Alfarabi and Aristotle: The Four Causes and The Four Stages of The Doctrine of
The Intelligence


Alfarabi was raised as a young boy in Baghdad. His early life was spent
studying the art of linguistics, philosophy, and logic. His teachers were
Syrian Christians experts in Greek philosophy. He studied Aristotle and Plato in
detail, and it became evident in his later writings that they were a strong
influence on him. He became quite a prolific writer, and he wrote more than 100
works, many of which have unfortunately been lost including his a lot of his
commentaries on Aristotle. He was one of the earliest Islamic thinkers to
transmit to the world of his time the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. He is
considered by many to be the founder of an authentic philosophy. His writings
created a lot of support, debate, and controversy. He contributed materials on
the proof of the existence of the First Principle, and on the theory of
emanation, as well as the theory of knowledge, in addition to his commentaries
on Greek philosophers.
The Greek influence is clearly present in his works, especially with his
Opinions of the Inhabitants of a Virtuous City, where he laid down a
philosophical, religious, and social system for the humanity at large; a system
that sought to break barriers and facilitate relations among people and nations.
This work sounded very similar to the work presented by Plato in Plato\'s
Republic. They both took into consideration the matter of city/state, who was
to govern, who was to be governed, how this governing was to take place, how it
was to be enforced, and so on. It also appears clear that he was influenced
greatly by Aristotle. This influence is present in his "Doctrine of the
Intellect". The Doctrine of the intellect was Alfarabi\'s approach to giving his
own interpretation to the intellect.
There are strong similarities between Alfarabi\'s Doctrine of the
Intellect and Aristotle\'s "Four Causes". Needless to say that they each are
comprised of four stages, but the stages seem very similar, they seem to be
representative of one another, almost to the point of defining one another. It
will be demonstrated that Alfarabi used Aristotle\'s "Four Causes" to derive and
support the Doctrine of the Intellect. Alfarabi draws off of Aristotle\'s
distinction among four causes; material, formal, efficient, and final. An
object\'s "material cause" is the substance out of which it is made, the "formal
cause" is its shape or nature, its "efficient cause" is the most immediate force
to bring it into existence, and its "final cause"is its purpose. Thus the
Doctrine of the Intellect\'s "material cause" is latent thought, it\'s "formal
cause" is the active thought, it\'s "efficient cause" is conscience thought of
one\'s mind, and it\'s "final cause" is to rationalize everything and to be able
to make the first transition to the last spiritual emanation from God.
The first cause of Aristotle was called "material" or natural matter.
Aristotle borrowed this from the early Greeks. The main question asked by this
cause is: "By what is anything made of?" Alfarabi embraces this cause and
relates it to the Doctrine of the Intellect as his first stage. The stage in
which describes the capability for thinking. Alfarabi argues that this is latent
thought, similar to a dry sponge, that is ready to absorb quiddities or whatness.
This is the preconscience grabbing of forms, allowing for no differentiation of
thought, reason, or abstract sensing. Therefore the essence of one, is the same
thing as the essence of other objects. This requires mind and form. The mind
sees the forms and collects them merely as forms. Here with Aristotle the first
stage is a gatherer. The mind, though not defined what it is, is defined by the
function that it has.
The second cause for Aristotle was called "formal" or life force.
Aristotle borrowed this form from Plato. The main question asked by this cause
is: "What is it\'s identity or what is its name?" This is also the second stage
of the Doctrine of the Intellect for Alfarabi. Alfarabi considers this to be the
active stage where the sponge is filled with objects. As the objects enter it
the process of abstracting out forms begins. This brings on the concept of
dualism, once again supplying a strong Greek influence from Plato. The forms are
in us, we collect the forms and the objects. The forms are contributing to our
thought process, latent to active, dried to wet, the dried sponge is now
latently wet. There is no real thought process yet, this is simply just the
gathering stages.
This is the