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Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy: al Kindi

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Al-Kindī (c. 800–870) was the first figure in the Arabic philosophical tradition to make explicit and extensive use of Greek ideas. He is thus often described as the first philosopher of this tradition. He also oversaw the work of translators who
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  A al-Kind ī ,Ab ū Y ū sufYa ʿ q ū bibnIs h˙ ā q Peter AdamsonPhilosophy Department, LMU Munich, Munich,Germany Abstract Al-Kind  ī   (c. 800  –  870) was the  󿬁 rst   󿬁 gure inthe Arabic philosophical tradition to makeexplicit and extensive use of Greek ideas. Heis thus often described as the  󿬁 rst philosopher of this tradition. He also oversaw the work of translators who rendered works by Aristotle,Plotinus, Proclus, and others into Arabic. Hisown writings, usually in the form of epistles to patrons, range widely over the topics of Greek  philosophy and science. His fusion of Aristo-telianism with Neoplatonism was intended to be congenial to Islam, and this approachin 󿬂 uenced several other authors of the earlyArabic philosophical tradition.Ab ū  Y ū suf Ya ‘ q ū  b ibn Is ḥ ā  q al-Kind  ī   was proba- bly born around 800 into an important family: hisfather was the governor of K  ū fa in Iraq, andal-Kind  ī   could trace his lineage back to a compan-ion of the Prophet. To highlight his srcins in thetribe of Kinda, and perhaps the failure of theArabs to produce other prominent philosophers,he was later given the sobriquet   “  philosopher of the Arabs. ”  He himself was a highly placed intel-lectual, serving as tutor to the son of the Caliphal-Mu ‘ ta ṣ im (who reigned from 833  –  842). Weknow that he died after 866, the date of an event mentioned in one of his astrological works; hisdeath date is usually put at around 870  –  873.Al-Kind  ī  ’ s association with the caliphal familyisconnectedtohisimportantroleinthetranslationmovement (for which see Gutas 1998; Endress1987/1992). He was apparently not himself atranslator but coordinated and revised the work of a translation circle whose members seem tohave been mostly Christians of Syrian extraction.This so-called Kind  ī   circle (see Endress 1997) produced Arabic versions of Aristotle (for instance, the  󿬁 rst translation of the  Metaphysics )and, famously, Plotinus and Proclus. A redactionof their version of Plotinus came to be known asthe  Theology of Aristotle , the most important source for Neoplatonic ideas in the Arabic-speaking world (see Adamson 2002b). Their ver-sion of Proclus (on which see Endress 1973)would be in 󿬂 uential in the Latin world, in a ver-sion later called the  Book of Causes  (  Liber decausis : see D ’ Ancona 1995).This circle of translators seems to have pro-duced two kinds of translations: painfully literalones and remarkably free paraphrase versions. Of theliteraltype,themostsigni 󿬁 cantistheirversionof Aristotle ’ s  Metaphysics , ascribed to one Us ṭ  ā  thand preserved in the lemmata of Averroes ’  Long Commentary  for some books of the  Metaphysics .The paraphrase translations, which include their  # Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018H. Lagerlund (ed.),  Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy ,https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_289-2  Arabic renderings of Plotinus and Proclus, reviseand rework the philosophical content of the textsand also reorder the texts, though the extent towhich the reordering was done already in Kind  ī  ’ scircle is a matter of controversy. Part of the point of the reworking was to make these works seemuseful for a contemporary audience. Most obvi-ously, the Neoplatonic First Principle is assimi-lated to a Creator God.The same motivation guides many of al-Kind  ī  ’ s own philosophical works, which areedited in Ab ū  R   ī  da (1950, 1953) (see also Rashedand Jolivet  1998) and translated in Adamson andPormann (2012). These philosophical treatises,usually written as epistles to the caliphal familyand other patrons or colleagues, constitute a siz-able corpus, especially if they are taken together with extant works on a range of scienti 󿬁 c topics.