Al-Fārābī’s Imperfect State

Mahdi, Muhsin. ”Al-Fārābī’s Imperfect State.” Review of Richard Walzer. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 100, no. 4  (Oct.-Dec.1990), pp. 691-726.

Overview: This analysis of Walzer’s important edition of Alfarabi’s Virtuous City contains a critique of both Walzer’s ‘source-hunting’ approach and his attribution of Shi’ism to Alfarabi. It is so thorough and convincing that it sometimes becomes tedious to read.


Richard Walzer’s revised text of the Arabiv philosophic classic, Alfarabi’s Virtuous City, published with an introduction, translation, and commentary, is an impressive work of recent scholarship on Islamic philosophy. After a general account of his intention and metnod and of his understanding of the Virtuous City’s subject matter and place in Alfarabi’s life and writings, the article examines Walzer’s approach to source criticism (the imagined Greek author, special authority, predecessor, prototype, or source of the Virtuous City, as against the generally-known Greek philosophic tradition available to Alfarabi, and to contextual analysis (the assertion that in the Virtuous City Alfarabi gives full expression to his religious commitment as an Imami Shi’ite sectarian. Next, it presents certain cautions that may help those who wish to benefit from the translation. FInally, it decribes the newly constructed Arabic text and the assumptions underlying the stemma, points to the characteristic features of the apparatus, and explains the implication of what is known about the history of the text and the evidence of the manuscripts for a future edition, which, it is suggested, must abandon the notion of a single recension of the original and recover the text of Alfarabi’s chapter-headings and summary of the Virtuous City absent from all existing editions.