Iqbal's Theory of Knowledge

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  • Topic: Truth, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Muhammad Iqbal
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IQBAL'S THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
BY: JAMEELA KHATOON

IQBAL REVIEW
Journal of the Iqbal Academy, Pakistan
April 1960 – Volume: 01– Number: 1

Iqbal cannot be classed under any of the three schools of philosophical thought: the empiricist, the rationalist or the intuitionist. In his theory of knowledge, sense perception, reason and intuition, all are combined in an organic whole. He knew full well that light from one direction alone could not illumine the whole of reality in all its manifestations. The ontological problem needs to be approached from all angles, scientific and religious, in order to secure some articulate, luminous and well-established grounds. It is in the light of this view that he advances his theory of knowledge, which promises both direct evidence and indirect experience of God or Reality—the former by intuition or immediate experience and the latter by reflective thought. Rationalism, though not admired, is not wholly condemned and discarded by him. On the contrary, according to him, if rationalism is not divorced from concrete reality, it represents truth. This is visible from his own attitude and is also betrayed by his admiration for prophets and mystics and non-mystic rationalists, whose quest and yearning for a coherent system of ideas resting on a rational foundation and rendering religion more secure and fruitful is well-known[1]. He admits and justifies the metaphysical methods. In his words, "Now since the transformation and guidance of man's inner and outer life is the essential aim of religion, it is obvious that the religious truths which it embodies must not remain unsettled. No one would hazard action on the basis of doubtful principles of conduct. Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science. Science may even ignore a rational metaphysics; indeed it has ignored it so far. Religion can hardly afford to ignore the search for a reconciliation of the opposition of experience and justification of the environment in which humanity finds itself."[2] But rationalism, as preached by Iqbal, is not based upon logical categories or mere abstract representations. Born of and nursed in the realism of purely abstract ideas it is not divorced from concrete, reality. It has a definite function to perform which should not, however, be over-emphasised to the detriment of other knowledge-yielding elements—at the expense of sense experience and other sources of knowledge. Thus, while Iqbal embraces rationalism, he is not prepared to justify it at the cost of sense experience. Abstract thinking apart from the latter is of no consequence and even dangerous. He criticises Socrates, Plato, Mu'tazilites and other thinkers for avoiding visible reality as unreliable and misleading. Socrates restricts the field of inquiry to the human problems particularly to morality. "Trees", he says, "can teach me nothing." Even within the human field he believes knowledge is possible only through concepts.[3] Only reason could give true and ultimate know-ledge; sensation gives only imagination or at the most belief. Plato also accuses sense-perception as capable of giving mere opinion and not real knowledge. He rests all knowledge upon pure reason and weaves the whole fabric of Supreme and Ultimate Reality out of ideas, taken as Eternal and Really Real. This attitude towards sense-perception is not without a parallel in the subsequent thought. Ibn Rushd and Al-Ghazali, the former while defending and the latter while attacking Greek Philosophy, have troddden the same path as far as the avoidance of empirical reality is concerned. Iqbal attacks Ibn Rushd as well as Al-Ghazali. He contends that Ibn Rushd, through his doctrine of Immortality of the Active Intellect, takes a view opposed to what the Qur'an has to say about the value and destiny of the human ego, and thus obscures man's vision of himself, his...
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