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Title: Al-Kindī's First Philosophy and cognate texts : translation and commentary
Author: Ivry, Alfred L.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1971
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This work consists of a critical translation from the Arabic of "(On) First Philosophy", [title in Arabic], the major philosophical text of Yaʻqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī (d. ca. 870 A.D.); and a detailed study of this text in relation to cognate treatises of al-Kindī's, and to works of classical and late Greek philosophy. Al-Kindī's ideas are also compared with those of his contemporaries among the theologians and philosophers of the 9th and 10th centuries. The translation is formally patterned upon the Arabic edition of "First Philosophy" by Muḥammad Abū Rīdah (Cairo, 1950). A critical apparatus accompanying the translation notes differences in my reading of the manuscript from that of Abū Rīdah, and also refers, wherever helpful, to the readings of another (less careful) Arabic edition, that done by Aḥmad al-Ahwānī (Cairo, 1948). The introduction to the translation consists of four chapters: l) a resumé of what is currently known of al-Kindī's life and times, and of the most important literature relating to al-Kindī philosophical studies; 2a) a description of the text and translation of "On First Philosophy" and a summary of its contents; 2b) a philosophical analysis of al-Kindī's views in "First Philosophy" and cognate texts; 3) a reevaluation of al-Kindī's relation to the muʻtazila. The following is a brief summary of the major points of the commentary and introduction, which expand upon the remarks and allusions found in the translation. Our growing awareness of the social and cultural forces at work in 9th century Baghdad helps us to locate al-Kindī, the "philosopher of the Arabs", in a complex environment of competing ethnic and religious groups; with none of whom, however, can we identify al-Kindī with any certainty. His main involvement appears to have been with the tradition of Greek philosophy and sciences newly acquired by the Moslems; to the elucidation and propagation of which tradition many of his writings are directed. "On First Philosophy" thus shares with many of his writings a disarming combination of elementary philosophical definitions and rather sophisticated arguments; the proofs of which, however, are usually given in a repetitious manner. Al-Kindī's favorite formulation of arguments -in which he uses a combination of logical and factual premises to reach a conclusion considered by him as "necessary"- is that identified with Stoic logic, viz., the hypothetical and disjunctive "syllogism". In the repetitive and uneven style of his presentation, as well as in other ways, "First Philosophy" appears to have been presented originally in oral lecture form, probably at the court of the caliph. A number of his remarks in this and other treatises tally with recently discovered sayings attributed to al-Kindī in the abridgement of Abū Sulayman al-Sijistānī's Ṣiwān al-Ḥikmah, a source which also inclines one to revise in al-Kindī's favor the rather one-sided negative judgements of his personality known from antiquity. Al-Kindī emerges from this study as a subtle and relatively private man about whom the last word has yet to be written. Much, however, of al-Kindī's theoretical philosophy can be gleaned from a study of "On First Philosophy". The treatise analyzes causation, perception, substance and the categories and predicables of existence; presents elementary principles of logic; and defines the concepts of eternity and of body, motion and time, all of which are deemed finite. Unity and multiplicity (i.e., plurality) are examined separately and shown to require each other in the existence of every object; which is then seen as possessing unity in a non-essential, accidental way. This leads to the assumption of an essential cause for all accidental unity, which essential unity must be totally unlike any other kind of unity imaginable; neither one by number, form (including neither intellect or soul), genus or even by analogy. This unique, True One, however, as responsible for the unity of all else, is considered the (ultimate) cause of the becoming of all substances and of the creation of the world from nothing; achieved apparently by a process of emanation which is just barely mentioned. This reference to emanation, and the emphasis upon the existence of an ultimate One above all of creation, indicates a strong Neo-Platonic influence in al-Kindī's thought, though he does not attempt to construct an ontological scheme of universal hypostases existing between the One and man. He is similarly vague, in "First Philosophy" and elsewhere, on the status of the individual intellect and its entire relation to a possibly universal agent intellect. Al-Kindī is using a composite source (or sources) in this area as well as in many others, making use of Alexander of Aphrodisias' division of the intellect, though not of his identification of the Agent Intellect with the Divine Mind. Al-Kindī distinguishes between the One and all else, including any universal intellect, probably going further in his transcendental view of the one than even his Plotinian source. It is Aristotle's Metaphysics however, rather than Plotinus' Enneads, which serves as al-Kindī's main source in "First Philosophy", and he often follows the Arabic text of Aristotle's work quite closely, though never slavishly. He works with Aristotle's remarks on the general nature of all substance and being, supplementing the Metaphysics sources with material that ultimately goes back to the Categories, Posterior Analytics, Physics, and De Anima. He does not refer at all to Aristotle's unmoved mover; rejecting, with the denial of potential infinity as a philosophically significant concept, the notion of an eternal universe and of an infinite extension of time and movement. His proofs for the finiteness of all body, and concomitants of body, follow arguments originally presented by John Philoponus, and which also appear in a number of al-Kindī's contemporaries (though he does not follow John Philoponus in other, related areas); while his arguments for the absurdity of predicating unity or plurality exclusively of anything are descended ultimately from Plato's Parmenides, though they probably reached al-Kindī through a paraphrase contained in some Middle or Neo-Platonic work, or a doxography of the sort he uses elsewhere. A Hellenistic commentary to Porphyry's Isagoge serves as yet another major source for various parts of "First Philosophy", especially for a discussion of the predicables and the relation of unity and plurality to them. Al-Kindī probably referred to this same source for a critical discussion of number theory, with which he would also have been familiar from the Metaphysics and from Nichomachus of Gerasa's Introduction to Arithmetic though significant metaphysical differences exist between Nichomachus and al-Kindī. The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʼ of the following century were also highly familiar with Nichomachus' work, as well as with all of the same authorities used by al-Kindī in "First Philosophy" and elsewhere; and a brief comparison of their Rasāʼil and al-Kindī's writings indicates a common source for many of their views. Al-Kindī had a number of disciples, notably Isaac Israeli and Aḥmed b. al-Ṭayyib al-Sarakhsī. Both men, like al-Kindl, seem to have been a-political figures in their respective communities; and, again like him, al-Sarakhsī at least could not escape being drawn into the politics of his day; and apparently also being victimized by personal or politically motivated changes at court which masqueraded as pious anti-Muʻtazila action.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Islamic philosophy