Saturday, November 29, 2008

al Kindi On Divine Unity and the Finitude of the World's Body

Here is a short extract from a work by al Kindi to demonstrate Divine Unity and that the world is created and not infinite. I've cut off the part where he praises the Caliph since I'll be using this post for reference during the writing of my essay on the subject and that would hardly be of any use. Still, it is interesting to see that the rulers of the Arabs or the Muslims once took a keen and genuine interest in knowledge and learning. Not like the roosters we see strutting in their own courtyards today.


The premises that are first, evident, true, and immediately intelligible are the following:
1. All bodies, none of which is greater than the other, are equal.
2. Equal things are those whose dimensions between their limits are the same, both actually and potentially.
3. The finite is not infinite.
4. When any one of equal bodies is increased by the addition of another body, it becomes the greatest of them and greater than what it was before that body was added to it.
5. When any two bodies of finite size are joined, then the body taht comes from them is of finite size, and this must be the case for any size and anything possessing a size.
6. Of any two homogenous things, the smaller measures the greater or a part of it.

If there is an infinite body, and a body of finite size is separated from it, what remains is either a finite or infinite size. If what remains is a finite size, then when the finite size that was separated from it is added to it, the body that comes to be from them is a finite size (from point 5), but the body that came to be from them before something was separated from it was an infinite size. Thus, it would be finite and infinite, and this is a contradiction.

If what remains is an infinite size, and then what was taken from it is added back to it, it becomes either greater than what it was before the addition or equal to it. If it is greater than it was, then an infinite has become greater than an infinite. Now, the smaller of two homogeneous things measures the greater of the two or a part of it, so the smaller of two infinite bodies must measure the greater of the two or a part of it. If it measures it, undoubtedly it measures a part of it, and so the smaller of the two things is equal to a part of the greater of the two bodies. Next, two equal things are two things that have the same dimensions between their limits. Therefore, the two must possess limits, and so they are finite (because equal bodies that are not similar are those that a single body measures as one and the same measure, but whose limits differ in quantity, quality or both). Thus, the smaller infinite is finite. This is a contradiction, and so neither of the two is greater than the other.

If it is not greater than it was before the readdition, then a body has beenadded to a body without any increase, and the whole of that has now become equal to what it was on its own - but on its own it is a part of the whole - as well as equal to the two parts that were combined. So, the part becomes like the whole. This is a contradiction, and so it has been made clear that a body cannot be infinite.

Moreover, the things predicated of the finite are also necessarily finite. Everything predicated of the body - whether it be quantity, place, motion, time (which is what divides motion), as well as the sum of everything predicated of the body- is then also finite, since the body is finite. Thus, the body of the univerise, as well as everything predicated of it, is finite.

Since the body of the universe can be increased without end in the imagination, in that one can imagine it is greater than it is, and then again greater than that without end, it can be increased be increased infinitely in terms of possibility. So it is potentially infinite, since potentially is nothing but the possibility of the existence of the thing said to be in potentiality. Everything predicated of something that is potentially infinite is also potentially infinite, including motion and time. Therefore, anything infinite is so only potentially, whereas nothing can be infinite actually, because of what we said above.

Now, since that is necessary, it has been made clear that time cannot be infinite actually. Time is the time of the body of the universe, I mean its duration. So, if time is finite, then the existance unique to the body of the universe is finite, since time is not itself somthing that exists. Nor is there a body without time, because time is nothing but the measure of motion - I mean that time is a duration that motion measures. Thus, if there is motion, there is time, and if there is no motion, there is no time. Next, motion is nothing but the motion of the body, and so if there is a body, there is motion, and if there is no body, there is no motion. Motion is the change of states. The change of place of all the parts of the body and its center, or all the parts of bodies alone, is locomotion. The change of place of a body's limits, whether towards the center or away from it is augmentation and diminution. The change of just its predicated qualities is alteration. The change of its substance is generation and corruption. Every change is something that measures the duration of what is changed, that is, the body, and so each change belongs to something that has a time.

Change includes being composed and composition, because it is the ordering and collecting together of things. Now, the body is a substance possessing three dimensions - I mean length, breadth, and depth. Thus, the body is a composite of the substance (which is its genus) and dimensions (which are its differences), and a composite of matter and form. The act of composition is the change of the state, in that there is no composition, and so the act of composition is a motion; if there is no motion, there is no composition. The body, as we have made clear, is a composite. If there is no motion, there is no body, and so neither body nor motion precedes the other.

Time is by means of motion, because motion is a certain change, and change is what measures the duration of what changes. So motion measures the duration of what changes, and time is the duration that motion measures. Every body has a duration, which is the state during which the body is, I mean the state during which is what it is; and, as we made clear, the body does not precede motion, nor does the body precede a duration that motion measures. Hence, body, motion, and time do not precede one another in existence, but are together in existence.

Every change occurs by means of something that partitions during duration, and the partitioned duration is the time. Before every partition of time (for example, a day) there is a partition (such as another day) until one arrives at a partition before which there is no partition, that is to say, a partitioned duration before which there is no partitioned duration. No other option is possible, since otherwise every partition of time would be preceded by another partition infinitely, and then it would never be possible to reach any posited time, because the duration from an infinite past up to the posited time would be equal to a duration ascending backward in times from the posited time to the infinite. However, if the time going from an infinite up to a determinate time is something that can be marked off, then so too from the marked-off time back through the infinite time is something that can be marked-off, and then the infinite will be something finite, which is an absolutely impossible contradiction. Moreover, if one cannot reach some determinate time unless a time before it is reached and so on infinitely, and neither the distance of what is infinite can be traversed nor its end can be reached, then one cannot traverse the temporal infinite to reach any determinate time whatsover. But a determinate time is reached. So the duration of the body is not infinite, and there is no body without a duration. So, the body's existence is not infinite but rather is finite, in which case it is impossible for any body to have existed always.

Since this is the case, the body must be something temporally created. Something created in time is the creation of a Creator, since Creator and created are correlated. Thus, the universe necessarily has a Creator who creates from nothing. Next, the Creator must be either one or many. If they are many, then they are composites, because they all share one state in common, that is, they are all agents. Anything that has one thing in common is multiple by virtue of some being separated from the others by means of a given state. So if there are many, then there are multiple differences in them, and so they are composites made up of what is common to them and what is specific to them - I mean specific to each one to the exclusion of the other. Composites, however, have a composer, because composite and composer fall under the heading of correlatives. The agent, then, must have an agent. If that is one, then it is the First Agent. If it is many, and if the agent of the many is many always ahnd this goes on infinitely, then there is something (that is, the sequence of agents) that is acutally infinite - but the falisty of this has been explained - so it has no agent. Therefore, there are not many agents, but One without any multiplicity whatsoever (glorious and exalted is He above the descriptions of the heretics!). He is unlike His creation, because there is multiplicity in all creation, and because He is eternal and they are not, since the states of whatever is in motion change, and whatever changes is not eternal.

End of quote.

1 comment:

degger said...


Thank you for this quote. It's quite interesting.

I was wondering if you can give me the source of it? I have the Arabic version of the epistle but I did not know that it is translated into english. I would like to read it and to be able to make citations from it when I needed. If you'd share with me the source of the quote, I would really appreciate that.