The Logic of Al-Kindi (185-252 AH – 801-866 CE)

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

‘Through the assiduous study of mathematics and Aristole’s books it is possible to acquire knowledge of what is true.’

al-Kindi, Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq (d. c.866-73)

Known as Yasqib Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, Al Kindi is often referred to as the ‘first Islamic philosopher’ (or ‘first philosopher of the Arabs’), in as much as he actively studied the works of the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and offered a systematic approach to explaining the many topics relating to Islamic philosophy, which were extensively debated during his life-time. This included issues such as the nature of creation, immortality, the knowledge of god, and the subject of prophecy. Although not all of his ideas were accepted within the consensus of Islamic thinking, nevertheless, his ideas about immortality and the individual soul have stood the test of time, as has his ability to clearly discern and define human knowledge, as being distinct from ‘revealed’ knowledge. Although he fully embraced the agency of human knowledge, he never deviated from the idea that revealed (or ‘prophetic’) knowledge was superior, and in the final analysis, easier to attain.

Al Kindi was born in Basra (Iraq), and was educated in Baghdad, where he eventually served under caliphs al-Min’mun (813-833 CE), and al-Mu’tasim (833-842 CE) as a personal tutor, and was recognised as a preeminent astrologer. He studied Greek, Persian and Indian wisdom, and was responsible for Greek philosophical texts being imported into the State funded Academy in Baghdad, where they were carefully translated into Arabic, and studied by Islamic scholars. Al Kindi’s willingness to read widely, and learn from wisdom traditions outside of Islamic theology, led to the establishment of logic and reason within the Islamic tradition, whereby another layer of interpretive discourse was developed, through which Islamic theology could be interpreted. Al Kindi did not perceive this process as one culture invading (and displacing) another, but understood the different wisdom traditions as being representative of distinct methods of using the human mind to solve mundane and supramundane issues of human existence. This demonstrates that ‘difference’ can be accommodated without necessarily disrupting prevailing cultures or modes of thought (religious or otherwise).

How Plotinus Makes Use of the Material World

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

I include below two extracts from the ‘Enneads’ (Gk: ‘the nines’) – or what might be referred to as the ‘nine categories’ of the life work of the great Greek philosopher Plotinus (204-270 CE). I doubt Plotinus – who did not even care about the state of his physical body – would have cared much whether his words were passed on or not. We owe a debt of gratitude for the preservation of these essentially beautiful words, to the untiring efforts of the main student of Plotinus – namely ‘Porphyry’.  In my opinion, far too much is said about Plotinus that diverts the student of inner development away from the correct path. Although, for instance, often and continuously referred to as the ‘founder’ of neo-Platonism, Plotinus had a teacher – Ammonius Saccas (of Alexandria in Egypt) – and if anyone was responsible for creating a ‘new wave’ of Plato’s philosophical understanding, it was Ammonius Saccas and not Plotinus, but neither man, I suspect, would have recognised the term ‘neo-Platonism’ – stating that what they follow is the ‘correct’ or ‘true’ lineage of Plato (as originally taught to Plato by Socrates, and eventually passed on to Aristotle), which has been precisely and exactly passed down through the generations over hundreds of years. In this respect, this approach is very similar to the spiritual lineages of Chinese civilisation, whereby a qualified master carefully teaches a few good disciples over many decades, to follow a systematic path of physical discipline and psychological development. Plotinus advocates a relationship with the physical world that involves an understanding of it as incomplete, but otherwise definitely existing in nature, in a sense that its ‘heaviness’ can keep the average person anchored firmly to the temporal realm, with no ability to ‘see beyond’ its superficial manifestation. Regardless of the sophistication of his method, that is the rarefied and clear dissection of perception and non-perception – Plotinus NEVER denies the existence of the material world – he simply uses it as the springboard for his method. If there was no material world (which is often admitted as being ‘beautiful’ by Plotinus), there could be no transcendent method. The point is that the realm of ideas (for Plotinus) exists within the material world, but also appears to exist as if disembodied from it – and yet it is only within a human-body, that the reality that Plotinus believes lies beyond its material limitations, is realised. This is a point often missed by those who would have use believe that Plotinus ‘rejects’ the relevancy or existence of the material world, he certainly does not. For all its limitations and inconsistencies, without a material world that provides (through evolutionary development) a conscious being to appreciate it, there can be no ‘transcendent’ system of philosophical insight. Therefore, it must be truthfully stated (as Plotinus does), that a continuously changing beauty exists beyond any concepts of ‘static’ beauty, and that such a beauty with regards to that which lives is ‘beautiful’, but that even that which is ‘dead’ is also ‘beautiful’ when viewed in a certain way. Although Plotinus advocates (for a time) a ruthlessly ‘looking within’, he does not permanently ‘reject’ the physical world he strives to ‘look beyond’. He fully admits that once a higher view of existence is attained, it must be applied not only to the realm beyond material existence, but also to the material world itself. The beauty of insight is applicable to both form and void, and yet lies also beyond form and void (with no inherent contradiction). For Plotinus, true beauty is arrived at through a strict and disciplined life-style and form of meditation – and yet once inner and outer unity successfully realised – it has absolutely nothing to do with the method through which it has been attained.

