Iraqi philosopher, mathematician, physicist and musician (c. 800-870), the first of the "Hellenizing philosophers." He gathered around him scholars who undertook the translation of Greek philosophical texts. His contribution to the development of philosophical vocabulary and philosophical terminology in the Arabic language is highly considered.

Life and work

Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ al-Kindī (c. 800-870), the “worshiper of Greek thought”, became known as the “Arab philosopher” (failasouf al-arab), as opposed to the later philosophers in Islam which while called Arabs, they were not of Arabic origin and Arabic was their second language.

Member of the influential Arabic tribe Kinda, Al-Kindī was born into an aristocratic family in Bashra and his father was the emir of Kūfa. In his hometown he completed his first studies before moving to Baghdad. His career reached its zenith during the caliphate of al-Mu'tasim, to whom he dedicated his famous work On First Philosophy. He also worked as a teacher of the son of the Caliph, Ahmad, teaching him ancient Greek philosophy through his own treatises, and was also the founder of the so-called “Circle of Al-Kindī”, a group of scholars who undertook the translation of ancient philosophical texts under his supervision.

Thanks to the Catalogue (fihrist) of the tenth century bookseller Ibn al-Nadīm we are aware of the existence of more than 250 Al-Kindī’s works covering a great part of issues of science and arts (philosophy and logic, psychology, cosmology, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, astrology, music, even perfumery and manufacture of weapons of war); about a tenth of which are purely philosophical works that were all influenced by the ancient Greek thought. Based on his surviving works and the information we have about the content of those that were not saved, we can almost certainly assume (Adamson 2007) that in the early period of his work Al-Kindī was preoccupied with metaphysical and cosmological questions, following the example of the later Greek, Neoplatonizing Aristotelians. Later, his interests were broaden with the practical sciences and mathematics, while he also began to discuss more critically the Greek philosophers’ thought.

 Philosophical views

Although Al-Kindī did not occupy himself with the translations of texts and probably did not know Greek, his thought was largely formed under the influence of ancient Greek philosophy and especially Aristotelian and Neoplatonic texts (such as Porphyry’s Introduction, Aristotle’s Categories and Metaphysics, Plotinus’s Enneads and Proclus’ Elements of Theology). Al-Kindī asked the members of his Circle to translate ancient texts, on which he relied on the one hand for the writing of his own treatises, that they were referring to current problems concerning the different interpretations of kalām (Islamic theology) or they were commentary of known Greek works and on the other hand for the creation of a new Arabic philosophical vocabulary, one of his most important tasks.

His most famous and important work entitled On First Philosophy (Fī 'l-Falsafa al-Ūlā) is devoted to the study of metaphysics; only its first part has survived, in which Al-Kindī initially prompts the reader to honor the Greek philosophical knowledge, then addresses the question of the eternity of the world and finally attempts to prove the existence of the “True One”, i.e. God, referring to issues of his nature. In this work he defends the importance of ancient Greek thought against the accusations of his contemporaries who were opposed to its “invasion” in the Arab thought; he states:

We must not be ashamed to admire the truth or to acquire it, from wherever it comes. Even if it should come from far-flung nations and foreign peoples, there is for the student of truth nothing more important than the truth, nor is the truth demeaned or diminished by the one who states or conveys it; no one is demeaned by the truth, rather all are ennobled by it (On First Philosophy, II.4).

 Platonic influences

It is most likely that Al-Kindī never had access to any integral platonic text but he used the summaries of some dialogues such as Phaedo and Timaeus that came to his hands through the Alexandrian philosophical tradition. Instead, he had a way better knowledge, though not full, of several Aristotelian works. However, even his partial knowledge of Plato's thought influenced him to such a degree that permits us to characterize as more Platonic and/or Socratic certain aspects his thought such as his moral philosophy that encourages the intellectual pursuit and his cosmology that endorses the Platonic view on the world’s timeless creation (The Mouth of God [Fam al-Dhahab]). Also, Nicomachus Gerasa’s Introduction to Arithmetic was a key source not only of Al-Kindī’s mathematical treatises but also of the Pythagorean version of his Platonism that can be identified in several of his works.

One of his main goals was the use of ancient sources in order to prove the reconciliation of Aristotle with Plato. For this reason Al-Kindī’s chooses to present theories of the two philosophers as a “harmonious body of true doctrines” and avoids the explicit acknowledgement of the differences in their thinking, although, as shown by his works, he was able to distinguish them. For example, in Brief statement on the soul (Kalām fī l'nafs, mukhtasar wajīz) he presents as complementary to each other relevant opinions of Plato and Aristotle, and he attempts the same in his Dialogue on the soul (al-Qawl fī al- naf) for these two and Pythagoras.

Strong Platonic influence is identified in Al-Kindī’s psychology and theology because Platonic and Neoplatonic theories can be easily combined with the Islamic doctrines of the immortal soul and the divine unity. An indirect reference is made to Republic and in particular to the issue of the tripartite distinction of the soul; the problem of combining the theory of the tripartite distinction and the notion of a simple, incorruptible and immaterial substance of the soul (Phaidon) is surpassed by Al-Kindī by arguing that the soul is essentially identical to the rational part (al-nafs al-'aqliyya) and the other two parties are “properties” or “faculties” of the soul (al-quwan al-nafsa¯niyya), closely associated with the material and perishable dimension of the individual and do not survive bodily death. The rational part of the soul is also responsible for the soul’s perfection: if ‘‘the intellectual soul achieves knowledge of the noble things […] it will attain imitation of the Creator’’ (Dialogue on the soul, XII).

Al-Kindī’s theory of knowledge as recollection proves that he had access to at least one summary of Phaedo, which helped him in the writing of Dialogue on the soul and On recollection. In the second work he argues that our belief that we learn a concept for the first time and that we do not understand that our soul is remembering the Ideas that it has already seen before its entry into the material body, is due to the fact that we are accustomed to connect memories with the place, time and the particular conditions under which we saw things for the first time; because these conditions do not exist in order to be recalled in our memory when we meet the intellectuals we are under the impression that we know them for the very first time.

Al-Kindī was particularly interested in the figure of Socrates and thus wrote five works, two of which were in a dialogue form: Account of Socrates’ Virtue, Sayings of Socrates, On a Dialogue That Passed between Socrates and Arshījānis [from Apamea!], Account of the Death of Socrates, On What Passed between Socrates and the Harranians. The first, fourth and fifth works are considered (Gutas 1988), respectively, summaries or paraphrases of Crito, Phaedo and the Apology of Socrates.

Author: Matina-Ioanna Kyriazopoulou
  • Rescher, N Rescher, N. ed. . Studies in Arabic Philosophy. Pittsburgh, 1968.
  • Genequand, C. Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften. 1987.
  • Pormann, P.E., Adamson, P. The Philosophical Works of al-Kindi. Oxford, 2012.
  • Ivry, A.L. Al-Kindi’s Metaphysics: A translation of Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi’s Treatise ‘On First Philosophy. Albany, N.Y., 1974.
  • Adamson, P. "Al-Kindi and the Reception of Greek Philosophy." Taylor, R.C. , Adamson, P. eds. The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. Cambridge, 2005.
  • Adamson, P. Al-Kindi. Oxford, 2007.
  • E., Al-Kindi: la transformacion de un pensamiento religioso en un pensamiento racional. .
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