(Particularly well represented are astrology,optics, mathematics, meteorology, medicine, andmusic.) But much of his prodigious output is lost.We have a list of his works in the  Fihrist   of thetenth-century bookseller Ibn al-Nad  ī  m. Like theextant corpus, this list indicates that al-Kind  ī  workedin an astonishing variety of  󿬁 elds, rangingfrom metaphysics to the production of perfumeand swords. This eclecticism is in itself a sign of al-Kind  ī  ’ s desire to satisfy the needs of his culti-vated audience (see Rosenthal 1942).The most famous of al-Kind  ī  ’ s more narrowly “  philosophical ”  works is  On First Philosophy (translated in Ivry 1974 and Rashed and Jolivet 1998), which draws extensively on Aristotle,especially the  Metaphysics , but also weaves inthemes from Neoplatonic texts and borrows argu-mentsfromJohnPhiloponus. OnFirstPhilosophy is only partially preserved: we possess the  “ 󿬁 rst  part, ”  which is divided into four sections.Al-Kind  ī  ’ s best-known philosophical ideas arecontained in this work.In Section 1, al-Kind  ī   mounts a spiriteddefense of the utility and acceptability of usingideas drawn from the Greek tradition and criti-cizes detractors of   “ foreign ”  philosophy. It isunclear who these detractors might be, thoughIvry (1974) speculates that they were contempo-rary theologians, such as those collectivelydescribed as  “ Mu ʿ tazilite. ”  Adamson (2007a, p. 25) suggests that the opponents are more likelyto be traditionalists who took a literalist attitudetoward scriptural descriptions of God. One reasonto think this is that al-Kind  ī  ’ s patrons in thecaliphal court supported the Mu ʿ tazilites in their argument against the traditionalists over the ques-tion of the eternity of the Qur  ʾ ā  n (see further Adamson 2003).That debate may be somehow related to thetopic of Section 2, where al-Kind  ī   arguesat lengththat the created world is not eternal. Here al-Kind  ī  uses and reworks arguments drawn from JohnPhiloponus ’  attack on Aristotle (see Davidson1969). The thrust of these arguments is that if the cosmos were eternal  a parte ante  (i.e., if it has existed for an in 󿬁 nite time), then this wouldmake the cosmos an  “ actual in 󿬁 nity, ”  analogousto an in 󿬁 nitely large body. Al-Kind  ī   thus argues,for instance, that if the cosmos is  󿬁 nite in magni-tude, it cannot have an in 󿬁 nite quantity predicatedofit. But time isaquantity,soonlya 󿬁 nite amount of time can be predicated of the cosmos. NowAristotle too regarded the actual in 󿬁 nite as impos-sible. He held, however, that an eternity of timewould constitute only a potential in 󿬁 nity (the sort of in 󿬁 nity involved in counting up through theintegers: the process is inde 󿬁 nite but never actu-ally reaches an in 󿬁 nite number). Thus, al-Kind  ī  ,following Philoponus, disagrees with Aristotle primarily in that he believes an  ex parte ante eternal cosmos would constitute an actual, rather than potential, in 󿬁 nity.In Sections 3 and 4, al-Kind  ī   gives a complexargument for a  “ true One ”  who is the cause of unity in all other things. As is made explicit at theclose of the extant text, this true One is the God of Islam. Al-Kind  ī   also argues that this true Onetranscends characterization by the  maq ū l  ā t  , that is, things that can be said. These terms include the predicables from Porphyry ’ s  Isagoge  and also part, whole, relation, motion, and soul. Finally,the true One is higher than the intellect: this is adeparture from Aristotle but agrees with Plotinus.The reason given for denying all these terms toGod is that they imply both multiplicity and unity.Indeed, the argument for God ’ s existence given inSection 3 is based on the claim that all createdthings are characterized by both unity and 2 al-Kind ī , Ab ū  Y  ū suf Ya ʿ q ū b ibn Is h˙ ā q  multiplicity.Al-Kind  ī   thenarguesthatsome causeis required to explain this association of unity andmultiplicity. The cause must be entirely one andnotmanyatall,sothatitisoutsidethesetofthingsthat are both one and many.Al-Kind  ī   alsoexpressesthisideabysayingthat while God is  “ essentially ”  one, that is, one but not atall many,other things are “ metaphorically ” one,that is, both one and many. A similar idea is foundinaveryshort,perhapsfragmentarytextcalled