You are on page 1of 4

The History of Science Society

Al-Fārābī on Extramission, Intromission, and the Use of Platonic Visual Theory Author(s): Bruce Eastwood Source: Isis, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 423-425 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/231378 Accessed: 26/06/2010 03:39
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://dv1litvip.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=ucpress. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The University of Chicago Press and The History of Science Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Isis.

http://dv1litvip.jstor.org

7Rosenthal. 66. Philosophische Abhandlungen." p. "On the Knowledge. claims Lindberg.Beforeseeing. in which the alternative views are both put forth within a few pages of each other. 1940. J. 82:334. Chlala (Cairo: Institut FranSais d'Archeologie Orientale.5 In the Catalogue of the Sciences we find extramission. 70 (No. trans. R.2 Another time. 415. Theories of Visionfrom Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Through lightthatit receives the from the sun. the natureof the visualpower In that is in the eye. In his Harmonization of the Opinions of Plato and Aristotle. p. However. alFarabi seems to describe an Aristotelian state of affairs wherein. University of Kentucky.. described in Euclidean terms.The sun impartsto the eye a light that illuminates and to colorsa lightthatilluminates it. I believe Lindberg's reference to the sources is unduly limited and that further investigation of al-Farabi's writings shows not exactly an "early opposition to the extramission theory of vision" in Islam but something quite different. but rather a "power"joins vision and the seen object. . 43. visionis a potencyand a dispositionin matter. Any good *Department of History. pp. according to Rosenthal. 233. 43. 1977. in the natureof nor colors an aptitude to be visible in actuality. pp. p. in The Political Regime and On The Intellect we find intromission.6 Finally. and colors. P. vision becomes seeing in actuality. Kentucky 40506. 66. 1892). Cf. nn. trans. 26. discusses the Arabic traditions on intromission and extramission. 64. a polemical work in defense of Aristotle against anti-intellectuals. Lexington. AND THE USE OF PLATONIC VISUAL THEORY By Bruce Eastwood* David Lindberg's very useful Theories of Visionfrom al-Kindi to Kepler devotes a brief section to al-Farabi's positions on the extramission and intromission theories of vision." Islamic Culture. where vision is made a mathematical study and therefore categorized in Euclidean language. Alfarabi's Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. 253) 423 . Theories. 233. there is no aptitudeto becomevision in actuality. pp. 3-4. in The Model State. since neither an actual "emanating" nor a simple "influencing"occurs. 42.' Lindberg's concern is simply to classify al-Farabi's thinking on the matter. "On the Knowledge of Plato's Philosophy in the Islamic World. 70-71 of Friedrich H. trans. I do not find both views in this treatise. Dieterici's translation of Der Musterstaat von Alfarabi (Leiden: Brill. Apparently he supported the extramission theory. 5 Franz Rosenthal. p.4 Rosenthal observed some time ago that al-Farabi deals with the issue in at least five works. 4Ibid. 3Ibid.3 Regarding this latter view. 8Lindberg. quoting from The Model State. he claims that the difference between Aristotle and Plato is one of terminology. 6See the text translation in al-Farabi. Theories. ' David C. Lindberg. them.NOTES & CORRESPONDENCE AL-FARABI ON EXTRAMISSION. 42-43.beforebeingseen. the external light of the sun is the active participant and the eye is passive. Muhsin Mahdi (New York: Macmillan. 1962).it is only potentialvision. Dieterici (Leiden: Brill. and the corresponding page of a French translation of the same work. 1976). Idees des habitants de la cite vertueuse. 14:412-416. 65. The references are limited to pp. in his Catalogue of the Sciences. 2Lindberg. 1900). Friedrich H. Jaussen.8 Lindberg then notes that al-Farabil placed this statement in the larger context of a proportion wherein sun is to vision as agent intellect is to material intellect.. n. 42-43.7 The particular text with which we are concerned is given by Lindberg as follows: . See my review in American Historical Review. Youssef Karam. INTROMISSION. ISIS. 1979. p. pp. 1949). we have The Model State.arevisibleonlypotentially. .

