Mulla Sadra and Farabi's Ideas of the First Ruler of Utopia

(The Ideal State)[1]

Reza Davari

The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on how a point put forward in Farabi's civil philosophy has been given more depth and clarity by Mulla Sadra.

Recently, great attention has been paid in our country to Islamic teachings and, as a result, in the light of some new discussions, a series of new views have been proposed, and some problems have been posed. One of these issues is the suggestion that our political philosophy begins and ends with Farabi. This means that after him, our philosophers have not paid due attention to practical wisdom and particularly politics as they deserved. Of course, this is not merely the writer's personal view; it is a view widely held and demonstrated by a great number of thinkers. This means that whatever all the philosophers have said with respect to philosophy from Farabi's time till the present amount to nothing much comparing to what Farabi alone has said. A lot of political views proposed after Farabi (disregarding the repetitions) have appeared in Khwajah Nasir al-Din Tusi's Akhlaq-i nasiri, which he himself admits to have been completely adapted from Farabi's works. The writer believes that the book of politics has not been closed; rather, it has come to perfection in Farabi's works. This view is particularly held by Mulla Sadra.

Our philosophers have all been more or less concerned with politics. Ghazzali (if we can refer to him as a philosopher) has extensively dealt with this topic in his books. However, Mulla Sadra still seems to have paid more attention to politics than others. When Farabi talks about politics, he has an ideal politics in mind; he speaks of Utopia (The Ideal State or al-Madina al-fazila), designs this place, and has some suggestions about its ruler. Mulla Sadra, too, has his eyes on both the Utopian or ideal politics and the real and normal politics. Therefore, sometimes it is felt that his words in these respects are not consistent, while it is not the case. Since he is dealing with two different things, his ideas about them will inevitably be different from each other. He is concerned with both human politics and a politics whose origin is the active intellect. It might be a good idea if we use the term ‘humanism' here. Mulla Sadra is the first person to speak about humanism in politics.

There is a book called Nawamis (Laws), which is ascribed to Plato. This book has appeared in the second part of a collection of writings published by ‘Abdul Rahman Badawi under the title of Aflatun fil Islam (Plato in Islam). This part consists of treatises which are ascribed to different people. Badawi rightly believes that the treatise in his collection is wrongly ascribed to Plato, because when we compare it to Plato's Nawamis, we see that they are completely different from each other. It is also different from Farabi's Talkhis al-nawamis, which is a summary of Plato's Nawamis. However, the book we are referring to here has not been written by Plato, although in our history and culture it has been ascribed to him, and even Mulla Sadra believes in the same thing. It is not important whether this book belongs to Plato or not; the important point is that Mulla Sadra has paid attention to a part of it. When a great philosopher and thinker like Mulla Sadra refers to a book, there is no need to discuss whether it is rightly or wrongly ascribed to someone. The content of the book has been of importance to Mulla Sadra, and a book which is ascribed to Plato should necessarily contain certain points that have compelled some authorities to maintain that this book might belong to Plato. The point here is that politics and religious laws (Shari‘ah) are different from each other in four respects: origin, end, act, and passivity. The author does not intend to discuss these differences here; he only suffices to emphasizing that what Mulla Sadra says in this regard has been exactly quoted form Nawamis (the one wrongly ascribed to Plato). He believes that politics is different from religious laws in terms of its origin. Politics has a human origin and has been rooted in man's nature, and this is the very humanistic politics itself.

Mulla Sadra pays attention to normal politics, but he also refers to another kind which is the focus of discussion at this point. We are not going to deal with what he says about a politics with a human origin, although he has some very important ideas in this regard. His ideas are so important that some of them have appeared in Ghazzali and Fakhr al-Din Razi's works. When our philosophers liked an idea, it was not really very important to them whether to quote it by referring to its original source or not, and sometimes they even talked about it as if it, originally, belonged to them. Interestingly enough, what Farabi has stated in different forms in his books has been retold by Mulla Sadra in different places in exactly the same way. For example (we will refer to this example frequently to the end of this paper), in one place, Farabi says that the ruler of Utopia should have 12 characteristics; likewise, Mulla Sadra, in different places in al-Mabda' wa'l-ma‘ad and al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, has referred to the same number in this regard. In some other places, Farabi has referred to 8 characteristics, and so has Mulla Sadra. And we can find examples for both of them referring to number 6 concerning this issue. It seems that in referring to these characteristics, both of them have taken the situation, time, and station of the ruler into account; when 6 characteristics were more convenient, they referred to that number, and when 12 were necessary, they emphasized that the ruler should have 12 characteristics.

The above example was cited to emphasize that, obviously, Mulla Sadra paid too much attention to Farabi and had read all his books. However, rather than purely quoting ideas from Farabi, Mulla Sadra extended and completed them and did not simply suffice to reproducing what he had said. Still there are certain cases in which he has exactly quoted some of Farabi's statements. In one place, when speaking of the station of the ruler, Farabi states that the ruler of Utopia is a prophet who is a legislator enacting laws; of course, by the ruler he means the first ruler. Concerning the station of this legislator, Farabi says that he is connected to the active intellect through imagination. In fact, the prophet obtains his knowledge from the active intellect through imagination, and by the active intellect, he means the angel of revelation. The philosopher obtains knowledge through his intellect, which later turns into the acquired intellect. There are some points in Farabi's works explicitly indicating that he considered the status of philosophers higher than that of prophets. At the same time, there are other proofs indicating that this was not the case at all. All these indications and proofs are scattered in Farabi's different works. When entering political discussions, at all times, Mulla Sadra summarized Farabi's views. Farabi himself wrote about his ideas briefly, and when such brief writings are summarized, the product will be very short. However, Mulla Sadra, through his unique artistic ability, does this and makes the short shorter, yet when dealing with the ruler of Utopia, the reverse happens.

