ما ناقشت عالمأُ الا غلبته وما ناقشت جاهلاً الا غلبني
From the Prophet Muhammad's cousin. It means I have never debated with a knowledgable person and not won, and never debated with an ignorant person and not lost. This phrase can imply that the person speaking is ignorant, or it can imply that they are knowledgable - but then again an ignorant person reading this would think that. If we look closely at this we see that he has distinguished between two ways of knowing, being knowledgable or being ignorant. But "winning" over the knowledgable person does not make them ignorant and likewise losing to the ignorant person does not mean they are knowledgable, or that you are ignorant. Possessing knowledge, or not, is a property which you either have or you don't, but it seems that winning a debate or discussion is not contingent on that. By categorising these two states and referring to them in the same phrase, the speaker is distinguishing between them, and the state that he is in. I think this state refers to wisdom. But then how can we make sense of his words
ما الفخر الا لأهل العلم انهم - على الهدى لمن استهدى أدلاء
و قدر كل أمرء ما كان يحسنه - و الجاهلون لأهل العلم أعداء
ففز بعلم تعش حياً به أبدا - الناس موتى و أهل العلم أحياء
For he talks about knowledge as being what distinguishes those who possess it from everyone else. This problem can be eased if we view knowledge as wisdom in this context, for lots of people "know" something, whether to carry out their work, as part of their education at school or just for having hobbies. When we consider that people who are wise would possess wisdom AND know how to use knowledge, then we are talking about something which most people do not possess. Only then can we truly say that the people are dead whilst those with wisdom live on. This is speculation on my part, but it is plausible that this is what he had meant. This reminds me of the writings of Ali Shariati and his "Enlightened" person. Enlightened does not mean that they are educated and the opposite is also true, for those who are educated seldom recognise that they are being colonised and are sometimes active and willing participants in their own oppression. To avoid this, a certain wisdom or enlightenment is required, and to obtain this enlightenment, a certain disposition is needed and is there either by nature or gradually acquired through habit and self discipline.
So what is wisdom? It is clearly more valuable than the state that most people are in, in fact it is the most valuable thing. Since we are by nature, lovers of the good, then obtaining this, the most valuable of things, is surely our greatest reason for happiness - which we all aim at in our actions. So how can we obtain it? Well knowing what causes the opposite of happiness, sorrow, can help us just as well. Al Kindi had written a treatise on the Dispelling of Sorrows. He argued that by knowing the cause of an ailment, we know it's cure. Sorrow is caused by two things: the loss of something we love or when we fail to achieve something we desire. Since by nature, most things in this world we inhabit are destined to break, be lost, get stolen or die and leave us, then it seems that we are destined for perpetual sorrow.
Yet there are things which we grasp with that part of us which makes us rational, human and thinking creatures that are beyond this world of corruption and generation. These things are permanent, non-changing and eternal. In desiring these things we would, on obtaining them, be eternally happy, since once they are firmly in our minds then they cannot be taken from us, nor would they ever leave us. To desire something which is by its nature perishable, to want for ourselves exclusively what can belong to anyone else, to want to hold someone who could also turn their back on you, is to want something to be what it is not in its nature to be. To want something which is not in nature is to want something which does not exist and to want something which does not exist is to search in vain. To search in vain is to be unhappy. So to desire things in this world we inhabit is to be unhappy. For al Kindi, happiness is obtained through a life of seeking what is eternal, and this is done through philosophy, which complements and is not opposed to true, revealed religion, since they seek the same source.