Old Students Association


Al-Kindi – The Great Polymath of His Time

Date: August 15, 2014 Author: busari Categories: News

Abū Yūsuf Ya’qūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī (also known to the West by the Latinized name Alkindus) was the Leonardo da Vinci of his time, which was the 9th century CE. He was a philosopher, scientist, astrologer, astronomer, cosmologist, chemist, logician, musician, mathematician, physicist, physician, psychologist, and meteorologist. He is considered one of the greatest Arab scholars, and is credited with being “the first real Muslim philosopher.”
Al-Kindi was the first of the Muslim Aristotelian philosophers (or “peripatetic philosophers”), and is known for his efforts to introduce Hellenistic philosophy to the Arab world. He was also a pioneer in chemistry, cryptography, medicine, music theory, physics, psychology, and the philosophy of science. The Italian Renaissance scholar Gerolamo Cardano considered him one of the twelve greatest minds of the Middle Ages. According to Ibn al-Nadim, Al-Kindi wrote at least two hundred and sixty 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 centuries.
Al-Kindi was a descendant of the Kinda tribe. He was born and educated in Kufa, before pursuing further studies in Baghdad. Al-Kindi became a prominent figure in the House of Wisdom, and a number of Abbasid Caliphs appointed him to oversee the translation of Greek scientific and philosophical texts into the Arabic language. This contact with “the philosophy of the ancients” (as Greek and Hellenistic philosophy was often referred to by Muslim scholars) had a profound effect on his intellectual development, and led him to write original treatises on subjects ranging from Islamic ethics and metaphysics to Islamic mathematics and pharmacology.
In mathematics, al-Kindi played an important role in introducing Indian numerals to the Islamic and Christian world. He was a pioneer in cryptanalysis and cryptology, and devised new methods of breaking ciphers, including frequency analysis. Using his mathematical and medical expertise, he developed a scale to allow doctors to quantify the potency of their medication.
As a musician and musicologist, al-Kindi published 15 treatises on music theory, one of which contains the first recorded usage of the word musiqi, or “music”.
Al-Kindi made important contributions to the philosophy of science itself and to the development of scientific methodology, placing a strong emphasis on experimentation. He was one of the first to criticize ancient authorities such as Aristotle for making claims regarding the natural world without providing any empirical proof, evidence or scientific demonstration. He recognized the importance of direct observation and empiricism as a source of scientific knowledge, centuries before the “scientific revolution” in Europe.
As a chemist, al-Kindi was one of the first to vigorously oppose the practice and doctrine of alchemy. He debunked the myth that simple, base metals could be transformed into precious metals such as gold or silver. He was the first to isolate ethanol as a relatively pure compound and was also the first to unambiguously describe the production of pure alcohol from the distillation of wine. Al-Kindi also invented a wide variety of scent and perfume products, and is considered one of the fathers of the perfume industry.
As a meteorologist, al-Kindi wrote a medical treatise that is the earliest known work concerned with environmentalism and pollution. He and his successors wrote about air contamination, water contamination, soil contamination, and solid waste handling.
Al-Kindi was the first to use the method of experiment in psychology, which led to his discovery that sensation is proportionate to stimulus. He developed cognitive methods to combat depression and discussed the intellectual operations of human beings. He even applied his knowledge of music in the first recorded attempt at what we now call music therapy.
The central theme underpinning Al-Kindi’s philosophical writings was the compatibility between philosophy and other orthodox Islamic sciences, particularly theology. Many of his works deal with subjects that concerned theology, including the nature of God, the soul, and prophetic knowledge. However, despite the important role he played in making philosophy accessible to Arabic and Muslim intellectuals, his own philosophical output was largely over shadowed by that of Al-Farabi and his other successors. Very few of his philosophical texts are today available for modern scholars to examine.