Archive for January, 2020

Ayatollah Mutahhari was one of the most profound ‘ulama of the 20th century. Here follows a summary of some his views on knowledge. The numbers are references to page numbers in The Theory of Knowledge: An Islamic Perspective, trans. Mansoor Limba (published in 2011 by ICAS Press in London on behalf of an Iranian institution called “Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies”).

Both individuals and groups have “worldviews,” and those worldviews give rise to “ideologies” about how individuals and groups should live. In classical terminology, these were referred to as “theoretical wisdom” and “practical wisdom.” [2-3] A worldview is built on knowledge, which is either correct or incorrect. [4] Various thinkers explored the limits of doubt, but the fact that one believes one can distinguish true versus false perceptions is proof enough that knowledge is possible. [5-11]

The Qur’an exalts knowledge in the story of Adam, and encourages humanity to seek deeper knowledge of all things. [12-21] Both the senses and the intellect are required to generate sound knowledge [28-32], and the Qur’an upholds this view. [32-37] The heart also plays a role, and this is acknowledged by the Qur’an. Each has their own sphere and proper functioning. [38-46]

Nature itself is a source of knowledge, and the senses are the tools to access it. The intellect and heart are also sources of knowledge, and philosophical thought and refinement of the self are the tools to access these sources respectively. [54-8] History is also a source of knowledge. [69-73] The Qur’an denies false distinctions between outward objective reality and inward subjective reality. [58-63]

There are varying views of the stages of knowledge, but the main point is that the senses take in particulars from nature, and the intellect derives more general insights from analysis of these particulars. In this regard there are two fundamental stages of knowledge: perception and analysis of those perceptions. [77-103] Attachment based on love and aversion based on hatred can color our perceptions of reality. [117-121] Knowledge itself is not experienced through direct perception. It exists as an immaterial symbolic reality, which pushes us toward greater awareness of the immaterial realm. [124-130]

The normal operations of the mind exist on the basis of the unconscious mind, which is far vaster. [134-140] The existence of the immaterial unconscious mind is analogous to the immaterial unseen realm upon which this universe is built. Abraham, upon him peace, followed this line of reasoning to its ultimate conclusion, that there was only One unseen Creator of all that is perceptible. [142-147]

Focusing on whether or not knowledge can be put into action – for example, the way an engineer uses her knowledge to make a smartphone – is only one criteria of validity. The answers to many questions, such as the origin of the universe, are not actionable, and therefore their validity is not determined by their usefulness. [157-166] The widespread acceptance of a view, even by the learned, is not a proof in and of itself. [173-8] For example, the widespread acceptance of a view, combined with the focus on putting knowledge into action, is not foolproof. Ptolemaic observers of the heavenly bodies could accurately predict solar and lunar eclipses, and their views were widely accepted. [189]

Leaving aside a quest for true knowledge turns knowledge into a tool for wielding power. [204] Even focusing on putting knowledge into action is a type of search for true knowledge and preferable to a political nihilism that sees knowledge as nothing more than an instrument of power. [205-7] Putting knowledge into action is the foundation of all higher knowledge, and thus has its own intrinsic value. [208]

ربي زدني علما

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد


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