Al-Kindi’s Understanding of Philosophy of Knowledge

Al-Kindi’s Understanding of Philosophy of Knowledge

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Kindi, who uses the terms “al-‘ilm” and “el-ma’rife” to express knowledge, defines the first as “knowing the truth of existence” and the second as “unshakable opinion”, that is, as certain reliable knowledge that leaves no room for doubt (Kindî, 2002: 188, p. 193).

Kindi, who did not enter into discussions on this subject because he did not have any hesitation about the possibility of knowledge, examined the problem of the source and types of knowledge in the context of the concepts of sense, reason, intuition and revelation.

In a way, this means that he deals with psychology and epistemology together. In this respect, it would be useful to briefly look at Kindî’s understanding of the soul or spirit.


He gives three different definitions of the soul in his work “On Tarişer”. Accordingly, nafs;

(a) the completed state of a natural body capable of life and having an organ;
(b) the initial competence of a living natural body in force;
(c) It is a self-acting mental (spiritual) substance and has many powers (Kindî, 2002: 185-186).

While the first two of these definitions reflect Aristotle’s understanding of the soul, the third expresses a view adopted by spiritualists since Pythagoras and Plato (Kaya, 2002: 41-42).

According to Kindi, the substance of the soul, which is not something with width, length and depth like an object, but which is simple, superior, high in value and perfect, comes from the Supreme Creator, just as the sun’s rays come from the Sun.

Stating that the soul has the power to think apart from the power of desire and anger, which are opposite to each other, Kindî says that the power of desire and anger drags people to extremes, which hinders the power of thinking. According to the philosopher, who came to the conclusion that these powers are separate and independent from each other, based on the fact that the hinder and the hindered cannot be the same, the thinking soul is a divine and spiritual/abstract substance independent of them. (Kindi, 2002: 243-244).

With this approach, which includes the understanding that the soul existed before the body and will continue to exist after the body, Kindi, who is seen to share the religious view and the views of Plato, differs from the peripatetics such as Aristotle, Fârâbî and Avicenna, who say that the soul emerges with the body.

Another issue that he stands close to Pythagoras and Plato is the purification/purification of the soul. This subject, which is expressed with the term “tezkiye” in religious terminology and “katharsis” in philosophy, is also related to epistemology, as it points to the metaphysics, that is, open to intuition and inspiration (Kaya, 2002: 42).

El Kindi

Kindi bases both his understanding of knowledge and the classification of sciences on the assumption that existence is divided into two categories as particular (partial) and universal (universal).

While the sense organs give information about particular beings, the mind acquires the knowledge of the universal. Therefore, the particular beings that are the subject of the senses are in the field of special sciences, and the universals that the mind reaches by reducing the multiplicity to unity are in the field of philosophy (Kindî, 2002: 279).

Kindî has classified the sciences in different ways from various aspects. According to the philosopher, who classified the sciences as “human sciences” and “religious sciences” for the first time in the history of thought, human sciences

(a) direct sciences,
(b) sciences that are tools for other sciences

it splits into two.

Evaluating direct sciences in two groups as theoretical and practical ones, Kindi places psychology, which he considers a theoretical science, between physics and metaphysics, which are other theoretical sciences. Practical sciences are ethics and politics. Those that are tools for other sciences are disciplines gathered under the heading of mathematics and logic.

According to Kindi, a person who does not know mathematical sciences consisting of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music cannot learn philosophy.


The subject of sense perception is corporeal and particular beings, and sensory knowledge is formed as a result of the subject-object relationship. The data that the sense organ receives from the outside world are combined in the common sense (universal sense) and transferred to the memory power after being perceived by the power of design (musavvire). Thus, sense perceptions take place as concepts in the human mind (nafs). However, these are still concepts belonging to particulars under genus and species.

Thinking that this perception process takes place in the form of a timeless event, Kindî does not see sensory information, which he considers dependent on sensory perceptions, as a reliable type of information, since sensory perceptions are constantly changing. According to him, individual and particular sense perceptions, which are directly dependent on the sense organ and subject-object relationship, can never give us information about the nature and truth of existence (Kindî, 2002: 144-145).


The mind, which Kindi defines as “the simple substance that grasps the truth of existence” (Kindî, 2002: 185), is the most important power and function of the human soul, and it comprehends universals such as genus and species, and a priori information that transcends sense perception.

According to the philosopher, who draws attention to the fact that while there is a material form or image of objects appearing in the mind in the sense perception, such an image cannot be mentioned in the cognition of the mind, according to the philosopher;