Where Farabi has discussed the issue briefly, Mulla Sadra has extended it. For example, he recounts the characteristics of the ruler of Utopia in 3 pages in al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, while Farabi has explained it in one page in Ara al-ahl al-madinah al-fazilah or in Tahsil al-sa‘adat. In his al-Mabda wa'l ma‘ad, Mulla Sadra devotes two chapters to writing about the characteristics of the first ruler of Utopia. In the first chapter he talks about the primary perfection of the ruler, and in the second chapter, which is about his secondary perfection, Mulla Sadra lists 12 characteristics, which are the same as those referred to by Farabi and quoted by others from him. Mulla Sadra, too, quotes from Farabi; in some places he speaks of those 12 characteristics using exactly the same expressions used by Farabi, and sometimes he talks about them using different sentences. However, when speaking of the primary perfection, which represents Mulla Sadra's point of difference from Farabi, he explains the issue so that all the ambiguities with regard to Farabi's view are completely removed. When we pay attention to Farabi's view, we might think that a prophet is a person one of whose faculties of the soul has achieved perfection, while his other faculties have remained the same. Mulla Sadra explains that this is true with respect to some people, i.e., one of their faculties, such as the ones related to their senses or motives, grows more than others and enables them to do some extraordinary or supernatural deeds. It is also possible for someone to have a powerful imagination, while his other faculties are not that much developed. Mulla Sadra agrees that such people might exist; nevertheless, he maintains that this has nothing to do with prophets or the first ruler of Utopia. The first ruler, as Farabi says, is one who speaks the language of his people, perceives particular things by means of his imaginal faculty (or in Mulla Sadra's words, by his psyche) and universal things through narrations, and then explains them through utilizing the ordinary language. This is because his addressees are common people belonging to all social classes at all times and in all places. Therefore, Mulla Sadra agrees with Farabi's views of the prophet's language and his addressees.

However, in the first chapter, Mulla Sadra explains the primary perfection of the ruler of Utopia and discusses the coordination among a prophet's faculties. He states that the prophet's faculties develop at the same time and in the same way, i.e., his three rational, imaginal, and sense faculties are exactly the same in development. In some of the classifications Mulla Sadra makes in his books, he refers also to a fourth faculty which is the faculty of estimation. He also refers to the point that the prophet might not use the language of reason for addressing people, but he is certainly familiar with it. Farabi has also referred to a similar point, stating that the ruler of Utopia is a philosopher dressed in a prophet's clothes.

We should admit that Farabi is justified but inaccurate in his referring to a prophet's clothes. In this regard, Mulla Sadra explains that when we say a prophet is a philosopher, it does not indicate that all prophets are philosophers and vice versa. Neither does it indicate that prophets should pay attention to logical rules and not confuse various propositions with each other. Mulla Sadra's addressees here are the people of philosophy and wisdom. Therefore, he explains that there are some people who follow wisdom and whose rational faculty has developed; they are philosophers and scholars, but not necessarily prophets. In fact, they lack the imaginal faculty possessed by a prophet. When Mulla Sadra gives this introduction, he leaves no room for ambiguity or suspicion, and one is not allowed to object to philosophers' saying that since a prophet is connected to knowledge through the active intellect, his knowledge is inferior to that of a philosopher. Here, there is no talk of superiority or inferiority. According to Mulla Sadra a prophet knows what a philosopher does; however, the opposite does not necessarily hold true. He speaks of this issue sometimes by referring to guardianship (wilayah) and prophecy (nubuwwah), which have been discussed in great detail in our philosophy and gnosis after Ibn Sina, and sometimes by referring to the inner meaning of these two terms and talks about the guardianship of wisdom. The truth is that Mulla Sadra agrees with Plato's plan of philosophers' ruling the world by means a government headed by a first ruler. Although Mulla Sadra, as a secluded man, was not a master of politics, he was able to advise politicians as to the best policies to take.

In conclusion, we can say that Farabi, as the pioneer of Islamic philosophy, has posed an issue which has come to full bloom and perfection in Mulla Sadra's philosophy. The writer believes that Farabi's idea is no different from Mulla Sadra's. Nevertheless, it is a proven fact in the history of philosophy that we always move from short references to specific issues to extensive discussions of them, and that, in this way, philosophy is born. Farabi's findings were not the same as those of Plato. When Farabi states that a philosopher is a lawgiver, unlike what some think, he did not intend to give an Islamic color to this view. He meant to found an Islamic school of philosophy.

Mulla Sadra explained the issue in a way to prove the uniqueness of wisdom and prophethood. At the outset of this paper it was mentioned that after Farabi, there has been no discussion of politics in our Islamic world. This is because we just see the issues in their totality and do not pay attention to their depths and details. If we do so, we will come up with very important points which are worthy of discussion. Therefore, the writer does not believe that the discussion of philosophy has come to an end after Farabi. Rather, he believes that even if this is true, Farabi's main intention has been to discuss the related issues so that philosophy comes in unity with Islam, and the whole field comes to perfection.




[1]. The present article is the written form of a speech delivered by the author at the World Congress on Mulla Sadra in 1999 in Tehran.




 Print This Document

Save This Document on Your System