How Farabi Read Plato’s Laws

"How Farabi Read Plato's Laws," Mélanges Louis Massignon, Institut Francais de Damas, 1957, Vol. 3.  Reprinted in What Is Political Philosophy?


At first it seems as if Farabi meant to say that all insights which he ascribed to Plato were peculiar to Plato. What he actually says however is that Plato did not find the science which he desired among the sciences and arts which are known to the vulgar. Only at the beginning of the second half of the work,
immediately after the first mention of Socrates, does Firabi explicitly speak of what Plato in contradistinction to all other men did: Plato attempted to exhibit or present the desired science. Only in the eighth and last section does he explicitly speak of Plato’s “repetitions” and thus bring out the difference between Plato and Socrates. And only in the central paragraph of the last section does he mention an alleged remark of Plato to the effect that his predecessors had neglected something. The only originality which Farabi’s Plato claims for himself concerns the investigation, allegedly made in the Menexenus, of the ways in which the citizens ought to honor the philosophers on the one hand,
and the kings and most excellent men on the other. The investigation apparently led to the result that the philosophers, as distinguished from the legislators, cannot expect to be deified by the citizens. However this may be, Farabi introduces Plato’s correction of the Socratic teaching only toward the end of the Philosophy of Plato; those summaries of Platonic writings which constitute the first seven sections of the Philosophy of Plato describe therefore the Platonic teaching as it was prior to Plato’s correction of the Socratic teaching.  Yet, as Farabi indicates by his remark about the Platonic writings in his preface to the Summary, all Platonic writings presuppose already Plato’s correction of the Socratic teaching. It follows therefore that not everything Farabi says in characterizing the content of the Platonic dialogues is meant to be borne out by the text of the Platonic dialogues. This conclusion is confirmed by the comparison of the remark on the Laws in the Philosophy of Plato with the Summary, to say nothing further about the Summary taken by itself. We admire the ease with which Farabi invented Platonic speeches.