Wednesday, September 5, 2007

al-Kindi (800-873)

Sierra Club


Sometimes called pre-eminently "The Philosopher of the Arabs " flourished in the 9th century, the exact dates of his birth and death being unknown. He was born in Kufa, where his father was governor under the Caliphs Mahdi and Harun al-RashId. His latter studies were made in Bagdad, where he remained, occupying according to some a government position. In the orthodox reaction under Motawakkil, when all philosophy was suspect, his library was confiscated, but he himself seems to have escaped. His writings - like those of other Arabian philosophers - are encyclopaedic and are concerned with most of the sciences; they are said to have numbered over two hundred, but fewer than twenty are extant. Some of these were known in the middle ages, for Kindi is placed by Roger Bacon in the first rank after Ptolemy as a writer on optics. His work De Somniorum Visione was translated by Gerard of Cremona and another was published as De medicinarum compositarum gradibus investigandis Libellus (Strassburg, 1531). He was one of the earliest translators and commentators of Aristotle, but like Farabi appears to have been superseded by Avicenna.

In mathematics, he wrote four books on the number system and laid the foundation of a large part of modern arithmetic. No doubt the Arabic system of numerals was largely developed by al-Khawarizmi, but al-Kindi also made rich contributions to it. He also contributed to spherical geometry to assist him in astronomical studies.

In chemistry, he opposed the idea that base metals can be converted to precious metals. In contrast to prevailing alchemical views, he was emphatic that chemical reactions cannot bring about the transformation of elements. In physics, he made rich contributions to geometrical optics and wrote a book on it. This book later on provided guidance and inspiration to such eminent scientists as Roger Bacon.

In medicine, his chief contribution comprises the fact that he was the first to systematically determine the doses to be administered of all the drugs known at his time. This resolved the conflicting views prevailing among physicians on the dosage that caused difficulties in writing recipes.

Very little was known on the scientific aspects of music in his time. He pointed out that the various notes that combine to produce harmony, have a specific pitch each. Thus, notes with too low or too high a pitch are non-pleasant. The degree of harmony depends on the frequency of notes, etc. He also pointed out the fact that when a sound is produced, it generates waves in the air which strike the ear-drum. His work contains a notation on the determination of pitch.

He was a prolific writer: the total number of books written by him was 241, the prominent among which were divided as follows : Astronomy 16, Arithmetic 11, Geometry 32, Medicine 22, Physics 12, Philosophy 22, Logic 9, Psychology 5, and Music 7. In addition, various monographs written by him concern tides, astronomical instruments, rocks, precious stones, etc. He was also an early translator of Greek works into Arabic, but this fact has largely been over-shadowed by his numerous original writings. It is unfortunate that most of his books are no longer extant, but those existing speak very high of his standard of scholarship and contribution. He was known as Alkindus in Latin and a large number of his books were translated into Latin by Gherard of Cremona. His books that were translated into Latin during the Middle Ages comprise Risalah dar Tanjim, Ikhtiyarat al-Ayyam, Ilahyat-e-Aristu, al-Mosiqa, Mad-o-Jazr, and Adviyah Murakkaba. Al-Kindi's influence on development of science and philosophy was significant in the revival of sciences in that period. In the Middle Ages, Cardano considered him as one of the twelve greatest minds. His works, in fact, lead to further development of various subjects for centuries, notably physics, mathematics, medicine and music. [Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) and Personalities Nobel]


Please browse our Amazon list of titles about al-Kindi. For rare and hard to find works we recommend our Alibris list of titles about al-Kindi.


COPAC UK: al-Kindi
Library of Canada Search Form
Library of Congress: al-Kindi
Other Library Catalogs: al-Kindi
Books from Alibris: al-Kindi

No comments: