Al-Farabi's Doctrine of Education: Between Philosophy and Sociological Theory
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By Professor 'Ammar al-Talbi 1
Note of the editor
The following text was originally published as: "Al-Farabi (259-339 AH/872-950 AD)" by Professor 'Ammar al-Talbi in the series "Thinkers on Education" published by Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. 23, no. 1/2, 1993, pp. 353-372; ©UNESCO, 2000. Our republishing of the article relies on the authorisation embedded by the publisher according to which the document may be reproduced free of charge as long as acknowledgement is made of the source. The version we republish hereafter was edited and revised; we publish it with a slightly different title, new images and captions. Click here for the original version (in PDF format).
Table of contents
1. Al-Farabi: A Biographical outline
2. The aims of education
3. What is education?
4. Teaching methods
5. The teacher and the learner
6. The curriculum
7. Philosophy, the queen of disciplines
8. Ways and means of elucidation in teaching
10. The influence of Al-Farabi
11.1. Works by Al-Farabi
11.2. Works about Al-Farabi
* * *
Throughout the ages thinkers have raised the question of what the human being ought to learn in order to be in tune with his own epoch, to live intelligently in society, and to be a citizen bringing benefit both to himself and to the community; hence the importance of education. It is the aim of education which takes precedence, only then come the means to realize these aims.
For the most part, it is philosophy which is concerned with defining these aims, and here it may come into direct conflict with religion; the Islamic civilization has experienced numerous controversies between religious lawyers (fuqaha) and philosophers in this respect, each with his own opinion about gnoseology.
The aim of this paper is to present the attitudes to education of Abu Nasr al-Farabi within the framework of his philosophical system, an aspect of his work about which little was known, since researchers have been more interested in the logical, metaphysical and political aspects, to the neglect of his educational concepts. However, scholars do know that al-Farabi studied Plato's Republic and this work, by which he was most certainly influenced, deals mainly with education, as is now accepted by historians of philosophy . It is even more unlikely that al-Farabi could have been unaware of this dimension of Plato's philosophy since he made a summary of Plato's Laws, a work which we know expresses his final thoughts on education.
1. Al-Farabi: A Biographical outlineSo who is al-Farabi, and what is his contribution to education?
Al-Farabi was born in Wasij, in the province of Farab in Turkestan, in 872 AD (259 AH) of a noble family. His father, of Persian origin, was an army commander at the Turkish court. Al-Farabi moved to Baghdad, where he studied grammar, logic, philosophy, music, mathematics and sciences; he was a pupil of the great translator and interpreter of Greek philosophy, Abu Bishr Matta b. Yunus (d. 942/329) in Baghdad; he then studied under Yuhanna b. Haylan, the Nestorian (d. 941/328), in Harran. Thereby he is affiliated to the Alexandrian school of philosophy which had been located at Harran, Antakya and Merv, before definitively settling in Baghdad. As a result of these years of study, he accumulated such knowledge of philosophy that he earned the name of the ‘Second Teacher', by reference to Aristotle, the ‘First Teacher'.
He moved to Aleppo in the year 943 (330) and became part of the literary circle in the court of Sayf al-Dawla Hamdani (d. 968/356). Al-Farabi was given to wandering on his own in the countryside to reflect and to write, and it was probably his despair at reforming his society that inclined him towards Sufism. His travels brought him to Egypt and it was in Damascus in 950 (339) that he died at the age of 80 .
Al-Farabi had a great desire to understand the universe and humankind, and to know the latter's place within the former, so as to reach a comprehensive intellectual picture of the world and of society. He undertook the meticulous study of ancient philosophy, particularly of Plato and Aristotle, absorbing the components of Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy, which he integrated into his own Islamic-Arabic civilization, whose chief source is, as we all know, the Qur'an and the various sciences derived from it.
Al-Farabi represents a turning-point in the history of Islamic philosophical thought, since he was the true first founder of epistemology which relies upon ‘universal reason' and the demonstrations he gave. The intellectual, political and social circumstances prevailing in his day no doubt explain his approach since, in fact, he lived in a historical period of great turmoil, during which the central Islamic caliphate was torn apart into independent states and principalities in both the east and west; and sects and schools of thought (madhahib) sprang up undermining the nation's intellectual and political unity (oumma). Thus al-Farabi's concern was to restore unity to Islamic thought by confirming the gnoseology based on demonstration.
He established logic within Islamic culture, and this is why he is known as the ‘Second Teacher', as already mentioned. He was also engaged in restoring unity in politics , making political science the core of his philosophy, basing himself on the system of rules which governs nature and on the Qur'an which emphasized the relationship between gnoseology and values (axiology). He beli
by: Professor Ammar al-Talbi by: FSTC Research Team<
FSTC Research Team
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