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(805 - 873)

"Called the 'Philosopher of the Arabs', he was active in Bagdad at the courts of al-Mamun and al-Mutasim, having been in fact, the tutor of the latter's son" (Hyman and Walsh 207).

Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages: the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1973.

Born at Kufah (near Najaf) to family of governors who traced their lineage to a companion of the Prophet (was the Companion Ali who moved the capital to Kufah?). Prospered at Baghdad until the reign of al-Mutawakkil, when his library was temporarily seized (Ivry 3).


  • NEW! The Philosophical Works of al-Kindi. Edited by Peter E. Pormann and Peter Adamson (Oxford UP 2012).
Note: see causation in section one, para. four; and on nature in section two, paras. 14 & 15. Here do we not find the philosophical reconciliation of science and metaphysics, which blocks the false dichotomy between faith and inquiry?
First Chapter of the First Part
Causation considered from Aristotle's point of view; but knowledge of the first cause is most noble.
Second Chapter of the First Part
Two sources of knowledge considered (sensory and intellectual); contemplating perfection of the First Cause
Third Chapter of the First Part
The perfection of the First Cause includes a unity that is present in caused things
Fourth Chapter of the First Part
The True One has nothing other than unity, pure and simple
  • "The One True and Complete Agent and the Incomplete Metaphorical 'Agent'" (Collected in Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources. Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007.)

"The true agent is what causes the effect without itself being affected by any kind of effect . . . the Creator, the Agent of the universe (exalted be His praise!)" (22).

"As for whatever is below Him--I mean everything that he creates--they are called 'agents' metaphorically, not in the true sense" (22).

  • "On the Means of Dispelling Sorrows" (Collected in McGinnis and Reisman, above)

"So we say that sorrow is a psychological pain that appears owing to the loss of loved things or the failure to obtain the things one desires" (23).

"The permanent and perpetual necessarily exist only in the world of the intellect, which we can experience" (24).

"As for sensible possessions . . . It is impossible to preserve them. . . . Neither shall we desire them before we have laid eyes and hand on them, nor shall we make ourselves regretful and anxious after they leave us. Indeed this belongs to the manners of the greatest Kings . . ." (24).

"clearly the sensible things that one hates and loves are not something necessary by nature, but rather are [loved and hated] as a result of habits and regular practice" (25).

"In their passage through this ephemeral world--its fading states, its deceitful images, its ends crying lie to its beginnings (forsaken is the one who trusts it! pitiful is the one who is misled by it!)--people resemble a group traveling by boat to a destination they intend to be a homeland. The captain brought them to a headland to get some provision . . . ." (31)


  • From Ivry's summary:

Intellectual considerations draw us to the necessary conclusion that neither the universe nor any body can be "infinite in actuality", can "come from nothing", or can "exist in a state of rest before motion" (Ivry 9).

Although "one" may be predicated of genus, species, individual, property, and common accident, "in each case the predicable is not 'essentially' one". The unity therefore indicates "existence of an external agent which imposes unity from without . . . the agent possessing unity essentially" (Ivry 10).

Since neither unity nor multiplicity may exist alone in things, the necessary plurality of things requires a cause that must be an absolute unity (Ivry 10).

This True One can only be approached through what it is not, "neither soul nor intellect" yet this must be the source of all emanations and motion (Ivry 10).

Of physical things, the causes are four (Ivry 13).

We can now address a final question, namely whether al-Kindi precedes Ibn Sina in formulating the distinction between essence and existence.

FP 97.12-14 [RJ 9.12-13]: the cause of the existence (wujud) and fixity of every thing is the True, because everything that has being (anniyya) has truth. So the True is necessarily existent (mawjud); therefore the beings (anniyyat) are existent (mawjuda).

(Note: existence precedes essence?)

Ibn Sina does not in fact think that existence is "posterior" to the essence of the existent thing:

It is not possible that the attribute called "existence" be caused in a thing by its essence, which is quite distinct from its existence or any other attribute. For the cause precedes the effect ontologically, but nothing is prior to existence (la mutaqaddim bi-'l-mawjud qablu 'l-wujud).

Concludes Adamson: It is however not anachronistic to point out that these early, apophatic identifications of God with being fail on their own terms, insofar as a goal of al-Kindi's circle was to make the First Principle of Greek philosophy into the Creator described in revealed texts. This being their goal, it would perhaps have been more fruitful had they further pursued the tentative forays in the Arabic Plotinus toward an "unlimited" conception of being (i.e., as a simple being that is identical with divine attributes), or indeed the idea that God is pure actuality (also present in the Arabic Plotinus . . .). Indeed these hints toward a positive theology in the Arabic Neoplatonic translations may have played a role in the development of Ibn Sina's own metaphysics. But it cannot be said that al-Kindi himself, at least in the works that remain available to us, explored these kataphatic ideas even as fully as did the translators of his own circle.

Note, but I wonder: Perhaps it was the "Mu'tazila" movement which had the goal "to make the First Principle of Greek philosophy into the Creator described in revealed texts." Perhaps al-Kindi was a more dispassionate researcher, letting Truth lead the way. Al-Kindi's "simple being" sustains the greatness of all that is, without itself being reducible to any limitation. Negative theology has worthwhile, critical insights (Lao Tzu, Merton, Derrida).