Metaphysics as Rhetoric

Alfarabi's Summary of Plato's "Laws"

By Joshua Parens

Subjects: Political Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Middle Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780791425749, 195 pages, September 1995
Hardcover : 9780791425732, 195 pages, September 1995

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Table of contents




1. The uniqueness of the Summary of Plato's "Laws"
2. Alfarabi's unmethodical method of reading Plato
3. Alfarabi's access to the Laws
4. The Summary's textual tradition: The contemporary debate
5. This book's structure
6. This book's audience

Part I. Metaphysics as Rhetorical Foundation of Law

1. The Roots of Laws


1. Jurisprudence and kalam
2. Why are the roots the theme of the Laws and the Summary ?
3. How philosophical kalam becomes misconstrued as metaphysical doctrine
4. The roots of the laws revisited


2. Alfarabi's Platonism


1. Alfarabi as metaphysical Neoplatonist
2. Alfarabi as political Middle Platonist: Richard Walzer
3. Alfarabi as political Aristotelian: Galston's Politics and Excellence


3. Natural Right versus Natural Law


1. Plato as ethical theorist of natural law
2. Plato as legalistic theorist of natural law


Part II. The Divergence Between Law and Intellect

4. Is the Best City Ruled by Law?


1. According to the Philosophy of Plato
2. According to the Summary


5. Plato's City and Alfarabi's Regime


1. Persian monarchy and Athenian democracy
2. The titles to rule
3. The ruling offices
4. The regime's size


6. War as a Purpose of the Second-Best Regime


1. The denigration of war as a purpose of the city
2. The rehabilitation of war and as a purpose
3. The relation between war and law


7. Legal Innovation: Law as an Imitation of Intellect


1. Changes of place: Differing natural dispositions and customs
2. Changes of time: Conservation and innovation


Part III. Shame, Indignation, and Inquiry

8. The Role of Law and Good Breeding


1. Prudence and good breeding
2. Shame, law, and honoring the body
3. Good breeding, praise and blame, and honoring the soul


9. Pleasure and Indignation


1. Divinizing pleasure or undermining shame
2. The critique of tragic music as a critique of shame
3. War games and drinking parties: Pleasure and indignation


10. Poetry and Inquiry into Law


1. The permissibility of inquiring into law
2. Artisans versus courageous men
3. Poetry, kalam, dialectic, and political science






Parens argues that Alfarabi, the tenth-century Muslim philosopher, demonstrated that Plato is not the originator of Western metaphysics, and that what appears to be Plato's metaphysics was intended as a rhetorical defense of his politics.


The most widely accepted view in the West today, particularly among postmodernists, is that Plato attempted to ground politics on a rational metaphysics and initiated the tradition of foundationalism that has given rise to systems of oppression ranging from racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism to the technological mastery of the earth. Metaphysics as Rhetoric controverts this view, arguing that Plato was not the originator of this metaphysical tradition. Using as a basis the tenth-century Muslim philosopher Alfarabi's interpretation of Plato, especially his Summary of Plato's "Laws", Parens shows that what appears to be Plato's metaphysics was intended as a rhetorical defense of his politics. Parens demonstrates that rather than seek to establish politics on the definitive metaphysical ground, Alfarabi's Plato analyzes politics on its own terms, phenomenologically.

Joshua Parens is Bradley Fellow and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Government Department at Georgetown University.


"Parens's scholarship is sound, persuasive, utterly interesting, and compelling. In many ways, this book may even be described as pathbreaking. The breadth of the author's reading in the history of philosophy, coupled with his deep understanding of the issues that have been raised over time, is extremely impressive. I also find his ability to integrate the secondary literature into his general exposition very helpful and masterful. Parens has a unique ability to formulate his concerns in terms of debates that have bothered scholars—and philosophers—through the ages and to contribute intelligently to the ongoing debate. Even those who find their theories skewed in this work cannot help but learn from what Parens has to say." — Charles E. Butterworth, University of Maryland, College Park

"The topic of this book is not only significant to the history of medieval Islamic philosophy but to modern students of political philosophy, law, religion, and classics."—Terence Kleven, Queen's College