not in their states of being. Reference to vision is intended to clarify by means of an analogy.the material intellect makes use of ("thinks through") the gift from the actual intellect ("as the light is to the eye") and then becomes sufficiently like the actual intellect to "think the actual intellect" (like seeing the sun). needing the cooperation of another part with complementary capability. 44-45. like the activity of the vision without light. the substance of which is an intellect both actual and immaterial. or immaterial) intellect and the material (or passive.424 BRUCE EASTWOOD Aristotelian would agree then with Lindberg'sconclusion that "he [al-Farabi] thereby makes it quite clear that in his opinion the eye and the power of sight participate passively in the visual process. 44. lines 7..'2 which is the cause whereby the thing is imprinted on the material intellect. the cause of seeing.. or potential) intellect are considered primarily in their states of acting. 1895). through the light itself. This latter thing is to the material intellect as the light is to the vision. andjust as little a sufficiency is there in the substance of colors to be actually seen and looked at. Thus the intelligible requires something else to carry it from potentiality to actuality. some thing corresponding to the illumination which the sun gives to vision.which better preserves the meaning of the Arabic kifaya.) uses aptitude. so it is also with the material intellect. 17. the German translation offers Geniuge. 4). By "sufficiency"I do not mean simply a quantitative difference. This last thinks through that which is to it as the light is to the eye and then thinks the actual intellect. To begin with. And so the actual intellect bestows on the material intellect some thing which it [the actual intellect] has imprinted on it. this transformation of the material intellect is mentioned again in the final clause of the quotation. It becomes actual intellect. Dieterici (Leiden: Brill. In the substance of the visual power in the eye there is not a sufficiency (kifdya)lIfor sight to become effective. The chapter within which the quotation appears concerns the intellect and how it works. Hereby things only thought potentially before come to be thought now in actuality. Both translations seem to preserve the sense of the original rather well. ed. which takes it from potentiality to actuality. Thus by the light dispensedfrom the sun the vision becomes actually seeing and actually fit to see. looks at the light.'3 As represented in this text-and indeed throughout the treatise-the actual (or active. and finally sees the objects which were formerly visible only potentially but now become visible actually. colors are only potentially visible and apparent until they are seen. 'l0n the following translation the italicized portion corresponds directly to the translation provided by Lindberg. Whereas the French translation (Jaussen et al. 18). which is only potential intellect. (see n. a revision of the above translation is needed as well as addition to that translation and notice of other statements by al-Farabi in the same treatise. To become that it needs something else. and I translate it as "sufficiency. The agent that translates the intelligible from potentiality to actuality is an essence. 44-45. pp. The Arabic text appears in Alfarabi's Abhandlung. Der Musterstaat. Likewise by this light colors come to be actually seen and actually looked at after being seen and looked at only potentially. F. H.e. . Just as the vision. pp. Dieterici ed. Kifdya is used consistently in the passage (p. but I do mean that there is already a capable part. Vision is a power and a tendency in matter and only potential vision before one can see. This intellect confers on the material intellect. "Two translations for the text are those of Dieterici and of Jaussen et al. although there occasionally occur -ratherdrastic reorderings of phrases. The intelligible in potentia becomes actual whenever it becomes an intelligible in actu for the intellect.10 Neither in the intellect nor in that which Nature provides is there a sufficiency so that it [the intellect] may become by itself an actualized intellect. likewise it [the material intellect] becomes actual intellect after having been only potential." The nuance of meaning is important. 13Alfarabi'sAbhandlung. 121. When something is added to the material intellect 9Ibid. is insufficient to produce an effect."9 But the character of al-Farabi's Aristotelianism here is just what requires further discussion. Only with this word do I find a significant variation between the two translations. for the sun confers on the vision a light which enlightens and on colors a light whereby they become bright. The activity of the material intellect by itself. Al-Farabli says. if intelligibles have existence in it. below. and then also sees the sun. cause of the light in the eye.

