarabi was whether or not God is knowable. On this question he could not make up his mind, and consequently, he was hesitant to give a definite answer. Perhaps his hesitancy arose from his failure to distinguish between what is simply self-evident and that which is self-evident to us. In fact, he says:

It is very difficult to know what God is because of the limitation of our intellect and its union with matter. Just as light is the principle by which colors become visible, in like manner it would seem logical to say that a perfect light should produce a perfect vision. Instead, the very opposite occurs. A perfect light dazzles the vision. The same is true of God. The imperfect knowledge we have of God is due to the fact that He is infinitely perfect. That explains why His infinitely perfect being bewilders our mind. But if we could strip our nature of all that we call 'matter; then certainly our knowledge of His being would be quite perfect. 39

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In another place he says:

God is knowable and unknowable, evident and hidden, and the best knowledge of Him is to know that He is something the human mind cannot thoroughly understand. 40

A glance, however, into Alfarabi's later teaching leads us to the conclusion that he must have implicitly admitted the proposition, "God is", to be self-evident in itself, because he states repeatedly that God's essence is His existence, thus identifying the predicate with the subject. But since our mind is unable to understand the selfsame thing of both these terms, the implication is that Alfarabi must have come to the tacit conclusion that this proposition, "God is", is self-evident in itself, although not to us, and what is not evident to us can be demonstrated. 41 According to him, the knowledge of God is the object of philosophy, and the duty of man is to rise, as far as is humanly possible, up to the likeness of God. 42


The arguments brought forth by Alfarabi to prove that there is a God, are three. These will be placed side by side with those of St. Thomas in order to aid the reader in comparing them. He will thus see the great similarity between them.


1. The Proof of Motion.

In this world there are things which are moved. Now, every object which is moved receives its motion from a mover. If the mover is itself moved, there must be another mover moving it, and after that still another and so on. But it is impossible to go onto infinity in the series of movers


It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion. Now, what-ever is in motion is put in motion by another ... If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity. Therefore,


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and things moved. Therefore, there must be an immovable mover, and this is God. 43

it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God. 44


2. Proof of Efficient Cause.




In contemplating the changeable world, one sees that it is composed of beings which have a cause, and this cause, in turn, is the cause of another. Now, in the series of efficient causes it is not possible to proceed to infinity. For, if A were the cause of B, B of C, C of D, and so on, here A would be the cause of it-self, which is not admissible. Therefore, outside the series of efficient causes, there must be an uncaused efficient cause, and this is God. 45

In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself ... Now, in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity Therefore, it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God. 46



Another form of the same proof:




Transition from not-being to being demands an actual cause. This cause either has its essence identical with its existence or not. If it does, then being is uncaused. If it does not, then existence must be from another, and that from another, and so on until we arrive at a First Cause, whose essence differs in no way from its existence. 47



3. Proof of Contingence.




The third proof is based on the principle that all change must

We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to


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have a cause. To this effect Alfarabi makes a distinction between a necessary being and a contingent being. "Contingent beings," he says, "have had a beginning. Now, that which begins to exist must owe its existence to the action of a cause. This cause, in turn, either is or is not contingent. If it is contingent, it also must have received its existence by the action of another cause, and so on. But a series of contingent beings which would produce one another cannot proceed to infinity or move in a circle. Therefore, the series of causes and effects must arrive at a cause that holds its existence from itself, and this is the first cause (ens primum)." 48

be ... But it is impossible for these always to exist ... Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something, the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary being either has its necessity caused by another or not. Now, it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another. Therefore, we can-not but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God. 49


The different arguments brought forth by Alfarabi to prove God's existence are really so many statements of one and the same argument which is commonly called the "cosmological" argument. This argument derives its validity from the principle of causality. And if the principle of causality is validly used by the scientists to explain the phenomena of physics, likewise it must be regarded as validly employed by the philosopher to explain the universe. Hence, the cosmological argument is valid because the principle of causality is valid.

The proof of an immovable mover by Aristotle, which leads to the conclusion that God is a designer and not a creator, was improved and corrected by Alfarabi nearly three hundred years before St. Thomas was born. Starting out from the Aristotelian idea of change, Alfarabi was able to arrive at an Ens Primum to whom that change is due, while He Himself does not change, because He is pure act.

