Similarities between Plato’s Politeia and the Holy Qur’an

Firstly, generally, Plato can teach us Muslims too on the field of the human psychology and mind: mostly true and modern are his words and insights. For good reasons he still is one of the most taught and quoted philosophers of humanity. His texts may be helpful to understand Qur’an better, because they resemble several Qur’anic texts, or shed another, clarifying light on them. Now we enter specific texts that tell us the most striking similarities and differences between Qur’an and ‘Politeia’.

Book I

Book I explains us how justice and issues of interest between different roles in society work and how they correlate logically. The scientific aspect of these texts is not bringing us mere facts; it’s their exercise in logic and reason in general, they are supposed to teach us a thinking attitude.

‘But can the musician by his art make men unmusical? Certainly not. Or the horseman by his art make them bad horsemen? Impossible. And can the just by justice make men unjust, or speaking general can the good by virtue make them bad? Assuredly not. Any more than heat can produce cold? It cannot. Or drought moisture? Clearly not. Nor can the good harm any one? Impossible. And the just is the good? Certainly. Then to injure a friend or any one else is not the act of a just man, but of the opposite, who is the unjust? I think that what you say is quite true, Socrates. Then if a man says that justice consists in the repayment of debts, and that good is the debt which a man owes to his friends, and evil the debt which he owes to his enemies, —to say this is not wise; for it is not true, if, as has been clearly shown, the injuring of another can be in no case just.  … I believe that Periander or Perdiccas or Xerxes or Ismenias the Theban, or some other rich and mighty man, who had a great opinion of his own power, was the first to say that justice is ‘doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies.” (Politeia I)

‘Then medicine does not consider the interest of medicine, but the interest of the body? True, he said. Nor does the art of horsemanship consider the interests of the art of horsemanship, but the interests of the horse; neither do any other arts care for themselves, for they have no needs; they care only for that which is the subject of their art? True, he said. But surely, Thrasymachus, the arts are the superiors and rulers of their own subjects? To this he assented with a good deal of reluctance. Then, I said, no science or art considers or enjoins the interest of the stronger or superior, but only the interest of the subject and weaker? He made an attempt to contest this proposition also, but finally acquiesced. Then, I continued, no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money – maker; that has been admitted? Yes.’ (Politeia I)

‘You would not be inclined to say, would you, that navigation is the art of medicine, at least if we are to adopt your exact use of language? Certainly not. Or because a man is in good health when he receives pay you would not say that the art of payment is medicine? I should say not. Nor would you say that medicine is the art of receiving pay because a man takes fees when he is engaged in healing? Certainly not. And we have admitted, I said, that the good of each art is specially confined to the art? Yes. Then, if there be any good which all artists have in common, that is to be attributed to something of which they all have the common use? True, he replied.’ (Politeia I)

‘Then now, Thrasymachus, there is no longer any doubt that neither arts nor governments provide for their own interests; but, as we were before saying, they rule and provide for the interests of their subjects who are the weaker and not the stronger —to their good they attend and not to the good of the superior. And this is the reason, my dear Thrasymachus, why, as I was just now saying, no one is willing to govern; because no one likes to take in hand the reformation of evils which are not his concern without remuneration. For, in the execution of his work, and in giving his orders to another, the true artist does not regard his own interest, but always that of his subjects; and therefore in order that rulers may be willing to rule, they must be paid in one of three modes of payment: money, or honour, or a penalty for refusing. … what the penalty is I do not understand, or how a penalty can be a payment. You mean that you do not understand the nature of this payment which to the best men is the great inducement to rule? Of course you know that ambition and avarice are held to be, as indeed they are, a disgrace? Very true.’ (Politeia I)

‘And about knowledge and ignorance in general; see whether you think that any man who has knowledge ever would wish to have the choice of saying or doing more than another man who has knowledge. Would he not rather say or do the same as his like in the same case? That, I suppose, can hardly be denied. And what of the ignorant? would he not desire to have more than either the knowing or the ignorant? I dare say. And the knowing is wise? Yes. And the wise is good? True. Then the wise and good will not desire to gain more than his like, but more than his unlike and opposite? I suppose so. Whereas the bad and ignorant will desire to gain more than both? Yes.’ (Politeia I)

‘I would rather ask the question more generally, and only enquire whether the things which fulfil their ends fulfil them by their own proper excellence, and fall of fulfilling them by their own defect? Certainly, he replied. I might say the same of the ears; when deprived of their own proper excellence they cannot fulfil their end? True. … And we have admitted that justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul? That has been admitted. Then the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live ill? That is what your argument proves. And he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who lives ill the reverse of happy? Certainly. Then the just is happy, and the unjust miserable? So be it.‘ (Politeia I)