‘He that has the strength, let him arise and withdraw into himself, foregoing all that is known by the eyes, turning away for ever from the material beauty that once made his joy. When he perceives those shapes of grace that show in body, let him not pursue: he must know them for copies, vestiges, shadows, and hasten away towards That they tell of. For if anyone follow what is like a beautiful shape playing over water- is there not a myth telling in symbol of such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? So too, one that is held by material beauty and will not break free shall be precipitated, not in body but in Soul, down to the dark depths loathed of the Intellective-Being, where, blind even in the Lower-World, he shall have commerce only with shadows, there as here.’

Plotinus: 1st Ennead – 6th Tractate – 8th Section

‘Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity- when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step- you need a guide no longer- strain, and see.’

Plotinus: 1st Ennead – 6th Tractate – 9th Section

The Historicity of Buddha’s Rationality

00000000000000000000000000000000

The Buddha’s path, particularly in its oldest known form, appears to be comprised of a system of thought premised upon the use of a clean logic and a pristine reason.  This observation has led a number of commentators in the West to ascribe the term ‘modern’ to the Dharma, and thereby suggest that the Buddha, as a learned man (who probably could not read or write), was the first modern thinker, perhaps even predating the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (an ancient Greek colony situated Turkey), who lived during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.  Of course, such an assertion is assisted if the lifetime date of the Buddha is more inaccordance with the Chinese Buddhist tradition that gives the years as 1028/29 –  948/49 BCE, than it is with current Western dating (accepted by the Theravada tradition since the 1950’s) as being (with slight variation) 563 – 483 BC. whereas Thales of Miletus lived between 624 – 546 BCE.  However, it may be that regardless of which distinct culture appeared to give rise to logic first, it could well have been a species-wide evolutionary development, as the work of Laozi (d, 531 BCE), Confucius (551-479 BCE), Zhuangzi (370-287 BC), demonstrate in ancient China, as all appear to utilise logical schemes for their systems of philosophy.  However, as unique as the Buddha’s thinking undoubtedly is, logic dictates that it did not develop in a vacuum, and did not suddenly appear as ‘out of thin air’.  Regardless of its epoch-changing ramifications, the Buddha’s system of logic was the consequence of well-established historical trends and conditions, observable in ancient India through the development of her systems of thought.  In my view, the clearest and most concise thinking on this matter has been written by Satkari Mookerjee, in his excellent book entitled ‘The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux’ (re-printed 2006) which explains the fundamental trends that have underpinned the various and diverse systems of India thought, in the times prior to the rising of Buddhist thought.  Needless to say, there is no need for fanciful theories of ‘outside’ interference or guidance, or recourse to the notion that ancient aliens ‘implanted’ this ‘new’ type of thinking into the minds of humanity.  It is also clear that the Buddha’s system of thinking arose entirely within the milieu associated with Indian philosophical thought, and was not ‘imported’ from ancient Greece or elsewhere.  Intense dialectical competition between the existing and competing schools ensured a very high quality of developed thought-system, that continued to exist as ‘valid’ within Indian society, or was thoroughly vanquished into the oblivion of ‘falsehood’ on the battlefield of debate.:

‘What is, however, particularly refreshing in this tense atmosphere of fighting is the fact of the earnestness of the fighters.  Though all cannot be regarded as equally honest or honourable in their method, their earnestness and sincerity are beyond doubt or cavil.  The fighting has all the freshness of life and reality.  There is an air of unreality about it.  In fact, they fought for what they believed to be a question of life and death.  Philosophy was not a matter of academic interest in India.  Change of philosophy meant the change of entire outlook and orientation in life.  Victory in a philosophical debate, therefore, was essential to the preservation of one’s religion and mode of life, defeat spelt inglorious death or apostasy from the accepted faith.  There was, in fact, no line of demarcation between philosophy and religion in India.  A religion without a philosophical backing was unthinkable.

