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Abū-Yūsuf Ya’qūb ibn Ishāq al-Kindī (c. 801 – 873 C.E.), also known by the Latinised version of his name: Alkindus to the Western world (Arabic: أبو يعقوب يوسف بن إسحاق الكندي), was an Arab philosopher, scientist, and ophthalmologist.
Al-Kindī was born in c.801 C.E. in Kufa, a centre of Arab learning at the time. His father was an official of Caliph Harun al-Rashid — according to some accounts, the governor of Kufa. Al-Kindī's education took place first in Kufa, then in Basrah, and finally in Baghdad. Knowledge of his great learning soon spread, and the Caliph al-Ma‘mun appointed him to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, which was a recently established centre for the translation of Greek philosophical and scientific texts. (He was also well known for his beautiful calligraphy, and at one point was employed as a calligrapher by al-Mutawakkil.)
When al-Ma‘mun died, his brother (al-Mu‘tasim) became Caliph, and al-Kindī continued in his post, as well as tutoring al-Mu‘tasim’s son. However, on the accession of al-Wathiq, and especially of al-Mutawakkil, al-Kindī’s star waned. There are various theories concerning this: some attribute al-Kindī's downfall to scholarly rivalries at the House of Wisdom, others refer to al-Mutawakkil’s often violent persecution of unorthodox Muslims (as well as of non-Muslims). At one point, in fact, al-Kindī was beaten and his library temporarily confiscated. He died in 873 C.E. during the reign of al-M‘utamid .
Like Averroes, Avicenna, and Alhazen, al-Kindī was a master of many different areas of thought. He was an expert in music, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, geography, and mathematics. During his lifetime (and for about a century afterwards) he was held to be the greatest Islamic philosopher, eventually being eclipsed only by such great names as al-Fārābi and Avicenna. He is till held to be greatest philosopher of Arab descent, though; indeed, he was often referred to simply as “the Arab philosopher”.
One of his central philosophical aims was to bring out the compatibility between philosophy and natural theology on the one hand and revealed and speculative theology (kalām) on the other (though in fact he rejected speculative theology). He argued, however, that revelation was a superior source of knowledge to reason in some areas at least, and that it guaranteed matters of faith that reason could not uncover.
His philosophical approach wasn't original, but incorporated Aristotelian and (especially) neo-Platonist thought. Nevertheless his work was of great importance in that it introduced and popularised Greek philosophy in the Muslim intellectual world. Much of what was to become standard Arabic philosophical vocabulary originated with al-Kindī; indeed, if it hadn't been for him, the work of philosophers like al-Fārābi, Avicenna, and al-Ghazālī might not have been possible.
As a physician, al-Kindī was the first pharmacologist to determine and apply a correct dosage for most of the drugs available at the time. As an advanced chemist, he was an opponent of alchemy; he debunked the myth that simple, base metals could be transformed into precious metals such as gold or silver. In mathematics, he wrote a number of books dedicated to the number system, and contributed greatly to the foundation of modern arithmetic. Though al-Khawarizmi was the father of the Arabic numerals system, Al-Kindī made many great developments in the field, as well.
Prolific, to say the least, al-Kindī wrote at least two hundred and fifty books, contributing heavily to geometry (thirty-two books), medicine and philosophy (twenty-two books each), logic (nine books), and physics (twelve books). His influence in the fields of physics, mathematics, medicine, philosophy and music were far-reaching and lasted for several centuries. Most of his books, unfortunately, were lost, though a few survived in Latin translations by Gherard of Cremona, and others have been discovered in Arabic manuscripts — most importantly, twenty-four of his lost works were rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century. Take, for example, a recently discovered text A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages, a treatise on cryptology, covering methods of cryptanalysis, encipherments, cryptanalysis of certain encipherments, and statistical analysis of letters and letter combinations in Arabic.
- Robert L. Arrington [ed.] A Companion to the Philosophers (2001: Oxford, Blackwell) ISBN 0-631-22967-1
- Peter J. King One Hundred Philosophers (2004: New York, Barron's) ISBN 0-7641-2791-8
Al-Kindi — Famous Muslims
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