The proofs of causality and contingence as given by St. Thomas are merely a repetition of Alfarabi's proofs. This is said,

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not because of any bias against St. Thomas, but rather because this is evident to anyone after studying the works of both Alfarabi and of St. Thomas.

The main idea running through all the proofs of Alfarabi is being. That which begins to exist implies a self-existent being. A finite and contingent being, that is, a being which has not given itself existence, implies a Being that holds its existence from itself. A being which begins to exist must have a cause for its existence.

An analysis of the proofs adduced by Alfarabi shows how he was able to arrive at their formulation. In each of his three proofs he starts out from a fact, applies a principle, and arrives at the conclusion. The fact is change, caused being and contingence. The principle is: that which is moved, is moved by another; the effect implies a cause; the contingent implies the necessary. The conclusion is that God exists.


Since man knows only what he finds out by his own senses and intelligence, it follows that he has no other way of knowing the divine nature except by observation. And observing the visible world, he perceives certain perfections and imperfections in it. To the first class belong such perfections as being, life, intelligence, truth, goodness and so on, which of themselves con-note perfection. To the second class belong all imperfections as non-being, non-living, non-intelligence, which necessarily con-note imperfection. While it cannot be said that God is non-living, non-intelligent, it can be said that He is infinitely good, intelligent and wise. While imperfections are removed from God, perfections can be attributed to Him eminently, namely, whatever positive being they express belongs to God as their cause in a much higher sense and in a more excellent way than to the creatures in which they exist. Another way of saying this is: given an infinite cause and finite effects, whatever pure perfection is discovered in the effects must first exist in the cause [Via Affirmationis], and at the same time whatever imperfection

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is discovered in the effects must be excluded from the cause [Via Remotions]. Alfarabi agrees with the foregoing explanation, saying that

We can have some knowledge of the nature of God by means of a two-fold process: first, by exclusion [Via Remotionis], by which we remove from God whatever implies defect, as limitation, dependence, mutability; and second, by pre-eminence [Via Eminentiae], by which we attribute to God in an infinite degree all perfections, such as goodness, wisdom, etc. 50

Concerning the method to be followed in determining God's nature, St. Thomas says exactly the same thing in the following words:

We have some knowledge thereof (divine essence) by knowing what it is not: and we shall approach all the nearer to the knowledge thereof according as we shall be enabled to remove by our intellect a greater number of things therefrom. 51

In another place St. Thomas says: "Quaelibet creatura potest in Deum venire tribus modis, scilicet, per causalitatem, remotionem, eminentiam." 52

The following are the attributes of God as considered by Alfarabi and St. Thomas.

(A) Process of Exclusion




God is simple because He is free from every kind of composition, physical or metaphysical.

There is no composition in God. For, in every composite thing there must needs be act and potentiality...

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[paragraph continues] Physical composition may be either substantial or accidental. It is substantial if the composite substance consists of body and soul, of matter and form. Now, an infinite being cannot be a substantial composite of matter and form, because this would mean that God results from the union of finite parts which would exist before Him in time, and therefore be the cause of His being. Nor can an accidental composition be attributed to the infinite, because this would imply a capacity for an increase in perfection, which the very notion of the infinite excludes. Therefore, there is not and cannot be any physical composition. 53

[paragraph continues] But in God there is no potentiality. Therefore, in Him there is no composition ... Every composite is subsequent to its components. Therefore, the first being, namely God, has no component parts. 54



Neither can there be that kind of composition known as metaphysical, which results from the union of two different concepts so referred to the same real thing that neither one by itself signifies the whole reality as meant by their union. Thus, every contingent being is a metaphysical composite of essence and existence. Essence, as such, in reference to a contingent being, implies its conceivableness or. possibility, and abstracts from actual existence; while existence, as such, must be added to essence before we can speak of the being as actual. But the composite of essence and existence in a contingent being can-not be applied to the self-existent or infinite being in whom essence and existence are one. Therefore, there is no composition of essence and existence in God. 55

Existence denotes a kind of actuality ... Now everything to which an act is becoming, and which is distinct from that act, is related thereto as potentiality to act ... Accordingly if the divine essence is distinct from its existence, it follows that His essence and existence are mutually related as potentiality and act. Now it has been proved that in God there is nothing of potentiality, and that He is pure act. Therefore God's essence is not distinct from His existence. 56


