Plato


Plato
(Aflatun)
(429–347 bce)
   Although Greek philosophy had a profound formative effect upon classical Islamic philosophy, Plato’s particular influence was considerably less distinct here than it was in theWest. There are at least two reasons for this. First, apart from the various epitomes and commentaries, only a few of Plato’s actual texts – the Laws, Sophist, Timaeus and Republic – were available in Arabic translation. Second, Muslim thinkers tended not to differentiate Plato’s ideas sharply from those of his progeny. Like the earlier Greek Neoplatonists, they saw the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle as essentially in agreement. Thus, when aspects of Plato’s metaphysics, psychology and epistemology were appropriated by Islamic philosophers – that is, the intelligible forms as a changeless reality above and beyond the natural world of generation and destruction, the immateriality and immortality of the soul, the superiority of reason or intellect over sense experience – they often took on a distinctly Aristotelian or Neoplatonic cast. Plato’s ethics and political philosophy had a clearer and more direct influence: his emphasis on the rule of reason over the passions or appetites, the notion of virtue as the health of the soul, and the definition of philosophy as ‘the imitation of God insofar as it is possible for a human being’ appealed to a number of the early ethical thinkers such as al-Kindi, Abu Bakr al-Razi and Miskawayh, while his notion of the ideal coincidence of knowledge and political power (i.e. the philosopher-ruler) was adopted in various ways by thinkers such as al-Farabi, Ibn Bajja and Ibn Rushd. Al-Suhrawardi and his followers singled Plato out, seeing his supposed mysticism as more amenable to their philosophy of Illumination than were Aristotle’s syllogistic reasoning and substance metaphysics. In general, however, it could be said that ‘the sublime and divine Plato’ ultimately functioned as more of a malleable symbol of pre-Qur’anic wisdom than as a substantive intellectual influence in Islamic philosophy.
   See Aristotle; ethics; al-Farabi; God, imitation of; Illuminationism; Neoplatonism; political philosophy; al-Razi, Abu Bakr; Socrates; al-Suhrawardi
   Further reading: Plato 1997; Rosenthal 1975/94, 1990; Walzer 1962

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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