Can we find similar texts in the Holy Qur’an? Qur’an ordains us to study visible nature for both practical means, but also to come nearer to it’s creator: God. Goodness, however, is more than knowledge and wisdom needed for building a just society; eventually it should lead to the realization that the harmonious system in everything can have one master only. Like in Politeia, we read that goodness is about servitude, serving someone or a cause objectively, without self-interest. Qur’an also sets boundaries to knowledge: we can never observe the one master, nor the master’s spirit, but he perceives us all the time. This is an issue of faith that believers may conclude through thinking, but they can only philosophically prove anything of it. If we forget the idea of a god as a person, rather see him as a force, or a common interest behind everything there is, we may rationalize a proof of God’s existence or presence. Since we can’t give an observed proof of a god, the issue has been one of the world’s oldest debates and will be, perhaps. Plato gives us more detailed philosophical instruments, but Qur’an gives us the very first basics from where we can start any study or research. The Qur’anic verses mentioned here are repeated at several other Suras.

‘Do not confound truth with falsehood, nor knowingly hide the truth. … Would you enjoin righteousness on others and forget it yourselves?’ Q:2:42,44

‘Say: ‘Let us have your proof, if what you say be true’ Q:2:111

‘He kindles the light of dawn. He has ordained the night for rest and the Sun and the Moon for reckoning. Such is the ordinance of Allah, the Mighty One, the All-Knowing. It is He that has created for you the stars, so that they may guide you in the darkness of land and sea. We have made plain Our revelations to men of wisdom.’ Q:6:96,97

‘They disbelieve what they cannot grasp, for events have not yet justified it. Those who passed before them acted in the same way. …’ Q:10:39

‘They say: ‘Allah has begotten a son.’ Allah forbid! Self-sufficient is He. His is all that the heavens and the earth contain. Surely for this you have no sanction. Would you say of Allah what you do not know? Say: ‘Those that invent falsehoods about Allah shall not triumph.‘ Q:10:68,69

‘As for those that have faith and do good works and humble themselves before their Lord, they are the heirs of Paradise and there they shall abide forever. Can the blind and the deaf be compared to those that can see and hear? Such are the unbelievers compared to the faithful. Will you not take heed?’ Q:11:23,24

‘He has given you horses, mules and donkeys, which you may ride or use as ornaments; and He has created other things beyond your knowledge. … It is He who sends down water from the sky, which provides drink for you and brings forth the crops on which your cattle feed. And thereby He brings up corn and olives, dates and grapes and other fruit. Surely in this there is a sign for thinking men. He has forced the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, into your service: the stars also serve you by His leave. Surely in this there are signs for men of understanding. … Is He, then, who has wrought the creation, like him who has created noting? Will you take no heed’ Q:16:8,10,11,17

‘He (Allah) also makes this comparison. Take a dumb and helpless man, a burden on his master: wherever he sends him he returns with empty hands. Is he equal with one who enjoins justice and follows the right path?’ Q:16:76

‘When We change one verse for another (Allah knows best what He reveals) they say: ‘You are an imposter.’ Indeed most of them are ignorant men.’ Q:16:101

‘We made the night and the day twin marvels. We enshrouded the night with darkness and gave light to the day, so that you might seek the bounty of your Lord and learn to compute the seasons and the years. We have made made all things manifestly plain to you.‘ Q:17:12

‘Say: ‘It is for you to believe in it or to deny it. Those to whom knowledge was given before its revelation prostrate themselves when it is recited to them and say: ‘Glorious is our Lord. His promise has been fulfilled.” Q:17:107

‘Some profess to serve Allah and yet stand on the very fringe of true faith. When blessed with good fortune they are content, but when an ordeal befalls them they turn upon their heels, forfeiting this life and the hereafter. That way perdition lies.’ Q:22:11

‘Those who surrender themselves to Allah and accept the true faith; who re devout, sincere, patient, humble, charitable, and chaste; who fast and are ever mindful of Allah – on these, both men and women, Allah will bestow forgiveness and a rich reward.’ Q:33:35

‘We have given mankind in this Koran all manner of arguments, so that they may take heed. … Consider this comparison. There are two men: the one has many masters who are ever at odds among themselves; the other has one master, to whom he is devoted. Are these two to be held alike? Allah forbid! But most of them have no knowledge.’ Q:39:27,29

‘I created mankind and the jinn (spirits) in order that they might worship Me. I demand no livelihood of them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Allah alone is the Munificent Giver, the Mighty One, the Invincible. Those that now do wrong shall meet their predecessors’ doom. Let them not challenge Me to hurry it on.’ Q:51:57-59

‘Say: ‘Allah is One, the Eternal God. He begot none, nor was He begotten. None is equal to Him’. Q:112:1-4

Sources:

Works by Plato, The Internet Archive http://classics.mit.edu/Browse/browse-Plato.html
Philebus http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/philebus.html
Plato’s Politeia http://www.arsfloreat.nl
The Koran, translated with notes by N.J. Dawood, Penguin Books

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Filed under Known scientific research & development during the rise of Islam

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