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Peter Adamson and Peter E.

Pormann, The Philosophical Works of al-Kind, Karachi: Oxford


University Press, 2012 [Studies in Islamic Philosophy], 363 + lxxv pp, ISBN 978-0-19-906280-5

Abu Ysuf Yaqb al-Kind (c. 800-873) was a prolific author, an erudite whose expertise ranged
over all fields of knowledge. He and his circle have bestowed upon us an enormous corpus of
texts, most of them among the first to written in Arabic on their subject. These include
substantially revised versions of Hellenistic classics, such as Ptolemys Almagest and
Nicomachus Arithmetic, as well as monographs of varying length. A significant number of
works ascribed to him in bibliographies are presumed lost. Al-Kinds impact on Islamic science
and philosophy was not very great, though the more we know about his writings (with the help of
volumes such as the one under review here), the more we are likely to uncover subtler
references. His influence on Latin science, especially optics, seems to have been quite
significant; and Jewish audiences, for some reason, were particularly drawn to al-Kinds
mathematical works. Some modern philosophers find his treatment of creation and eternity very
exciting (William Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, John North, One Truth or More, in
S. Unguru, Physics, Cosmology and Astronomy, 1300-1700, Dordrecht-Boston:Kluwer, 1991,
268-272).

Peter Adamson and Peter E. Porman have graced us with a collection of some twenty-five
philosophical writings of al-Kind, most of them translated for the first time into English. Both
Peters are eminently qualified for the task, having equally strong backgrounds in classics and
semitics. Adamson is also the author of a book length study on al-Kind (Oxford, 2007). The
book opens with a thorough biography of al-Kind and evaluation of his legacy. The texts are
presented in five sections: God and Eternity; The Soul and the Mind; The Cosmos;
Ethics;Systematising Philosophy. Each text is provided with its own introduction; notes are
placed at the end of each section in a minuscule font. All the introductions are written with the
utmost clarity.

The editors are alert to al-Kinds indebtedness to the Greek traditions, which varies
considerably from treatise to treatise. Overall Al-Kind leans heavily on Aristotles Categories. In
his brief statement on the soul (119 ff.) he espouses, like many early Islamic thinkers, the
essential agreement between Aristotle and Plato. His ethics are basically Stoic. However, it
seems that his strongest sympathies lay with the Pythagoreans. But al-Kinds opus is far from
being a worked over digest of Greek materials. The editors are equally cognizant of al-Kinds
links to the kalam and Quranic sciences, and of al-Kinds efforts to address age-old problems
in a manner congruent with Islam. The result is, I think, a very balanced and noncontroversial
picture. The bibliography is very rich.

Anthologies of this sort inevitably involve a selection, and one can often bemoan certain
omissions. Before doing so, it is only fair to say that additional material would most likely have
come at the expense of some of the texts included, none of which are ballast. So only by way of
a point of information do I allow myself to mention al-Kinds significant writings on music, which
bear strongly on his philosophy in several ways. The interested reader can get a very factual
synopsis in Amnon Shiloah, The Theory of Music in Arabic Writings, Munich1979, 253-259.

I do think it unfortunate that only a portion of al-Kinds treatise On Rays was translated. That
work is indeed sui generis. The editors labour to present it as a work on physics; indeed, al-
Kind presents a natural philosophy whose basic assumptions as to how nature operates are far
different from anything one encounters in any of the medieval traditions, Aristotelian or
otherwise. But would al-Kind have agreed that the sections on prayers, pictures, sacrifices and
other actions are irrelevant? Indeed, the trend of current scholarship--and one I very much
identify with--is not to pluck out scientific passages or chapters, but rather to study treatises in
their entirety, in order to properly assess just what the author is about. This is all the more true
for On Rays, where the operation of rays on sacrifices, say, is certainly germane to whatever
physics al-Kind may be teaching.

On Rays offers an example of how al-Kind developed very different theories in different
writings. David Lindberg has pointed out that On Rays builds on Plotinus emphasis, in his
theory of light, on the active nature of every being, the self-radiating property of everything that
is. However, in the theory of light expounded in other writings, al-Kind is firmly in the
Aristotelian camp (Kepler and the Incorporeality of Light, in Unguru, op. cit., 238).

Finally, even if this is likely to prove to be an exercise in futility, as the works are not extant, one
can also comment upon the translation of some book titles given in the list of works (xlix-lxii):

no. 59: Perhaps awl, the plural of l, ought to be rendered in line with al-Kinds own
definition, given on p. 310, a quality that disappears quickly. Hence the tract would deal not
with permanent features of the stars, but rather with transitory qualities, perhaps picked up and
shed off as they align with other stars or significant points on the orb.

no. 66: Hayl means prorogator, not material body; and the kadudh (spelled, perhaps
unintentionally, katudh in the anthology) is the indicator for the length of life, not predominant
star. In its Latin spelling, the colcodea was identified with Avicennas Giver of Forms; see Dag
Hasses essay in The Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin Receptions of Avicennas Metaphysics
(reviewed in the previous issue of this journal by the undersigned).

no. 84, on estimating the chord of the ninth, may be an attempt at constructing the regular
nonagon. It may be identical with the text published by J.L. Berggren, An Anonymous Treatise
on the Regular Nonagon, Journal for the History of Arabic Science 5 (1981), 37-41.

no. 185: dahr is one of the Arabic terms for [timeless] eternity. Though in certain contexts it
may possible mean period (of time) as rendered by the two Peters, in a philosophical treatise it
would almost certainly denote the static forever, of which time (zamn) is the moving image.
Tzvi Langermann