Volume 21, Issue 1, Fall 2016
Al-Farabi understands politically useful images to be good imitations of essences, and also effective means of persuasion for geographically and historically situated communities. Such images, moreover, are what constitute the virtuous religions of virtuous cities. At play in al-Farabi’s account of images is thus a relationship between image, religion, truth, and history, and one that brings with it certain implications for how we understand the nature of the human being. We are creatures of truth, of the grasping of essences, and hence of universals, and yet we are differently persuaded by images depending upon our geography and our history. And since historically diverse images can imitate the same universal essences, many different religions can nevertheless be “true,” and hence can function in such a way as to orient geographically and historically specific people toward happiness. Al-Farabi’s account of images is thus at the heart of his political theory of religion, and provides the basis for his affirmation of religious pluralism in relation to the virtuous city. The following essay considers the relationship between images and religious pluralism in al-Farabi’s political writings, and shows as well that it implies a correlating theory of the human being.