Onthe True Agent  . Here the point is that only God istruly an Agent, because other things are actedupon, even if they also act. Al-Kind  ī   thusdescribes God ’ s  󿬁 rst effect as an intermediary for God ’ s creative action. This too may be an inheri-tance from the Neoplatonic translations producedin his circle.On the other hand, in works on cosmology,al-Kind  ī   presents not a Plotinian intellect but theheavenly bodies, as the chief instrument by whichGod indirectly brings about a providentiallyorderedcosmos.Al-Kind  ī   followstheAristoteliantradition in seeing the world below the sphere of the moon as consisting of the four elements, air,earth,  󿬁 re, and water. The heavenly bodies, bycontrast, are made of an indestructible  󿬁 fth ele-ment. Al-Kind  ī   devotes an epistle to arguing for this claim, apparently unconcerned or unawarethat it was a key part of Aristotle ’ s arguments for the eternity of the world, and was attacked byPhiloponus in his  Against Aristotle . He does,however, add the caveat that the heavens exist without being generated or destroyed, but onlyfor as long as their Creator ordains.Because heavenly motion brings about themixture of the four sublunary elements, it is theheavens that are directly responsible for the well-ordered world we live in. As al-Kind  ī   puts it, theyare the  “  proximate cause of generation and cor-ruption, ”  while God is the remote cause, exercis-ing His providence by commanding the heavensto move in the appropriate way. Though al-Kind  ī  draws these ideas from Aristotle and his commen-tator Alexander of Aphrodisias, he extends thetheory in several ways. For example, he uses thetheory to interpret a verse from the Qur  ʾ ā  n whichstates that even the stars  “  prostrate ”  themselves before God. Al-Kind  ī   also discusses in detail howthe cosmological theory can work in practice,arguing for the effects of heavenly motions onweather and the tides. His extensive work inastrology presupposes the cosmology describedin his more Aristotelian epistles. The same theoryis used by his associate, the great astrologer Ab ū Ma ‘ shar (see further Adamson 2002a, 2007a, chap. 8).By contrast, al-Kind  ī   is not clear on how God ’ screative activity relates to immaterial things, nota- bly the human soul. He does describe the soul as a “ light from the light of the Creator  ”  in adoxographical work, the  Discourse on the Soul  .But the emphasis in this and other works of psy-chology is usually on the immateriality of the souland its essentially intellective nature. In one short epistle,forexample,heusesideasfromAristotle ’ s Categories  to prove that the soul is immaterial.The argument turns on an identi 󿬁 cation betweensoul as the form of the body and the form that isthe species of mankind. Since, in general, speciesare immaterial substances (this follows Aristotlein the  Categories , though al-Kind  ī   omits the point that species are only  “ secondary ”  substances), thesoul too will be an immaterial substance.In the more famous  Letter on the Intellect  , aforerunner of works on the intellect by al-F ā  r  ā   b  ī  ,Avicenna, and others, al-Kind  ī   classi 󿬁 es intellect ( ‘ aql  ) into four types: “ 󿬁 rst, ”  potential, actual,andacquired. The  “ 󿬁 rst  ”  intellect is separated fromhuman soul and is apparently to be identi 󿬁 edwith the maker intellect of Aristotle,  De Anima III.5 (we know from  On First Philosophy  that thisis not to be identi 󿬁 ed with God). The other threeare aspects or states of the human intellect.Humans think by taking on an intellectual formwhichisseatedinthe 󿬁 rstintellect.Beforetheydothis, they have a merely potential intellect. Actualintellect refers to the human intellect when it isactually grasping such an intellectual form. For al-Kind  ī   the term  “ acquired intellect  ”  means sim- ply the intellectual forms which one has alreadylearned and can then think about at will  –   like astorehouse of intelligibles within the soul. This isincontrastwithal-F ā  r  ā   b  ī  ’ suseofthetermtomeanthe full attainment of all the intelligibles.A puzzle about al-Kind  ī  ’ s epistemology ishowthis theory of intellect relates to his acceptance of  al-Kind ī , Ab ū  Y  ū suf Ya ʿ q ū b ibn Is h˙ ā q 3  the Platonic