ABU YūSUF YAʻQūB IBN ʼISḥāQ Aṣ-ṢABBāḥ AL-KINDī (Arabic
: أبو يوسف يعقوب بن إسحاق الصبّاح
In the field of mathematics, al-Kindi played an important role in introducing Indian numerals to the Islamic and Christian world . He was a pioneer in cryptanalysis and devised several new methods of breaking ciphers. Using his mathematical and medical expertise, he was able to develop a scale that would allow doctors to quantify the potency of their medication.
The central theme underpinning al-Kindi's philosophical writings is the compatibility between philosophy and other "orthodox" Islamic sciences, particularly theology. And many of his works deal with subjects that theology had an immediate interest in. These include the nature of God, the soul and prophetic knowledge . But despite the important role he played in making philosophy accessible to Muslim intellectuals, his own philosophical output was largely overshadowed by that of al-Farabi and very few of his texts are available for modern scholars to examine.
* 1 Life
* 2 Accomplishments
* 3 Philosophical thought
* 4 References
* 5 Bibliography
* 5.1 English translations * 5.2 Studies
* 6 External links
When al-Ma'mun died, his brother, al-Mu'tasim became Caliph.
Al-Kindi's position would be enhanced under al-Mu'tasim, who appointed
him as a tutor to his son. But on the accession of al-Wathiq (r.
842–847), and especially of al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861), al-Kindi's
star waned. There are various theories concerning this: some attribute
al-Kindi's downfall to scholarly rivalries at the House of Wisdom;
others refer to al-Mutawakkil’s often violent persecution of
unorthodox Muslims (as well as of non-Muslims); at one point al-Kindi
was beaten and his library temporarily confiscated.
Henry Corbin , an
authority on Islamic studies, says that in 873, al-Kindi died "a
lonely man", in
After his death, al-Kindi's philosophical works quickly fell into obscurity and many of them were lost even to later Islamic scholars and historians. Felix Klein-Franke suggests a number of reasons for this: aside from the militant orthodoxy of al-Mutawakkil, the Mongols also destroyed countless libraries during their invasion . However, he says the most probable cause of this was that his writings never found popularity amongst subsequent influential philosophers such as al-Farabi and Avicenna , who ultimately overshadowed him.
The Italian Renaissance scholar Geralomo
His greatest contribution to the development of Islamic philosophy
was his efforts to make Greek thought both accessible and acceptable
to a Muslim audience.
In his writings, one of al-Kindi's central concerns was to demonstrate the compatibility between philosophy and natural theology on the one hand, and revealed or speculative theology on the other (though in fact he rejected speculative theology). Despite this, he did make clear that he believed revelation was a superior source of knowledge to reason because it guaranteed matters of faith that reason could not uncover. And while his philosophical approach was not always original, and was even considered clumsy by later thinkers (mainly because he was the first philosopher writing in the Arabic language), he successfully incorporated Aristotelian and (especially) neo-Platonist thought into an Islamic philosophical framework. This was an important factor in the introduction and popularization of Greek philosophy in the Muslim intellectual world.
However, he is ambiguous when it comes to the actual process by which the heavenly bodies affect the material world. One theory he posits in his works is from Aristotle, who conceived that the movement of these bodies causes friction in the sub-lunar region, which stirs up the primary elements of earth, fire, air and water, and these combine to produce everything in the material world. An alternative view found his treatise On Rays is that the planets exercise their influence in straight lines. In each of these, he presents two fundamentally different views of physical interaction; action by contact and action at a distance. This dichotomy is duplicated in his writings on optics .
Some of the notable astrological works by al-Kindi include:
* The Book of the Judgement of the Stars, including The Forty
Chapters, on questions and elections.
* On the Stellar Rays.
* Several epistles on weather and meteorology, including De
mutatione temporum, ("On the Changing of the Weather").
* Treatise on the Judgement of Eclipses.
* Treatise on the Dominion of the Arabs and its Duration (used to
predict the end of Arab rule).
* The Choices of Days (on elections).
* On the Revolutions of the Years (on mundane astrology and natal
* De Signis Astronomiae Applicitis as Mediciam ‘On the Signs of
Two major theories of optics appear in the writings of al-Kindi;
Aristotelian and Euclidean .