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Nor can the composition of genus and difference, implied in the definition of man as a rational animal, be attributed to Him. For, God cannot be classified or defined, as contingent beings can. The reason is because there is not a single aspect in which He is perfectly similar to the finite, and consequently no genus in which He can be included. 57

Wherefore it is likewise evident that God cannot be defined: since every definition is composed of genus and difference. 58





The uncaused being is infinite. For, if He were not, He would be limited, and therefore, caused, since the limit of a thing is the cause of it. But God is uncaused. Hence, it follows that the first being is infinite. 59


Being itself, considered absolutely, is infinite ... Hence if we take a thing with finite being, this being must be limited by some other thing which is in some way the cause of that being. Now there can be no cause of God's being, since He is necessary of Himself. Therefore He has infinite being, and Himself is infinite. 60




God as the first cause is pure act, without the admixture of any potentiality, and for this reason He is not subject to any change. 61

It is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, because it was shown above that there is some first being, whom we call God; and that this first being must be pure act, without the admixture of any potentiality, for the reason that, absolutely, potentiality is posterior to act. Now everything which is in any way changed, is in some way in potentiality. Hence it is evident that it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable. 62


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God is only one. For, if there were two gods, they would have to be partly alike and partly different: in which case, however, the simplicity of each would be destroyed. In other words, if there were two gods, there would necessarily have to be some difference and some identity between them; the differential and the common element would constitute the parts of the essence of each one, and these parts, in turn, would be the cause of all; and then, not God, but His parts, would be the first being.


If there be two things, both of which are of necessity, they must needs agree in the intention of the necessity of being. It follows, therefore, that they must be differentiated by something added either to one or to both of them; and consequently that either one is composite, or both. Now no composite exists necessarily per se. Therefore there cannot possibly be several things each of which exists necessarily; and consequently neither can there be several gods.  64



If there was anything equal to God, then He would cease to be the fullness of being, for fullness implies impossibility of finding anything of its kind. For instance, the fullness of power means inability of finding identical power anywhere else; the fullness of beauty means inability of finding identical beauty. Likewise if the first being possesses the fullness of being, this means that it is impossible to find anyone or anything identical with Him. Therefore, there is one infinite being, only one God. 63

God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to one, which did not belong to another ... So it is impossible for many gods to exist. 65

God is existence itself. Consequently He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being ... It follows therefore that the perfection of no one thing is wanting to God. 66



God is one, because He is free from all quantitative divisions. One means undivided. He who is indivisible in substance is one in essence. 67

Since one is an undivided being, if anything is supremely one it must be supremely being, and supremely undivided. Now both of these belong to God. Hence it is manifest that God is one in the supreme degree. 68


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(B) Process of Pre-eminence



God is intelligent. A thing is intelligent because it exists without matter. Now, God is absolutely immaterial. Therefore, He is intelligent. 69


A thing is intelligent from the fact of its being without matter. Now it was shown above that God is absolutely immaterial. Therefore He is intelligent. 70



God knows Himself perfectly. If there is anything that would keep God from knowing Himself, that would certainly be matter. But God is absolutely immaterial. Hence it follows that He knows Himself fully, because His intellect is His essence.

That which by its nature is severed from matter and from material conditions, is by its very nature intelligible. Now every intelligible is understood according as it is actually one with the intelligent; and God is Himself intelligent, as we have proved. Therefore since He is altogether immaterial, and is absolutely one with Himself, He understands Himself most perfectly.



That which by its essence is intellect in act, is, too, by its very essence intelligible in act. Now, the divine intellect is always intellect in act, because if it were not so, then it would be in potentiality with respect to its object; and this is impossible. Just exactly the opposite occurs in man. The human intellect is not al-ways in act. Man knows himself in act after knowing himself potentially. The reason for this is that man's intellect is not his essence. Hence, what he knows does not belong to him by essence. 71

A thing is actually understood through the unification of the intellect in act and the intelligible in act. Now the divine intellect is always intellect in act ... Since the divine intellect and the divine essence are one, it is evident that God understands Himself perfectly: for God is both His own intellect and His own essence. 72


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It must not be said that God derives His knowledge of things from the things themselves, but rather it must be said that He knows things through His essence. By looking at His essence, He sees everything. Hence, knowing His essence is the cause of His knowing other things. 73