. '4Der Musterstaat. 18Lindberg. as it were. pp. we can find the likely source of inspiration for al-Farabi's text. like Plato. . 98-102 (Greek).AL-FARABI ON VISUAL THEORIES 425 (or to the vision) an actuality (or seeing) is the result. solves the problem of vision by arguing that the eye and external media become parts of a homogeneous chain capable of transmitting motions (in the broadest sense) to the intellect of the observer. Theories. and though colour be present... if we recall the theme of the treatise. Ch. The nature of the potential being (material intellect. In Book VI of The Republic (507D-508D) Plato says.. 27b. What alFarabi seems to have done is to use a Platonic understanding of vision in order to modify an Aristotelian notion of the passive intellect with the ultimate purpose of making the intellect of his philosophical leader more like an active than a passive intellect. Chapter 22. 15 Here the Greek aitios means "cause" in the sense of being responsible for. Dieterici trans.... The passive. Neither vision itself nor its vehicle. For Aristotle the eye is not active. In the history of visual theories we can conclude that al-Farabi's brief mention of vision is not an abstracted scientific statement but rather an engaged philosophical statement. 161 use the very literal translation by Paul Shorey in the Loeb Classical Library version (London: Heinemann. Al-Farabi emphasizes just this point when he discusses intellect and leadership in a later chapter14and claims that the philosopher is in a state where his passive intellect has become so filled with intelligibles that it is more like an active intellect and might best be called an "acquired intellect. 90-94... Theories. yet as being the cause'5 thereof is beheld by vision itself?'6 It is this text of Plato rather than any from Aristotle that best explains the nature of the visual process as quoted from al-Farabi's Model State. pp. p. AlFarabi's language is not unambiguously Aristotelian but rather leans toward a Platonic conception of vision. 1946). albeit incomplete and insufficient. vision) is not inert passivity but rather something in need of completion. The critical difference. The bond then that yokes together visibility and the faculty of sight is more precious by no slight form than that which unites the other pairs [of sense and object]. which Lindberg describes. is identical with the sun." Similarly we find al-Farabi observing at the end of the quotation given above that the material intellect becomes actual. pp. pp. and this is because the vision had such a tendency and potential. we are meant to conclude that the vision too becomes like the sun when light is present. 99-103 (translation).. And does it not receive the power which it possesses as an influx. 21. Is it not also true that the sun is not vision. Aristotelian sense of vision does not seem to be intended in al-Farabl's text. is the notion of activity on the part of the eye.. In fact. then. 62).. 17Lindberg..'7 As Lindberg himself remarks. The visual theory used comes from Plato and is quite compatible with that of Galen. Al-Farabi also refers to a Galenic. you are aware that vision will see nothing and the colours will remain invisible. For Plato and for al-Farabi vision is always a power of the eye and is simply insufficient until something is added by the sun. not in the sense of being the origin of. But it is . the ideal State.... purifiedpneuma in the sense nerves (Ch. yet without the presence of a third kind of thing specifically and naturally adapted to this purpose. This minor point in the philosophy of al-Farabi suggests that one must be careful not to see him as either a thoroughgoing Aristotelian or Platonist."'8We need only add that Plato and Galen required sunlight in the medium for vision to occur. Shifting to the other side of the analogy. 9-11. his questions and his solutions may well involve a distinctive amalgamation of Plato and Aristotle (along with other sources). Though vision may be in the eyes and its possessor may try to use it. and turn to Plato's ideal State (an ideal State was not discussed by Aristotle).. Instead. Dieterici trans.. 9. to begin with. esp. 59-63. the most sunlike of all the instruments of sense. p. which we call the eye. the eye is not purely passive.. pp. "Aristotle. dispensed from the sun?.