al-Kindī, Abū-Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn Ishāq (Ninth Century)

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AL-KINDĪ, ABŪ-YŪSUF YAʿQŪB IBN ISHĀQ
(ninth century)

Abū-Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn Ishāq al-Kindī was the first outstanding Arabic-writing philosopher. He was born in the Mesopotamian city of Basra and later held a distinguished position at the caliph's court in Baghdad, where he died shortly after 870. For about a century he enjoyed a reputation as a great philosopher in the Aristotelian-Neoplatonic tradition. He appears to have been the first to introduce the late Greek syllabus of philosophical learning into the Muslim world. It was mainly, though not exclusively, based on the Corpus Aristotelicum and its Peripatetic and Neoplatonic commentators. Numerous competent Arabic versions of Greek philosophical texts were available then, and al-Kindī himself commissioned translations of Aristotle's Metaphysics and of the so-called Theology of Aristotle (in fact a paraphrase of Plotinus) which are extant and available in print.

Al-Kindī's fame, however, was eclipsed by such later philosophers as al-Fārābī and Ibn-Sīnā (Avicenna). Only a few of his numerous treatises reached the Latin Schoolmen, but one recently discovered Arabic manuscript contains twenty-four of his otherwise unknown philosophical writings.

Two basic tenets of al-Kindī's, concerning prophecy and the creation of the world, were not accepted by his more famous Muslim successors. First, knowledge acquired through revelation in the Scriptures and from divinely inspired prophets is unambiguously superior to any knowledge acquired through philosophical training. In many cases, religious tradition and speculative, dialectical theology (repudiated emphatically by al-Fārābī) lead one to the same conclusions as philosophy and natural theology, which al-Kindī very consciously and proudly introduced for the first time into the Muslim discussion. He maintained, however, that there are certain fundamental tenets of faith that are guaranteed by revelation alone and cannot be demonstrated by human reason.

Second, unlike the later Muslim philosophers, al-Kindī did not proclaim the eternity of the world and an eternal, emanating creation. Rather, he attempted to prove in philosophical terms that the world had been created from nothing, in time, through a divine creator, and that at some future date, according to divine dispensation, it would dissolve again into nothing. In doing this, he appears to use essentially the same arguments that were developed with more sophistication and subtlety by John Philoponus, the Christian Neoplatonic-Aristotelian philosopher, in sixth-century Alexandria. Al-Kindī also disagreed with the leading later thinkers by considering astrology to be a genuine branch of rational and methodical knowledge.

See also al-Fārābī; Aristotle; Avicenna; Islamic Philosophy; Philoponus, John; Plotinus.

Bibliography

works by al-kindĪ

An Arabic text is Rasāʾil al-Kindī al-falasafiyyah, edited with an introduction by ʿAbd al-Hādī Abū Rīdah, 2 vols. (Cairo: n.p., 19501953), in which 24 scientific and philosophical texts are printed for the first time. An Arabic text with Italian translation is Studi su Al-Kindī : Vol. I was translated by M. Guidi and R. Walzer (Rome, 1940), and Vol. II was translated by H. Ritter and R. Walzer (Rome, 1938). An Arabic text with German translation is "Al-Kindi als Astrolog," translated by O. Loth, in Morgenländische Forschungen fuer H. L. Fleischer (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1875), pp. 261ff. A Latin text with French translation is Antécédents gréco-arabes de la psychologie, a translation of De Rerum Gradibus by L. Gauthier (Beirut, 1939). A Latin text is found in Die philosophischen Abhandlungen des Jaʿqūb ben Ishāg Al-Kindī, edited by A. Nagy, which is Vol. II of C. Baeumker, ed., Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters (Münster: Aschendorff, 1897).

works on al-kindĪ

Works on al-Kindī are A. Altmann and S. M. Stern, Isaac Israeli (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), passim; F. Rosenthal, "Al-Kindī and Ptolemy," in Studi orientalistici in onore di G. Levi della vida, Vol. II (Rome: Istituto per l'Oriente, 1956), pp. 436ff.; and Richard Walzer, Greek into Arabic (Oxford: B. Cassirer, 1962), passim.

Richard Walzer (1967)