theory of recollection, which he dis-cusses in a short epistle (see Endress 1994). Moregenerally there is an unclarity about the role of sense experience in al-Kind  ī  ’ s epistemology. It usually seems that for him there is a strong divide between the intelligible and sensible realms andthat the human soul properly belongs on the intel-ligible side. This picture is basically con 󿬁 rmed,though with greater nuance, in texts dealing withfaculties between intellection and sensation. Themost important of these is a work on propheticdreams, based closely on the  Parva Naturalia .Al-Kind  ī   here makes dreams a product of theimaginative faculty and discusses the interactionofthisfacultywiththebody.Butsigni 󿬁 cantly,andunlike Avicenna, for instance, he argues that theimagination does not use the brain or indeed anyorgan directly. Instead, it belongs to the immate-rial soul. It is able to receive signs about the future preciselybecauseitisontologicallyclosertointel-lect than to the body. Despite these differencesfrom Avicenna, he does anticipate the latter  ’ s the-ory of the internal senses, but only in a classi 󿬁 ca-tion found in a work on music (Adamson 2007a, p. 142).Music is one area where al-Kind  ī   deploys hisexpertise in mathematics. This is unsurprisingsince music was considered part of the mathemat-ical curriculum already in antiquity. More distinc-tive is his use of mathematical methods of argument in purely philosophical contexts; onthis see Gutas 2004. Aside from methodology,one might think of the Pythagorean  󿬂 avor of his portrayal of God as a pure One (though he iscareful to contrast God to the one that generatesnumber). Al-Kind  ī   also uses mathematics indiscussing cosmology, for instance, to demon-strate that the cosmos consists of concentricspheres (the heavens and elements), and inexplaining why the ancients associated theheavens and elements with the Platonic solids.Thislatterpointisclearlyindebtedtothe Timaeus ,though the means of in 󿬂 uence is unclear. We doknow that one Pythagorean work on mathematicswas known to and used by al-Kind  ī  , namely, Nicomachus of Gerasa ’ s  Introduction to Arithmetic .He also brings his mathematical sensibilities to bear on medicine, in an in 󿬂 uential work on calcu-lating the effects of compound drugs (translatedinto Latin as  De Gradibus ). He applies geometryto problems of optics, in this following the tradi-tion of mathematical optics already explored byEuclid and Ptolemy. His theory of light is animportant precursor of the visual theory of Ibnal-Haytham (d. 1040). The success of geometryin optics may have encouraged him to extend atheory of   “ rays ”  to deal with a broad array of  physical phenomena. We  󿬁 nd such a theory on  De radiis , a work preserved only in Latin andin 󿬂 uential on medieval theories of magic. Though this work is ascribed to al-Kind  ī  ,its authenticity is disputed. (For further discussionof al-Kind  ī  ’ s mathematically inspired works, seeTravaglia 1999 and Adamson 2007a, chap. 7. For  his works on optics, see Rashed 1997.)We know from the  Fihrist   that al-Kind  ī   wroteextensively on practical philosophy, but unfortu-nately most of this output is lost. We are left withonly a few relevant works, the longest and most in 󿬂 uential of which is  On Dispelling Sorrow  (seeDruart  1993; Mestiri and Dye 2004; Adamson 2007a  ,  chap. 6). In general, al-Kind  ī  ’ s ethicaloutlook is simple and uncompromising: turnaway from the things of the body and concentrateon the  “ world of the intellect. ”  This is alreadyclear from the aforementioned  Discourse on theSoul  . But in  On Dispelling Sorrow , al-Kind  ī   addsto the intellectualist picture familiar from his psy-chological works, giving the reader encourage-ment with an abundance of anecdotes andmaxims. A couple of these are drawn from hisanthology of sayings and witticisms ascribed toSocrates, which is an early example of theso-called wisdom literature, an often-overlookedmeans of cultural contact between literary Arabicand the Greek philosophical tradition.Finally, mention should be made of two pro- paedeutic works by al-Kind  ī   or his circle, whichare intended as guides to the Greek philosophicaltradition for his Arabic-speaking audience. First, On the