123 - Philosopher of the Arabs: al-Kindī

Al-Kindī uses Hellenic materials to discuss the eternity of the world, divine attributes, and the nature of the soul.

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Further Reading: 

• P. Adamson and P.E. Pormann (trans.),The Philosophical Works of al-Kindī (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012).

• P. Adamson, Al-Kindī (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

• P. Adamson, “Al-Kindī and the Mu'tazila: Divine Attributes, Creation and Freedom,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 13 (2003), 45-77.

• A. Ivry, Al-Kindi’s Metaphysics (Albany: 1974).

• C. D'Ancona, “Aristotelian and Neoplatonic Elements in Kindi’s Doctrine of Knowledge,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 73 (1999), 9-35.

• H.A. Davidson, “John Philoponus as a Source of Medieval Islamic and Jewish Proofs of Creation,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 89 (1969), 357-91.

• D. Gutas, “Geometry and the Rebirth of Philosophy in Arabic with al-Kindi,” in R. Arnzen and J. Thielmann (eds), Words, Texts and Concepts Cruising the Mediterranean Sea (Leuven: 2004), 195-209.

Rhys W. Roark's picture

RE: Aristotle on infinity (From episode # 123, Al-Kindi)

Dear Peter,

I am intrigued by your reference on Aristotle and the distinction between actual vs. potential infinities.

Perhaps, incorrectly, I thought the whole notion of any infinity for Aristotle was potential only, for, like in the understanding of the counting of number, or the elapsing or (meta)physically, pure matter that lacks the impartation of the eidos (which can be potentially anything), any infinity lacks that sine qua non for Greek thought, form and limit.

So does Aristotle admit to the existence of an actual infinity, i.e., a substantial infinity? (I tend to think of this idea more in terms of later Scholasticism, their Pure Act, in contrast to Aristotle’s Pure Act, the former that must be infinite in essence, owing to the Christian doctrine of creation, where as the latter is still finite in essence as thought thinking itself, thus a dlimitation).

Or have I just misunderstood your intent here: you are simply pointing to a logical gap is al-Kindi’s reasoning? Not that Aristotle actually posits any substantive infinity (or my take on him nonetheless), but if something was infinite in size, it would, because physical extension is substantive, it would be actually infinite. But this would still be a contradiction because substantive things, to be substantive, must possess form and limit.

Set me straight.


Peter Adamson's picture


Hi Rhys,

Sorry if that wasn't clear -- what I meant was that Aristotle accepts that there are potential infinities (every magnitude is potentially infinitely divisible for instance) but not that there are actual infinities. So, by devoting most of his attention to arguing against the possibility of actual infinities, al-Kindi is doing nothing to touch Aristotle. Aristotle would simply agree, but then say that eternal time is a potential and not an actual infinity. That's why I say that only the argument about "could we reach the present moment?" is at all helpful against Aristotle: it is a way of trying to show that eternal time would be actually rather than potentially infinite. (Because the number of moments that must _already_ have elapsed up until now would be actually infinite.)

Does that help?


Fatih's picture

Audio - Text

Hi there, first I want to thank you for this great webpage. I v just found this page and I really liked it. I'm from Turkey, and sometimes i might have troubles understanding some topics as a foreigner. So i have a question to you:
Is it possible to add the text too ? I think it'd be great for foreigners to understand the topic better if you do this.

Also I m trying to understand Kindi's ideas. And sorry if i put comment in the wrong place :)

Again , thank you very much!

From Turkey, with love :)

Peter Adamson's picture


Thanks for your message - I get that question a lot actually. The scripts will appear in revised version as a series of books with Oxford University Press. Volume 1, covering Classical Greek Philosophy up to Aristotle, will be out next year.