• Book Title:
 The Philosophical Works Of Al Kindi
  • Book Author:
Peter AdamsonPeter E. Pormann
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Section One: God and Eternity

  • On First Philosophy
  • Three Texts against the Infınity of the World
  • On the True Agent
  • Against the Trinity

Section Two: The Soul and the Mind

  • On the Intellect
  • On Recollection
  • That There Are Incorporeal Substances
  • Discourse on the Soul

A Concise and Brief Statement About the Soul

  • On the Quiddity of Sleep and Dreams
  • Two Texts on Colour

Section Three: The Cosmos

  • On the Proximate, Agent Cause of Generation and Corruption
  • The Prostration of the Outermost Body On the Nature of the Celestial Sphere
  • On Why the Ancients Related the Five Geometric Shapes to the Elements
  • Why the Higher Atmosphere is Cold On Rays

Section Four: Ethics

  • On Dispelling Sorrows
  • The Sayings of Socrates

Section Five: Systematising Philosophy

  • On the Quantity of Aristotle’s Books
  • On the Defınitions and Descriptions of Things
  • On the Five Essences


In the beginning, there was al-Kindi. As the first author in the lslamic world to engage in philosophy, he laid the foundation for generations of thinkers to come. His age offered many opportunities: born at the beginning of the ninth century AD intQ the aristocracy of lraq, he enjoyed the patronage of the ‘Abbasid caliphal court at the height of its intellectual ambition.

The caliphs and other patrons of this period are justly celebrated for sponsoring a massive translation movement that rendered Greek works of philosophy and science into Arabic. During this Renaissance of Hellenic learning in a new, ıslamic context, al-Kindi counts as one of the leading Renaissance men. He made himself indispensable to his powerful masters by co-ordinating and correcting the efforts of (mostly Christian) colleagues who produced the translations.

 in his own independent writings, he explored and built upon the ideas that emerged from those translations. Like Michelangelo fashioning sculptures inspired by just-discovered classical artworks, al-Kindi reacted to the new philosophical corpus in Arabic as he helped to compile it.

Al-Kindi’s great curiosity led him to many subjects, but he is rightly known as the ‘philosopher of the Arabs’ for his works in this area. in his writings, he explored themes ranging from the eternity of the world and divine providence to the structure of the universe, the human soul, and the good life.

The philosophical fruits of his labours, insofar as they have survived, are here translated into English-many appearing in this language for the fırst time. Al-Kindi thus becomes easily accessible, not only because his writings are rendered into idiomatic English, but also because they are elucidated in a variety of ways.

 The reader will fınd here an introduction to al-Kindi’s life and contribution to philosophy. Moreover, all the individual chapters have introductory sections that prepare the reader for the subsequent arguments, and explain the salient features of al-Kindi’s thought. As this thought is at times complex and even baffling to the uninitiated, we have provided a relatively large amount of this supportive material.

Finally, the index will provide a quick guide to the key subjects with which al-Kindi grappled throughout his philosophical endeavours. We have cast a fairly wide net, so to speak, when selecting the works to be included here.

A few works by al-Kindi, however, do not appear here despite having some relevance for his philosophy. For instance, we have translated only one of his numerous works on meteorology-the one with the most overtly philosophical content­ and passed over his mathematical, medical, musical, astrological and optical works entirely.

 Still, the volume does what its title promises: read it, and you will have read what survives of al-Kindi’s philosophy.

This volume results from an encounter at the Warburg Institute in 2001, more than a decade ago. Fritz Zimmermann and Charles Burnett, to whom we dedicate this volume in profound gratitude, had been organising an Arabic reading class there for many years.

When Peter Adamson (PA) came to the Philosophy Department at King’s College London, he joined this reading class. At that time, Peter E. Pormann (PEP) was replacing Philip J. van der Eijk in Newcastle, but spent long weekends in London for personal reasons; on most Fridays, he went to the Warburg, and took part in this famous Arabic reading class.

Very soon, PA and PEP decided that they would like to work jointly on an Arabic text. PA had just turned his PhD thesis into a book; it dealt with the so-called Theology of Aristotle, a translation of Neo-Platonic material produced in al­ Kindi’s circle. He therefore became more interested in al-Kindi and his own philosophical thought. PA therefore suggested to PEP that they work on this topic, and the latter was immediately enthusiastic.

Much enthusiasm was indeed required to bring this project to fruition. PA had already produced some rough drafts of certain texts, and the two began to revise each others’ translations. Until 2008, the process took place largely on paper.

 One would send the other a draft translation which the other would revise on paper; the text thus revised would be sent back, and the corrections entered into the electronic word document. in this way, we translated, revised, and further revised each other’s work over the course of some seven years.

When we looked back at our translations, however, we found that they were stili of quite varying style and quality. As we matured as scholars (one might say), we became less

and less comfortable with very literal translations which often hide the sense of the underlying original more than they reveal it. Therefore, we embarked on a second course of revisions, this time by exchanging and changing the electronic documents directly. in this process, it was not uncommon that the same translation would change hands three, four, or even five times.

 The revisions during this second wave were naturally most profound for the earliest translations that we had produced in 2001 or ’02. But we went through everything again with a fairly fine comb. For us, this long and protracted process of revision brought a two-fold benefit. The first advantage, we hope, is the improvement of our translations that we suppressed ‘until the ninth year’, to speak with Horace. The second is that we have both learned a great deal in the process.

We come, by inclination and training, from quite different backgrounds. PA is a philosopher, with expertise in the history of ancient philosophy and its further developments in the Arabic tradition.

 PEP is a medical historian with strong interests in the history and philosophy of science; but he also went through a rigorous philological training in Classics and Arabic (the latter under the strict eye of his esteemed teacher Manfred ullmann).

As we were revising each other’s translations, we found that our weaknesses were not only complemented by each other’s strengths, but also mitigated by what we were able to learn from each other.

Although the translations presented here went through numerous revisions, we are stili acutely aware of their shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. Undoubtedly, attentive readers will find inconsistencies (that they may, perhaps, excuse in view of the genesis of this work). Not all such ‘inconsistencies’, however, result from error or inadvertence.

For we contend that it would often be wrong to render the same Arabic word with the same English one in all, or even most, cases. For instance, where in good and idiomatic Arabic, an author may introduce quotation after quotation with qala (‘he said’), translating it by strings of ‘he said’ would be tedious in English. More importantly, it would also convey the wrong impression about al-Kindi’s style.

To be sure, at times his repetitions and formulaic arguments seemed laborious even to his contemporaries, as we know from various parodies. But on occasion, we can discern a real effort on his part to render his prose melodious. This is certainly the case in the highly rhetorical opening and concluding paragraphs of his epistles, but these tendencies also show up elsewhere in his

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