So we say that God sees Himself in Himself, because He sees Himself through His essence; and He sees other things, not in themselves, but in Himself; inasmuch as His essence contains the similitude of things other than Himself. 74




Truth follows being, namely, truth and being coincide. But God is the supreme being. Therefore, He is the supreme truth. Truth is the conformity of the intellect and thing. But in God intellect and object of thought are one and the same. 75

Truth and being are mutually consequent upon one another; since the True is when that is said to be which is, and that not to be, which is not. Now God's being is first and most perfect. Therefore His truth is also first and supreme... Truth is in our intellect through the latter being equated to the thing understood. Now the cause of equality is unity. Since then in the divine intellect, intellect and thing understood are absolutely the same, His truth must be the first and supreme truth. 76




Just as we call ourselves living beings, because we have a nature capable of sensation or understanding, in like manner God, whose intellect is His essence, must have life in the most perfect degree. 77

Wherefore that being whose act of understanding is its very nature, must have life in the most perfect degree. 78


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The foregoing is but a summary of Alfarabi's teaching about God and His attributes. My conclusion is that his Theodicy shows a scholarly, closely reasoned work. For, he has given us a carefully worked out treatise on the question of God's existence and His attributes. On the question of God's existence, he improved the Aristotelian proof of the first mover, adding to it two other proofs, that of efficient causes and of contingence. On the other hand, the attributes of God are dealt with so perfectly from the Christian viewpoint that the whole topic seems to have been written by a Christian Father, rather than by a Mohammedan. That Alfarabi's Theodicy exerted a great influence on Medieval thinkers is evident, because, upon comparing the teachings of Alfarabi with those of St. Thomas, we see without doubt the influence of the former on the latter, but not vice versa.

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That God exists is a proven truth; that the world was made is another truth. The most arduous question, however, which man tries to solve is this: What relation is there between God and the world, the Infinite and the finite? What connection is there between God and matter? Is there a bridge thrust from one side to the other over which God might pass to give matter a determinate form? The dualism of spirit and matter, infinite and finite, constitutes the cosmological problem of Metaphysics. In an effort to explain the action of God on matter, Alfarabi placed the intellects of the Spheres between God and the world. Thus, he made the many proceed from the One by emanation. His theory is as follows:

From the First Being (the One) comes forth the first intellect called the First Caused. From the first intellect thinking of the First Being flows forth a second intellect and a sphere. From the second intellect proceeds a third intellect and a sphere. The process goes on in necessary succession down to the lowest sphere, that of the moon. From the moon flows forth a pure intellect, called active intellect. Here end the separate intellects, which are, by essence, intellects and intelligibles. Here is reached the lower end of the supersensible world (the world of ideas of Plato).

These ten intellects, together with the nine spheres, constitute the second principle of Being. The active intellect, which is a bridge between heaven and earth, is the third principle. Finally matter and form appear as the fifth and sixth principles, and with these is closed the series of spiritual existences.

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Only the first of these principles is unity, while the others represent plurality. The first three principles, God, the intellects of the spheres and the active intellect, remain spirit per se, namely, they are not bodies, nor are they in direct relation with bodies; neither are the last three (soul, form, matter) bodies by themselves, but they are only united to them.

There are six kinds of bodies: the celestial, the rational animal, the irrational animal, the vegetal, the mineral and the four elements (air, water, fire, earth). All of these principles and bodies taken together make up the universe. 79

The theory of separate intellects such as taught by Alfarabi and other Arabian philosophers is simply a mixture of Aristotelian theories on the motion of heavenly spheres (Met. XII, cap. 7 and 8) and of the neo-Platonic doctrine of emanation. The student of philosophy may be surprised to hear such a strange and ridiculous theory. But, should he delve into its origin, he would certainly find that the belief in the animation of stars is just a particular case of what men formerly believed, namely, the animation of nature.