Quantity of Aristotle ’   s Books , which pro-vides a picture of al-Kind  ī  ’ s knowledge of theAristotelian corpus. The structure into which he puts his overviews of each Aristotelian work tells 4 al-Kind ī , Ab ū  Y  ū suf Ya ʿ q ū b ibn Is h˙ ā q  us something about how he saw the Greek philo-sophical curriculum: he follows the tradition of seeing theoretical science as divided into three parts, dealing with bodies, immaterial things that are related to bodies (i.e., souls or mathematicalentities), and wholly immaterial things (notablyGod). His summaries show an uneven knowledgeof Aristotle ’ s corpus, to the point where he can at times add nothing beyond the title. But there arelonger discussions of the  Categories  and  Meta- physics , for instance, works which we know heused in his own writings.Second, there is,  On the De   󿬁 nitions and  Descriptions of Things , a work preserved in sev-eral very different versions. Each version com- prises a list of philosophical terms withde 󿬁 nitions. The terms de 󿬁 ned seem to be drawnfrom Greek sources, but the terms themselves areArabic. This shows that al-Kind  ī   and his circlerealized the need to produce a new Arabic techni-cal vocabulary based on the Greek vocabulary of their source texts. They realized also that this newArabic terminology would not be easily under-stood by their audience.  On De   󿬁 nitions  can thus be seen as a guide to the new language of philos-ophy in Arabic, or   falsafa  (which, as it happens, isone of the two terms with the longest de 󿬁 nitions,the other being  “ virtue ” ). The terminologicalinnovationsoftheKind  ī   circlehadmixedsuccess.Someoftheirtechnicalwordsweretakenupinthelater tradition, while others were dropped. But asmentioned above, the translations they producedwere in 󿬂 uential.The in 󿬂 uence of al-Kind  ī  ’ s own thought wascon 󿬁 ned largely to a group of authors who might  be called the  “ Kindian tradition ”  (see Adamson2007b). These include, in the  󿬁 rst instance,attested students and associates of al-Kind  ī   him-self: al-Sarakhs  ī   (d. 899), Ab ū  Zayd al-Balkh  ī  (d. 934), and the aforementioned astrologer Ab ū Ma ‘ shar al-Balkh  ī   (d. 886). Ab ū  Zayd was animportant conduit for the Kindian tradition, sincehe taught the well-known philosopher Ab ū l- Ḥ asan al- ‘ Ā mir   ī   (d. 922) and the more obscureIbn Far   ī  gh ū n(tenth century). Apart from 󿬁 rst- andsecond-generation students,  󿬁 gures in 󿬂 uenced byal-Kind  ī   include the Jewish thinker Isaac Israeli(d. c. 907) and the historian and Neoplatonist Miskawayh (d. 1030), both of whom quote fromal-Kind  ī   and texts produced in his circle.The Kindian tradition is distinctive,  󿬁 rst of all,geographically: most of the thinkers just men-tioned were from Central Asia (e.g., Balkh andSarakhs). Intellectually, they are distinguished bytheir openness to a wide range of disciplines,including Muslim speculative theology ( kal  ā m )and the  󿬁 ner literary arts. In both respects theycan be contrasted to the tenth-century circle of Aristotelian thinkers in Baghdad, who includedthe famous al-F ā  r  ā   b  ī  . But perhaps because of Avicenna ’ s disdain for the Kindian thinkers,al-Kind  ī  ’ s in 󿬂 uence seems to peter out aroundthe end of the tenth century. Cross-References ▶ al- ʿ Ā mir   ī  , Ab ū  l- Ḥ asan ▶ al-Balkh  ī  , Ab ū  Zayd ▶ al-Kind  ī  , Latin Translations of  ▶ al-Sarakhs  ī  , A ḥ mad ibn al- Ṭ ayyib ▶ Aristotle, Arabic ▶ Ibn Far   ī  gh ū n ▶ Isaac Israeli ▶ John Philoponus ▶ Miskawayh, Ab ū  ʿ Al  ī  ▶ Philoponus, Arabic ▶ Philosophy, Arabic ▶ Plotinus, Arabic ▶ Porphyry, Arabic ▶ Proclus, Arabic ▶ Proofs of the Existence of God Bibliography Primary Sources Ab ū  R   ī  da, M. (Ed.) (1950/1953).  Al-Kind  ī  . Ras ā ’  il al-Kind  ī   al-falsa   󿬁  yya , 2 vols. Cairo: D ā  r al-Fikr al- ‘ Arab  ī  .Adamson, P., & Pormann, P. E. (Trans) (2012).  The philo- sophical works of al-Kind  ī  . Karachi: Oxford Univer-sity Press.Ivry, A. (1974).  Al-Kind  ī  ’   s metaphysics . Albany: SUNY.McGinnis, J., & Reisman, D. C. (Eds. & Trans) (2007). Classical Arabic philosophy: An anthology of sources .Indianapolis: Hackett. al-Kind ī , Ab ū  Y  ū suf Ya ʿ q ū b ibn Is h˙ ā q 5
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