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Theory of Knowledge

Reconstruction of Qur’anic Thoughts with an Attempt to Unify Rationalism and Empiricism

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

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2. The Controversy


“What is knowledge? What is its source? Can knowledge be created at all, and if yes, how?” These are the questions that have made man think for thousands of years. But it is a controversial issue up till now.

Epistemologists are commonly divided into empiricists, like Locke, Berkley and Hume, and rationalists, like Plato, Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. The empiricists are said to maintain that all our ideas come from experience; the rationalists that some of our ideas come not from experience but from reason or thought. But what does this apparent tug-of-war amount to? What does ‘come from’ mean? What does ‘experience’ mean? (Gilbert Ryle in Urmson and Re¢e, eds., 1991: 98).

Obviously, these questions have only been partly answered through ages. A very useful question regarding the issue is: “To what extent is empiricism or rationalism successful in its attempt to create knowledge?” While no one has yet given any logical and philosophical answer to this question, different scholars have given pragmatic answers on the basis of their own judgments. For example, the great scientist Albert Einstein opined as follows (Einstein 1995 : 19ff):

In the evolution of philosophic thought through the centuries the following question has played a major role: what knowledge is pure thought able to supply independently of sense perception? Is there any such knowledge? If not, what precisely is the relation between our knowledge and the raw material furnished by sense impression?

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Gradually the conviction gained recognition that all knowledge about things is exclusively a working-over of the raw material furnished by the senses. But this conviction does not rest on the supposition that anyone has actually proved the impossibility of gaining knowledge of reality by means of pure speculation, but rather upon the fact that the empirical … procedure alone has shown its capacity to be the source of knowledge. Galileo and Hume first upheld this principle with full clarity and decisiveness. 

It seems that most of the controversy centers around the sourceof knowledge, rather than the formsof it. But a subtle analysis reveals the truth that much of the controversy is due to the apparent vagueness in the definition of knowledge put forward by various schools of thought. Therefore, the present work is going to redefine knowledge and the related terms.


Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an