Al-Fārābī’s Phenomenology of the Political Imagination

Document Type : Original Article


Department of Humanities, Alvernia University, Reading, PA. 19611


The fate of al-Fārābī as a political philosopher is currently at stake. In the contemporary scholarship devoted to al-Fārābī, a debate has been waged for several decades between those scholars defending the legacy of Leo Strauss, namely Mushin Mahdi, Miriam Galston, and Charles Butterworth, who view al-Fārābī as a political philosopher par excellence by privileging his political texts as holding the esoteric key to deciphering his philosophy as a whole and scholars such as Dimitri Gutas and David Reisman who rebut Strauss by claiming that one cannot decisively distinguish between his political philosophy and other extant texts in his corpus. Instead of rehearsing their positions here, I wish to offer a new path forward by turning to al-Fārābī’s account of the imagination as a means to investigate the phenomenon of political community. This paper shall argue that al-Fārābī’s exposition of political community is primarily informed by a phenomenological naturalism adopted from Aristotle that is primarily oriented by how the human soul encounters phenomena by engaging with the surrounding world via the faculty of the imagination. In what follows, I shall briefly sketch the role of the imagination in Aristotle’s De Anima and Rhetoric before turning to al-Fārābī’s own phenomenology of the imagination in his political treatises ranging from the Attainment of Happiness (Taḥṣīl al-Sa‘āda) and Selected Aphorisms (Fuṣūl al-Muntaza‘a) to the Political Regime (Kitāb al-Siyāsa al-Madaniyya) and the Opinions of the Citizens of the Virtuous City (Mabādi’ Ārā’ Ahl al-Madīna al-Fāḍila).