Religion, [Poetry], and Philosophy
Now these things can be known in two ways, either by being impressed on their souls as they really are or by being impressed on them through affinity and symbolic representation. In that case symbols arise in man's minds, which reproduce them by imitation. The philosophers in the city are those who know these things through strict demonstrations and their own insight; those who are close to the philosophers know them as they really are through the insight of the philosophers, following them, assenting to their views and trusting them. But others know them through symbols which reproduce them by imitation, because neither nature nor habit has provided their minds with the gift to understand them as they are. Both are kinds of knowledge, but the knowledge of the philosphers is undoubtedly more excellent. Some of them know them through symbols which reproduce them know them through symbols which are near to them, and some through symbols slightly more remote, and some through symbols which are even more remote from these, and some through symbols which are very remote from these. Now, these people are reproduced by imitation for each nation and for the people of each city through those symbols which are best known to them. But whch is best known often varies among nations, either most of it or part of it. Hence these things are expressed for each nation in symbols other than those used for another nation. Therefore it is possible that excellent nations and excellent cities exist whose religions differ, although they have as their goal one and the same felicity and the very same aims.
When these things thus held in common are known through strict demonstrations, no ground for disagreement by argument can be found in them, neither by introducing sophistic fallacies nor by somebody's lack of understanding: for then the point disputed would not be the thing itself but his wrong notion of it. But when they are known through symbols which reproduce them by imitation, grounds for objection may be found in the symbols, in some less, in others more, and grounds for objection will be more easily seen in some and less in others. It is not impossible that among those who know these things through symbols, there is someone who puts his finger on the grounds for objection to these symbols and holds that they are inadequate and false.
There are different kinds of these people: first those who seek the right path. When one of them rejects anything as false, he will be lifted towards a better symbol which is nearer to the truth and is not open to that objection; and if he is satisfied with it, he will be left where he is. When that better symbol also is rejected by him as false, he will be lifted to another rank, and if he is then satisfied with it, he will be left where he is. Whenever a symbol of a given standard is rejcted by him as false, he will be lifted to a higher rank, but when he rejects all the symbols as false and has the strength and gift to understand the truth, he will be made to know the truth and will be placed into the class of them who take the philosophers as their authorities. If he is not yet satisfied with that and desires to acquire philosophical wisdom and has himself the strength and gift for it, he will be made to know it.
Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, The Perfect State, trans. Richard Walzer, 17.2-4.