Alfarabi's Imaginative Critique: Overflowing Materialism in Virtuous Community

South African Journal of Philosophy 34 (2):175-192 (2015)
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Though currently marginalised in Western philosophy, tenth-century Arabic philosopher Abu Nasr Alfarabi is one of the most important thinkers of the medieval era. In fact, he was known as the ‘second teacher’ (after Aristotle) to philosophers such as Avicenna and Averroes. As this epithet suggests, Alfarabi and his successors engaged in a critical and creative dialogue with thinkers from other historical traditions, including that of the Ancient Greeks, although the creativity of his part is often marginalised as well. In this article, I offer a new interpretation of Alfarabi’s sweeping volume, The Principles of the Opinions of the Virtuous Community. My focus is the materialism that overflows Alfarabi’s account of soul in general and the imaginative power in particular. The political conclusion of this account is that Virtuous Community does not directly present Alfarabi’s ideal ruler or community. Instead, it offers a materialist critique that prefigures critical theory and post-structuralism and thereby provides guidelines for how to more effectively engage monotheistic communities in the pursuit of social justice – including along the axes of race, gender and sexual orientation.
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