Reaching our Political Potential
Aristotle begins Politics by invoking the concept of nature. In Physics, Aristotle identifies the nature of a thing above all with its end or final cause. An acorn has the potentiality (telos) to become an oak tree. Given the proper conditions, an acorn can develop into a tree. To flourish, an acorn needs soil that is rich with nutrients, as well as sunlight and water. Likewise, human nature (fitra) is predisposed with the ability to become social and rational animals; with the right circumstances, they will reach this potential. It is the same with society.
As mentioned previously, humans have the ability to be better than angels and worse than animals: humans that cultivate their intellect (`aql) and act in accordance with it are better than the goodly angels that lack a free will, and humans that allow their appetites to consistently conquer their intellect are worse than the instinctual beasts that lack the kind of rational faculty that humans possess. The force of `aql is productive, and the force of jahl (as enabled by hawa) is destructive. An acorn that does not reach its telos is not harmful, while a single human being is indeed capable of destroying all of humanity.
The full actualization of human fitra and telos is represented in the prophets in general and Muhammad (s) in particular. Their will is with God’s will, and their path is the Straight Path – mere men can only emulate them closely. A person has his own microcosmic telos, represented by reaching his potential in his own life. The macrocosmic telos is a truly enlightened society where the collective has used its merit, intellect, and power to seek the good.
For humans to flourish, they must be trained in the rational, the empirical, and (what Henry Corbin refers to as) the imaginal. Aristotle calls metaphysics the first philosophy, as it is the philosophy of being itself. Hume’s critique of metaphysics is that causal explanations for being are not empirical, but presumptuous and based on our own worldly relationship with “cause and effect”. However, there is disagreement among Humeans as to whether cause and effect exists at all. Peter Strawson points out that the claim that cause and effect does not exist is itself a metaphysical claim, and is therefore circular. Other Humeans say that causal powers exist, but they are unknowable. They therefore accept cause and effect but make an unequivocal claim about their intelligibility. Hume’s absolutism and apparent contradictions are not reason enough to throw away metaphysics as a discipline. Even if we cannot assume cause and effect, there are still the laws of noncontradiction and identity, without which any discussion would be incoherent. Inference to the best explanation and Occam’s razor are still valid processes in the absence of alternative coherent models. Even outside of metaphysics, rationalist laws aid us in day-to-day tasks and in assessing the strength and validity of arguments on any subject.
The empirical is fairly straightforward, but even the scientific method relies on philosophical presuppositions: namely, noncontradiction, identity, and cause and effect. Hume’s problem of induction, though potent, was sufficiently rebutted by Kant and Popper.
Corbin’s imaginal realm exists in between the rational and the empirical. The imaginal combines the two, because we are incapable of imagining a thing that is not a composite of simultaneous realities. For example, even if we were to imagine pink flying elephants, then pink, wings, and elephants certainly exist, and our psyche is simply combining the three. The imaginal is the creative realm of poets, mystics, artists, dreamers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. It is the archetypal realm. The most creative one is God Himself, who designed the variety of life. Imam `Ali b. Musa al-Rida was asked why God put variety in His creation – he replied, “So that none may think that He is inept, and so that an atheist may not fathom an image except that God has already created something akin to it, and so that one may not say ‘is God capable of creating something in the image of this or that?’”
One component of an enlightened polis is the proper cultivation of these three modes of cognition. Modernity has emphasized the empirical over the rational and imaginal. The rational is now relegated to assessing material costs and benefits rather than metaphysics. As for the imaginal, capitalism actually rewards creativity; but this is a double-edged sword, because on one hand, a financial incentive engenders creativity, and on the other hand, it limits the value of creativity to a dollar figure. The imaginal once played a more sacred role in art, architecture, and experiential religion, but modernity and postmodernity measures its utility by its material results. Islam brings our triangular intellect to its telos by cultivating kalam, encouraging the discovery of knowledge, and channelling and harnessing the arts. The modes of cognition must be carefully directed, lest reason be used for mischief (shaytana), empirical knowledge be used for harm (physical and spiritual), and the arts be used for idolatry. The proper directing force is ethics. A system that is not rooted in ethics will inevitably emphasize “is” over “ought” and “can” over “should”.
Hannah Arendt argues in The Human Condition that while human life evolves within societies, the telos of human sociality is political life, and political life is not often intentionally realized. For Arendt, there are two essential actions that a society must partake in: (1) unfixing the fixed past (reckoning, forgiving, and moving on from past grievances) and (2) fixing the unfixed future (realizing and moving toward the potential – the telos). This corresponds to the accepting of qadr and the responsibility awarded to free will.
Without proper governance of soul, household, institution, and administration, society inevitably falls into cosmic despair, incoherence, foolishness, chaos, mischief, bitterness, frivolity, decadence, depravity, idolatry, and any kingdom would fall to the armies of jahl. These forces can then turn a nation of saints into an inferno of devils.
 Aristotle, Physics, Book 2, Part 2, http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.2.ii.html
 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 1, Part 3; Book 4, Part 2; Book 6, Part 1; Book 11, Part 4. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.html
 Hume, Enquiry, pp. 8-10. https://socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/hume/enquiry.pdf
 Henry Corbin, “Towards a Chart of the Imaginal”, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, pp. vii.
 Saduq, `Ilal al-Shara’i`, Volume 1, Page 14. http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D8%AA%D8%A8/1140_%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%82-%D8%AC-%D9%A1/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%81%D8%AD%D8%A9_52
Annette C. Baier, Ethics in many different voices. pp. 325–346.