The cleavage between philosophy and religion is pronounced where religion is held to be a matter of unquestioning faith irrespective of a philosophical sanction.  But in India the two were identical.  So even the atheists had their own religion because philosophy and religion were one.  Belief had to submit to the test of logic, and a faith that was not warranted by philosophic conviction, was rightly regarded as perverse dogmatism which has no right to the allegiance of a man of sound education and culture.  It is this fact of intellectual honesty and spiritual earnestness that account for the intensity and desperate character of this fighting for opinion among ancient philosophers of India.  As has been aptly observed by Prof. Dasgupta with his characteristic insight, “The systems of philosophy in India were not stirred up merely by the speculative demands of the human mind, but by a deep craving after the realisation of the religious purpose of life.” Ignorance of this peculiarity of the Indian mind has been responsible for the so-called charge of scholasticism that has been laid at the door of Indian philosophy.  Philosophy was not the fad of intellectual satisfaction or for the purpose of whiling away their idle hours.  It was, on the contrary, the earnest quest of truth and life’s purpose and nothing short of truth could give its votaries peace or satisfy their ardent mins.  And the intensity of this craving was not appeased except by a thoroughgoing and meticulous application of the truth to every detail of life.  Accordingly, no fictitious barrier between religion and philosophy was tolerated.

If religion was not sanctioned and inspired by philosophy, it was regarded as a useless superstition.  If philosophy was not lived in actual religion, it was rightly held to be a mere waste of time and a dereliction from life’s true purpose and mission.  As Prof. Sir S Radhakrishnan observes with his inimitable felicity of expression, “In many other countries reflection on the nature of existence is a luxury of life.  The serious moments are given to action, while the pursuit of philosophy comes up as a parenthesis.  In ancient India philosophy was not an auxiliary to any other science or art, but always held a prominent position of independence.”  The true criterion of philosophy and scholasticism therefore should be sought not in the identity of the interests of religion and philosophy, which, to my mind, far from being an occasion of halting apology, constitutes the very apex and perfection pf both of them.  The criterion, in my humble judgment, should be the crucial test as to whether or not the pursuit of philosophy is inspired by an unremitting and unhesitating enquiry after truth and whether it is only an after-thought, a metaphysical eyewash, ot a clever subterfuge to bolster up a pet dogma.  If this criterion is accepted and applied, Indian philosophy will, we believe, come out in triumphant glory.  Unquestioning, blind faith may be shameful superstition, but the studious endeavour to keep religion apart from philosophy is a perversity of mind, of which we should be equally ashamed.  To keep philosophy again in a water-tight compartment and to prevent it deliberately from finding its fulfilment in religion constitutes an unpardonable case of moral cowardice, insincerity of purpose and shallow dilettantism,

There might be a semblance of justification or excuse for the charge of scholasticism against the course of philosophic thought in some Brahmanical schools (which we believe, we have succeeded in proving to be without foundation); but this indictment cannot be brought against Buddhist philosophy with any show of plausibility.  From the very beginning Buddhism has been critical In its spirit.  Lord Buddha was an intellectual giant and a rationalist above anything else.  He exhorted his disciples to accept nothing on trust. “Just as people test the purity of gold by burning it in fire, by cutting it and by examining it on a touchstone, so exactly you should, O ye monks! Accept my words after subjecting them to a critical test and not out of reverence for me.”  These words of the Buddha furnish the key to the true spirit of Buddhist philosophy throughout its career.  And this freedom of thought encouraged by Buddha was responsible for the schism in the Buddhist church and for division of Buddhist philosophy into so many divergent schools.  This should not be regarded as a matter of regret; on the contrary, we should read in it the signs of pulsating life.’

(The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux: By Satkari Mookerjee, Motilal, [2006], Pages xxxviii-xl)

Whereas Greek philosophy developed in fits and starts, in a more or less haphazard affair over hundreds of years, culminating in the sublime rationality of Socrates, Plato (and much later Plotinus), the Buddha’s system of thought appeared on the world stage already ‘complete’ and in its finished form.  He undoubtedly made use of Brahmanic and yogic phraseology and practises, but he completely changed how these terms were interpreted and applied.  He made use of the prevailing conventions and habit of thought prevalent in ancient India, and radically broke with the past and conveyed a thoroughly ‘new’ system of thought free of the reliance upon theology and superstition.  The Buddha delivered his understanding in a devastatingly intellectual fashion that was very much part of the Indian tradition.  Without recourse to greed, hatred and delusion, the Buddha used a crushingly calm logic to counter, uproot, and dissolve all opposition to his definition of reality.  In this regard, the Buddha may be viewed as an inevitable product (perhaps its ‘apex’) of the ancient Indian habit of applying ‘logical’ assessment to every manifest theory.  This being the case, it would appear that the Buddha’s insight was home-grown within Indian culture, and not the product of the ancient Greek method of thought in migration.  By the time Greek thought matured, the Buddha’s advanced logical thought was already old.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: