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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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4. Source of Knowledge


There has remained controversy over the possible sources of knowledge only because knowledge has not been clearly defined so far. In light of the definition that we have developed, the sources of knowledge need to be identified as distinct from the process of creating knowledge as well as from its foundation. The great philosopher Kant (1724-1804) took such a view to reconcile the one-sided views of his rationalist and empiricist predecessors. He held the view that:

“Knowledge depends on the interaction of two factors: on the one hand, what is given in perception, namely, sensory states passively caused by objects outside the mind, and, on the other, the way the mind actively (“spontaneously”) organizes these data under concepts and thus makes judgments that are expressible in propositions (Stevension and Haberman, 1998:116)".

Our reasoning leads usoward the same conclusion. While Kant’s focus was on the source and method of knowledge, our focus is on its definition. In our view, the foundation of knowledge is logic, which is why any thought not presented in a logically valid way is not knowledge even if it contains facts. If the structure of a thought is not logical, then, even if its content is true, it is not knowledge. That is because a thought cannot be a picture of reality unless and until its content is true and foundation logical. This necessitates us to limit the possible sources as well as the process of creating knowledge. Thus only the scientific processes of knowledge creation are to be considered valid. And as for the sources, they must be the ones to which the scientific processes can be applied. It is only because of the lack of proper clarification of these concepts that the two schools of thought¾ rationalism and empiricism ¾ have not been able to come to terms with each other with regard to the theory of knowledge. In fact, only facts, summarized forms of information gathered from reality, can be the source of knowledge. And we should remember that what is the source of knowledge becomes the content of knowledge after the knowledge has been earned. This is true of the process as well as the foundation. As a result, the methods applied to earn knowledge themselves become part of the knowledge. This is the most abstruse characteristic of knowledge that has confused philosophers and led them to various ambiguous conclusions.

Here comes the question of consciousness, which is nothing but thought about the process of thought itself. There can never be only consciousness; there can only be consciousness of ¾that is, it must have a reference ¾ a reference not to facts, but to the thought containing such facts. For example, when one says, "I know something," then he talks of the knowledge of a certain fact; but when he says, "I know that I know something," then he talks of the consciousness of the possibility of a certain type of knowledge, not of the knowledge itself. Consciousness, unlike knowledge, may not have a fact as a content; rather, there may be consciousness of the absence of a content. For example, when somebody says," I know that I do not know something," he refers to a consciousness with no content. So, while there cannot be any knowledge of the absence of a content, there can be consciousness of the absence of knowledge. This is why most philosophers have confused knowledge with consciousness. Moreover, it is natural that any philosophical discussion of knowledge should tend to escape the boundary of scientific methods, leading one toward the undefined domain of metaphysics. Wittgenstein was able to identify this fact, which he expressed, these words :"The theory of knowledge is the philosophy of psychology (Wittgenstein 1981:77)."

So, when we talk of knowledge creation through some concrete methods, we must confine ourselves to the boundary of empiricism, and when we talk of theory of knowledge, we must, having borrowed all the raw material from empiricism, move into the broader and logically consistent domain of rationalism. Keeping this apparent duality in mind, we must say that the only source of knowledge is the reality.



Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an