Alfarabi firmly believed that the world is the workmanship of an eternal, intelligent being; and thus God is the first principle or the efficient cause. He also believed that God, in order to make the world, must have had materials to work upon. From this he inferred that an eternal, uncreated matter must have been the material cause of the universe. But this matter, he believed,

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had no form, though it contained many forms in potentiality. This is what he says:

When people say that God created the world, they simply mean that God produced the world out of matter by clothing it with a determinate form. The world is certainly God's work, and though it comes after Him as a world-form, yet it is equal to Him in time or eternal, insofar as He could not begin to work on it in time. The reason for this is that God is to the world exactly what a cause is to its effect. Since the cause in this case is inseparable from the effect, it follows that He could not, in a given moment, start making it. For, if He could, that would simply imply imperfection on His part while He had been trying to achieve His goal. This, of course, is incompatible with the absolute perfection of God. 80

The eternity of the world and of matter as held by Alfarabi and Avicenna was rejected by Averroes and Maimonides, who taught the "creatio mundi ex nihilo." From the latter St. Thomas borrowed the proposition that the world was created from nothing.


According to neo-Platonists, the dualism of spirit and matter gives rise to the existence of two principles, the principle of good and the principle of evil. For them, evil is linked with matter. Fortunately, the neo-Platonic teaching on this problem did not have much influence on Alfarabi. For, he says:

God's providence is exercised over all things. Hence, whatever happens in the world is not to be attributed to chance. Evil is under divine control and is united to corruptible things. That evil exists in the world is good accidentally, because if it did not exist, a great deal of good in the world would never come about. 81

In conclusion, it should be noted that Alfarabi's Metaphysical

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[paragraph continues] Cosmology is not original at all, but rather it is a mixture of Aristotelian theories (motion of the spheres, eternity of matter) and of neo-Platonic emanation.

p. 34



In this part Alfarabi discusses the various problems concerning the human soul.


Alfarabi holds that the human soul is essentially distinct from the body, simply because he accepts the Aristotelian definition of the soul as the entelechy or the substantial form of the body. By this he means that the soul is the principle of life in man, a principle by which he thinks, feels and wills, and by which his body is animated. 82 This is also borne out by the fact that

Man is composed of two principles, body and soul. The body is composed of parts, limited by space, measurable, divisible; while the soul is free from all bodily qualities. The former is a product of the created world, while the latter is simply the product of the last separate intellect of the supersensible world. 83


The soul of man is not only simple and indivisible, but it is also spiritual. That is, it is in itself independent of matter and can subsist apart from the body. He says:

The spirituality of the soul is demonstrated by its specific operations, which are intellection and volition. The operation of a being is according to the nature of the being itself (Actio sequitur esse). Now, intellect and will may attain to the abstract and immaterial; therefore, the soul itself must also be independent of matter.

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In addition to this, he says:

Omne agens agit sibi simile, which means that the effect must resemble its cause, for the soul can give to its operations only what it has itself. Therefore, the spiritual operations of the soul give us true knowledge of the nature of the soul itself. 84


Alfarabi held that the human soul cannot exist before the body, as Plato had said. Nor can it migrate from one body to another, as taught by the author of Metempsychosis. 85 However, it is very doubtful whether Alfarabi believed in the immortality of the human soul. For, he wrote passages for and against immortality. Against immortality we find the following passages:

The only thing that survives the dissolution of the body is the active intellect, the dator formarum which is incorruptible. 86

And in his lost commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, he is reported by Averroes to have said that

The supreme good of man is in this life, and anything meant to attain it in the life to come is but folly; it is an old wives' tale.

In fact, toward the end of his treatise on the Passive Intellect and its union with the Active, Averroes quotes Alfarabi as saying in the commentary mentioned above that

Man's supreme good in this life is to attain knowledge. But to say that man after death becomes a separate form is an old wives' tale; for whatever is born and dies is incapable of becoming immortal.

This statement of Alfarabi brought much reproof on him, and

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for it Immanuel Ben Solomon, in his Final Judgment, consigns him to the infernal regions. 87

However, in contrast with these passages, we find one in favor of immortality. "After death," he says, "the human soul will be happy or unhappy according to its merits or demerits." 88 In the face of these statements for and against the immortality of the soul, it is difficult indeed to tell whether or not Alfarabi believed in it. Most probably he did not.


9:23 Alfarabi, The Scope of Aristotle In The Book of Metaphysics, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 40-44.

10:24 Alfarabi, A Letter in Reply to Certain Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 14, pp. 95-96.

11:25 Id. op. cit. N. 10, p. 94.

12:26 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit., n. 1-2, p. 65.

12:27 St. Thomas, Quest. disp., De Veritate, Q. I, a. 1.

12:28 St. Thomas, Opusculum XXXIX, De Natura Generis, cap. II.

