Metaphysics as Rhetoric: Alfarabi’s Summary of Plato’s ‘Laws’

Parens, Joshua. Metaphysics as Rhetoric: Alfarabi’s Summary of Plato’s ‘Laws.’ Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Overview: The first attempt at a comprehensive interpretation of Alfarabi’s puzzling Summary of Plato’s Laws. The claim that Alfarabi had access to the original text, which had also been suggested by Mahdi a generation earlier, has provoked a vicious polemic.


“If I am correct that Alfarabi’s Plato inquires into the political phenomena themselves without the crutch of metaphysical assumptions, then Heidegger is wrong in tracing metaphysics back to Plato. Furthermore, if I am correct, rationalism as such does not need the Heidgerrian corrective. Rather, the natural law tradition, because it is responsible for originating such dogmatism, may need such a corrective. My task will be to describe an alternative to Heidegger’s analysis of human action – one that begins not with the more humble forms of action but with the less humble ones. Because we live in a time in which politics or the state is so remote from us, it is useful to turn to Alfarabi’s Plato, for whom politics is immediate. We will turn to Alfarabi with confidence that as a member of a community ruled by divine law, he will not ignore the crucial influence that believe has on politics in Plato’s thought. As members of a community in which belief has a way of concealing itself, we have much to gain from the study of Alfarabi’s Plato.