The factor which al-Kindi relied upon to determine which of these theories was most correct was how adequately each one explained the experience of seeing. For example, Aristotle's theory was unable to account for why the angle at which an individual sees an object affects his perception of it. For example, why a circle viewed from the side will appear as a line. According to Aristotle, the complete sensible form of a circle should be transmitted to the eye and it should appear as a circle. On the other hand, Euclidean optics provided a geometric model that was able to account for this, as well as the length of shadows and reflections in mirrors, because Euclid believed that the visual "rays" could only travel in straight lines (something which is commonly accepted in modern science). For this reason, al-Kindi considered the latter preponderant.
There are more than thirty treatises attributed to al-Kindi in the
field of medicine, in which he was chiefly influenced by the ideas of
As an advanced chemist , he was also an opponent of alchemy ; he debunked the myth that simple, base metals could be transformed into precious metals such as gold or silver. He is also one of the first distillers of alcohol , creating the "Alkindus distiller" which was used for the distillation of alcohol.
While Muslim intellectuals were already acquainted with Greek
philosophy (especially logic ), al-Kindi is credited with being the
first real Muslim philosopher. His own thought was largely influenced
by the Neo-Platonic philosophy of
Plotinus and John
Philoponus , amongst others, although he does appear to have borrowed
ideas from other Hellenistic schools as well. He makes many
According to al-Kindi, the goal of metaphysics is the knowledge of God. For this reason, he does not make a clear distinction between philosophy and theology, because he believes they are both concerned with the same subject. Later philosophers, particularly al-Farabi and Avicenna , would strongly disagree with him on this issue, by saying that metaphysics is actually concerned with being qua being, and as such, the nature of God is purely incidental.
Central to al-Kindi's understanding of metaphysics is God's absolute oneness , which he considers an attribute uniquely associated with God (and therefore not shared with anything else). By this he means that while we may think of any existent thing as being "one", it is in fact both "one" and many". For example, he says that while a body is one, it is also composed of many different parts. A person might say "I see an elephant", by which he means "I see one elephant", but the term 'elephant' refers to a species of animal that contains many. Therefore, only God is absolutely one, both in being and in concept, lacking any multiplicity whatsoever. Some feel this understanding entails a very rigorous negative theology because it implies that any description which can be predicated to anything else, cannot be said about God.
In addition to absolute oneness, al-Kindi also described God as the Creator. This means that He acts as both a final and efficient cause. Unlike later Muslim Neo-Platonic philosophers (who asserted that the universe existed as a result of God's existence "overflowing", which is a passive act), al-Kindi conceived of God as an active agent. In fact, of God as the agent, because all other intermediary agencies are contingent upon Him. The key idea here is that God "acts" through created intermediaries, which in turn "act" on one another – through a chain of cause and effect – to produce the desired result. In reality, these intermediary agents do not "act" at all, they are merely a conduit for God's own action. This is especially significant in the development of Islamic philosophy, as it portrayed the "first cause" and "unmoved mover" of Aristotelian philosophy as compatible with the concept of God according to Islamic revelation.
According to Plato, everything that exists in the material world corresponds to certain universal forms in the heavenly realm. These forms are really abstract concepts such as a species, quality or relation, which apply to all physical objects and beings. For example, a red apple has the quality of "redness" derived from the appropriate universal. However, al-Kindi says that human intellects are only potentially able to comprehend these. This potential is actualized by the First Intellect, which is perpetually thinking about all of the universals. He argues that the external agency of this intellect is necessary by saying that human beings cannot arrive at a universal concept merely through perception. In other words, an intellect cannot understand the species of a thing simply by examining one or more of its instances. According to him, this will only yield an inferior "sensible form", and not the universal form which we desire. The universal form can only be attained through contemplation and actualization by the First Intellect.
The analogy he provides to explain his theory is that of wood and fire. Wood, he argues, is potentially hot (just as a human is potentially thinking about a universal), and therefore requires something else which is already hot (such as fire) to actualize this. This means that for the human intellect to think about something, the First Intellect must already be thinking about it. Therefore, he says that the First Intellect must always be thinking about everything. Once the human intellect comprehends a universal by this process, it becomes part of the individual's "acquired intellect" and can be thought about whenever he or she wishes.
