Maimonides lived in the Islamicate civilization of twelfth-century Spain/Andalusia, Morocco, and Egypt. He was heir to a rich body of philosophical, theological, and theosophical literature, traditions that converged and diverged at different points, depending on their origins and target audiences. Following in the footsteps of Christian theology, the Muslim theologians or mutakallimūn began within a hundred years of Muhammad's death. By the tenth century, Muslim philosophy and theosophy had appropriated their largely pagan Greek origins and established themselves as distinctive systems of thought. Arabic translations were made of the Greek philosophical corpus available in the ninth century: all of Aristotle with the possible exception of his Politics, and little directly of Plato except for his Timaeus, Republic, and Laws. Commentaries on Aristotle were also translated, as were works by Plotinus and Proclus that were passed off as Aristotle's. Falãsifa, like the tenth-century Alfarabi, the eleventh-century Avicenna, and the twelfth-century Averroes, incorporated so much of these teachings that Maimonides felt he could rely on them for his knowledge of Aristotle.
Unlike the changes which Muslim names frequently underwent in the Latin West, the last name of Abā Naṣr Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Tarkhān b. Awzalugh (or Uzlugh) al-Fārābī was barely altered, and it is as “Alfarabi” that it has been common to refer to him. Al-Fārābī's name, however, may be the only constant on which to seize at the moment, as contemporary scholarship challenges previous assessments of his work. Al-Fārābī appears increasingly as a disarmingly subtle thinker, an individualist with a civic conscience, a man who attempted to reconcile Plato and Aristotle, philosophy and theology, Athens and Mecca.1 The syntheses attempted, however, are neither facile nor dogmatic, and proceed from a predominantly philosophical standpoint. The exact nature of al-Fārābī's philosophical credo, moreover, is still being questioned.
The question is complicated by the lack of a sure chronology for al-Fārābī's many compositions, and an equal ignorance of the particular circumstances which prompted each work in a given genre: the motivation, purpose and intended audience. With few sure criteria of a biographical or stylistic sort to assist them, scholars are forced to choose between differing statements and emphases in related texts, and even within the same text, to determine al-Fārābī's genuine convictions. Moreover, the work of Leo Strauss, Muhsin Mahdi and others has drawn attention to the likelihood that al-Fārābī deliberately shielded essential elements of his convictions from the eyes of the uncritical reader.
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