13:29 Alfarabi, The Scope of Aristotle in the Book of Metaphysics, in Collection, op. cit. p. 42.

13:30 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 3 p. 66.

13:31 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. p. 174.

14:32 Alfarabi, A Letter in Reply to Certain Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 22, p. 101.

14:33 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 115-125.

14:34 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 115-125.

15:35 "But every essence or quiddity can be understood without anything being known of its existence; for, I can understand what a man is, and yet not know whether it has existence in the natural order. Therefore, it is clear that existence is a different thing from essence or quiddity, unless perchance there be something whose essence is its very existence. And this thing must needs be one and the first." St. Thomas De Ente et Essentia, c. 4, tr. from the Latin by Clare C. Riedl, Chapter IV, p. 34.

15:36 Alfarabi, Political Regime, 1 Arabic ed. p. 26.

16:37 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. p. 164.

16:38 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 164-165.

18:39 Alfarabi, Political Regime, 1st Arabic ed. Cairo, Nile Press, pp. 12-13.

19:40 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. p. 173.

19:41 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 115-125.

19:42 Alfarabi, What Must Precede the Study of Philosophy, in Collection, op. cit. n. 4, p. 62.

20:43 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 13, pp. 70-71.

20:44 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, part I, Q. 2, Art. 3.

20:45 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 115-125.

20:46 St. Thomas, Ibid. op. cit.

20:47 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 2, p. 65.

21:48 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 3, p. 66.

21:49 St. Thomas, Ibid. op. cit.

23:50 Alfarabi, The Knowledge of God, in Traites inedits d’anciens philosophes arabes. Published by Malouf, Edde and Cheiko, 2nd Arabic ed., Beirut, 1911, pp. 21-22.

23:51 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, first bk. Tr. by the English Dominican Fathers, chap. XIV, p. 33.

23:52 5t. Thomas, I Sent., III, quest. 1, a. 3.

24:53 Alfarabi, Political Regime. Second Arabic ed. Cairo, Nile Press, p. 2.

24:54 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., op. cit. Chap. XVIII, p. 39.

24:55 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. pp. 115-125.

24:56 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, First Bk., Ch. XXII, p. 55.

25:57 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit. p. 132.

25:58 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., Ch. XXV, p. 61.

25:59 Alfarabi, Political Regime. Second Arabic ed. Nile Press, p. 7.

25:60 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., Ch. XLIII, p. 96.

25:61 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit. p. 7.

25:62 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. Part I, Q. 9, Art. 1 ad 1, pp. 91-92.

26:63 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit. pp. 3-5.

26:64 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., Ch. XLII, p. 90.

26:65 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. Part I, Q. 11, Art. 3, pp. 116-117.

26:66 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. Part I, Q. 4, Art. 2, p. 48.

26:67 Alfarabi, Id. op. cit. pp. 7-8.

26:68 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. Part I, Q. 11, Art. 4, p. 118.

27:69 Alfarabi, Id., op. cit. p. 8.

27:70 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., Ch. XLIV, p. 100.

27:71 Alfarabi, Political Regime, p. 8-9.

27:72 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., Ch. XLVII, p. 105.

28:73 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit., p. 170.

28:74 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. Part I, Q. 14, Art. 5, p. 190.

28:75 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit., pp. 10-11.

28:76 St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles. First Bk., Ch. LXII, pp. 131-132.

28:77 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit., p. 11.

28:78 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. Part I, Q. 18, Art. 3, p. 255.

31:79 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 6, pp. 67-75.

32:80 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 6, pp. 67-68.

See also: Alfarabi, A Letter in Reply to Certain Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. p. 93.

32:81 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions in Collection, op. cit., n. 22, p. 75.

34:82 Alfarabi, A Letter in Reply to Certain Questions, in Collection, op. cit., n. 33, p. 108.

34:83 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit., p. 145.

35:84 Alfarabi, The Gems of Wisdom, in Collection, op. cit., p. 145.

35:85 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit., n. 22, p. 75.

35:86 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit. n. 21, pp. 74-75.

36:87 Cf. Mahberot by Immanuel. Ch. XXVIII, Berlin. P. 251.

36:88 Alfarabi, The Sources of Questions, in Collection, op. cit., n. 22, p. 75.

Next: Chapter III. Psychology