Al-Kindi was born in Basra and is a descendant of Kinda tribe. He is an Arab philosopher who is famously regarded as the ‘Philosopher of the Arabs’. He was a mathematician, Polymath, physician, as well as a musician. He was a scholar under the caliph al Ma’mun before the latter’s reign concluded in 833CE. Howveer, even after the end of al Ma’mun’s reign, Al-kindi remained in the service of the next caliph al-Mu‘tasim and it is during al-Mu‘tasim’s reign that Al-Kindi began his philosophical career. He became one of the first Muslim peripatetic philosophers a position that has led many scholars to consider al-Kindi as the father of Arabic philosophy because of his efforts to synthesis, adapt and, promote the Hellenistic and Greek philosophy within the Arab world (Abboud, 2006).
Al-Kindi received his education in Baghdad following which provided an ideal platform for his rise to prominence in an intellectual center that had been established during the Islamic Golden Age. The center was regarded as the House of Wisdom. Al-Kindi’s impressive standing in the House of Wisdom convinced various Abbasid Caliphs to appoint him as the lead translator in the translation of the Greek philosophical and scientific texts to Arabic language. His role during the translations entailed carrying out mediation between the scholars who were actually doing the translations who were mostly from the Syrian extraction and their patrons. It is important to note that Al-Kindi’s constant contact with the Greek philosophy during the course of the translations had profound effect on his intellectual and philosophical development, and this led him to write many original treatises based on various subjects including logic, medicine, ethics, metaphysics, mathematic, astrology, and philosophy. It is imperative to note that the philosophical work of Aristotle has considerable influence on Al-Kindi’s philosophical works.
With regard to his work, al-Kindi’s most famous philosophical work is titled On First Philosophy, which contains four main parts. The first part of this work focuses on the introduction of the reader on the Greek philosophical wisdom. The second part of the work provides al-Kindi’s discussion relating to the eternity of the world, while the last two parts provides discussions regarding the existence of the true God and the source of unity in everything as well as discussions regarding the fact that language is inapplicable to the true God. As such, the central theme of the On First Philosophy is not really the truth or being, but unity. In this regard, al-Kindi postulates that ‘bringing something to be’, much of what God does, is actually imposing unity of a particular kind. Consequently, it is safe to conclude that al-Kindi’s philosophical theory provides two key aspects: proof of what he refers to as “true one”, which is God, and that the ‘true one’ is the cause of unity in all material and non-material things. The discussions on the third part of the treatise postulate that nothing can exist on its own cause and it then follows that nothing can be the cause of its unity. In order to emphasize on the aspect of unity in things, al-Kindi provides insight regarding unity and multiplicity. He also provides an example of animal which belongs to one genus made up of multiple species and human is one such species but comprising many individuals, an individual has many body parts. Consequently, al-Kindi’s philosophy in On First Philosophy seeks to determine the association of unity and multiplicity in each of the foregoing things.
With regard to al-Kindi’s perspectives on metaphysics, he starts by identifying with God from his most significant work, On First Philosophy. Given that every philosophical work is about seeking the truth, al-Kindi acknowledges God as the first truth and the very cause of all truths. Even though it is not possible for one to associate Aristotle with al-Kindi’s identification with God as the beginning of his philosophy, the association of truth with everything that has being provides undertones of Aristotle’s philosophy regarding the science of being. However al-Kindi’s apparent association of being and truth shows that he does not provide a distinction between theology and philosophy, given that his philosophy seems to suggest that the two focus on the same subject. However, some of the latter philosophers such as Avicenna did not agree with al-Kindi’s metaphysics which provided a strong bond between God and truth, instead Avicenna considered the existence of God to be incidental. From the al-Kindi’s metaphysics, it reveals that anything that cannot be associated with God is not justifiable (Corbin, 1993).
Other al-Kindi treatises that shed light on his philosophy regarding the theory of the soul include On the Intellect and Discourse on the Soul with the latter containing quotations from the Greek philosophers. It is also apparent that al-Kindi adopts the philosophical aspects of Aristotle to demonstrate that soul is immaterial in his That There are Separate Substances. Another work by al-Kindi that seems to incorporate the Aristotle beliefs is the On Sleep and Dream, which discusses prophetic dreams while incorporating the sentiments of Aristotle regarding the theory of imagination. With regard to soul and the life after death, al-Kindi provides that the soul is an immaterial substance that can only relate to the material world only in as far as the physical body is present and this is because faculties of the soul can only operate within a human body.
Regarding astronomy, al-Kindi elaborates his cosmological theories in two of his works namely the On the Prostration of the Outermost Sphere and On the Proximate Agent Cause of Generation and Corruption. He considers the heavenly bodies as rational entities and that their circular movement is in obedience to and in the worship of God. In this regard, he believes that the role of the heavenly bodies is to act as devices of divine intervention. As such, al-Kindi provides empirical evidence to authenticate his assertions. One of the evidences that he provides is the fact that the planets and the stars have a specific arrangement and that their appearances in different parts of the universe vary according to the arrangements in specific places, and so does the manner of people depending on the arrangement of the heavenly bodies over their homeland (Adamson 2012). In this regard al-Kindi sets out to show that all things that exist in the material word owe their origins from the heavenly bodies. For instance, he considers the redness of an apple as deriving from universal forms and that the human mind can only comprehend such redness up to that point. This aspect is apparent in the First Intellect treatise, which focuses on thinking about universal concepts. Nevertheless, al-Kindi provides that human intellect is incapable of arriving at universal concepts through mere perception.
However, it is important to note that there is ambiguity regarding al-Kindi’s theories regarding the impact of the heavenly bodies on the material world. For instance, in one theory, al-Kindi borrows heavily from Aristotle who believed that as the heavenly bodies move they create friction at the sub-lunar section and that this friction arouses earthly elements such as fire, water, air, which combine to create everything within the material world. He also provides an alternative view of the influence that heavenly bodies have on the material world in his treaties On Rays where he posits that the planets exercise influence in a straight line and even then, al-Kindi presents two different perspectives of physical interaction. The two perspectives on interactions are: action at a distance and action by contact.
Al-Kindi’s philosophical perspectives on the field of medicine are highly influenced by the ideologies of Galen. Here, al-Kindi expresses how mathematics can be applied to medicine, especially in pharmacology. In this regard, he developed a philosophy where based on the phases of the moon, the mathematical scale quantifies the strength of a drug as well as a system, which would then allow doctors to find out the critical period of the patients’ illnesses well in advance.
Abboud, T. (2006). Al-Kindi: The Father of Arab Philosophy. Rosen Publication Group.
Adamson, P. & Pormann, P. (eds.). (2012). The Philosophical Works of al-Kindī. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Adamson, P. (2006). "Al-Kindı¯ and the reception of Greek philosophy". In Adamson, Peter;
Taylor, R. The Cambridge companion to Arabic philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
Corbin, H. (1993). History of Islamic philosophy. Kegan Paul International.