THE SOUL AND THE AFTERLIFE
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN REVELATION AND PHILOSOPHY
In the view of al-Kindi, prophecy and philosophy were two different routes to arrive at the truth. He contrasts the two positions in four ways. Firstly, while a person must undergo a long period of training and study to become a philosopher, prophecy is bestowed upon someone by God. Secondly, the philosopher must arrive at the truth by his own devices (and with great difficulty), whereas the prophet has the truth revealed to him by God. Thirdly, the understanding of the prophet – being divinely revealed – is clearer and more comprehensive than that of the philosopher. Fourthly, the way in which the prophet is able to express this understanding to the ordinary people is superior. Therefore, al-Kindi says the prophet is superior in two fields: the ease and certainty with which he receives the truth, and the way in which he presents it. However, the crucial implication is that the content of the prophet's and the philosopher's knowledge is the same. This, says Adamson, demonstrates how limited the superiority al-Kindi afforded to prophecy was.
In addition to this, al-Kindi adopted a naturalistic view of prophetic visions. He argued that, through the faculty of "imagination" as conceived of in Aristotelian philosophy, certain "pure" and well-prepared souls, were able to receive information about future events. Significantly, he does not attribute such visions or dreams to revelation from God, but instead explains that imagination enables human beings to receive the "form" of something without needing to perceive the physical entity to which it refers. Therefore, it would seem to imply that anyone who has purified themselves would be able to receive such visions. It is precisely this idea, amongst other naturalistic explanations of prophetic miracles that al-Ghazali attacks in his Incoherence of the Philosophers.
CRITICS AND PATRONS
While al-Kindi appreciated the usefulness of philosophy in answering questions of a religious nature, there would be many Islamic thinkers who were not as enthusiastic about its potential. But it would be incorrect to assume that they opposed philosophy simply because it was a "foreign science". Oliver Leaman , an expert on Islamic philosophy, points out that the objections of notable theologians are rarely directed at philosophy itself, but rather at the conclusions the philosophers arrived at. Even al-Ghazali , who is famous for his critique of the philosophers, was himself an expert in philosophy and logic . And his criticism was that they arrived at theologically erroneous conclusions. The three most serious of these, in his view, were believing in the co-eternity of the universe with God, denying the bodily resurrection, and asserting that God only has knowledge of abstract universals, not of particular things (not all philosophers subscribed to these same views).
During his life, al-Kindi was fortunate enough to enjoy the patronage of the pro- Mutazilite Caliphs al-Ma\'mun and al-Mu\'tasim , which meant he could carry out his philosophical speculations with relative ease. In his own time, al-Kindi would be criticized for extolling the "intellect" as being the most immanent creation in proximity to God, which was commonly held to be the position of the angels. He also engaged in disputations with the Mutazilites , whom he attacked for their belief in atoms. But the real role of al-Kindi in the conflict between philosophers and theologians would be to prepare the ground for debate. His works, says Deborah Black, contained all the seeds of future controversy that would be fully realized in al-Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers.
* ^ Adamson, pp.12–13
* ^ Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2006).
Islamic philosophy from its origin
to the present : philosophy in the land of prophecy. State Univ. of
New York Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 0-7914-6799-6 .
* ^ Abboud, Tony (2006).
* Peter Adamson & Peter E. Pormann (eds.), (2012) The Philosophical Works of al-Kindī, New York: Oxford University Press.
* Adamson, Peter (2007). Al-Kindī. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 978-0-19-518142-5 . Retrieved 22 May 2011. * Adamson, Peter; Taylor, Richard C. (10 January 2005). The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81743-1 . Retrieved 22 May 2011. * Robert L. Arrington (2001) A Companion to the Philosophers. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22967-1 * Henry Corbin (1993). History of Islamic Philosophy. London: Keagan Paul. * Felix Klein-Frank (2001) Al-Kindi. In Oliver Leaman & Hossein Nasr . History of Islamic Philosophy. London: Routledge.
* Adamson, Peter. "Al-Kindi". Stanford Encyclopedia of