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Reflection on Kantian Epistemology

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By Amir Suhail Wani

In our previous articles revolving around philosophy the main objective has been to demonstrate different theories of reality as conceived and expounded by eminent philosophers, who are simultaneously representatives of different schools of philosophy. On the contrary, the reader should not assume that previous those articles were aimed at outlining the history of philosophy or philosophers, for our ultimate aim is to arrive at a consistent, comprehensive and an ever encompassing picture of man. This task will be futile lest we trace the evolution of human thought and elucidate the picture of man as portrayed during different phases of history. But again, such a view will be incomplete, lest we also incorporate the different “world views”, as existed during different epochs of our intellectual evolution. Our task now is to summon major world views or “theories of reality” before we proceed to Kant and his philosophical criticism. However we content ourselves only with precise description of each theory, without going into its critical and historical analysis.


Besides investigating the origin and purpose of creation, the ontological and teleological aspects of the universe, philosophers from antiquity have also pondered on the “stuff or constitution” of the universe. As Allama opens his book, “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, with an interrogative phrase that, “What is the character and general structure of the universe in which we live? Is there a permanent element in the constitution of the universe? How are we related to it? What place do we occupy in it and what is the kind of conduct that befits the place we occupy.”

Broadly speaking, this question has been answered by philosophers from three different perspectives, and consequently, we have three broad theories of reality, these are monism, dualism and pluralism.


Monism is a theory of reality which insists that the ultimate stuff of the world is one. Then this “one” is interpreted in multiple forms. If it is assumed that this ultimate stuff or “one” is matter, then this view is called materialism. Materialism asserts that there is finally one reality- matter. To materialists, even mind is a (evolved) form of matter, and there is nothing like idea, spirit or unseen in the materialist ambit. This theory emerged as an exaggerated exegesis of Newtonian mechanics. Some of Newton’s predecessors unlawfully applied the laws of matter to the realm of spirit, and consequently, there ensued a whole new doctrine of inconsistencies and fallacies. The reality is, essence cannot be matter, for there are innumerable phenomena within the fabric of physics itself that cannot be properly understood or interpreted in terms of pure materialism. For the comprehensive interpretation of the universe, we need to invoke immaterial entity called energy, philosophically known as the divine will (Amr).


Another version of monism is idealism, which also asserts that the reality is one, that one being, the mind or spirit. Averse to materialism, idealists hold that matter is at its best a construction or representation of the mind. Patrick beautifully writes: “Thus the idealists would deny that the mechanical interpretation of the world is in any way final. The universe is not a dead mechanical ruthless grinding of wheels, wherein values, religion and moral aspirations are but stupid delusions; it is rather, a living dynamic reality which guarantees a cosmic worth to human striving and interprets the world in the light of spiritual values”. Einstein’s all time famous equation E =mc2 does not merely point to the “matter-energy interconversion”, but it has also abolished the age old dogma of the dualistic view of reality. This critical analysis has to a large extent, encompassed the maxims of dualism, however, it may be further mentioned that, dualism is a theory which asserts that matter and body are two different realities in the world, and that, they cannot be reduced to one or to the other. The third form of monism is called neutralism, which holds that the reality is neither mind nor matter, but a single kind of stuff of which both mind and matter are, but manifestations. In modern parlance, the reality of universe is neither in matter nor in energy because the reciprocal inter conversion of matter- energy has uprooted the dichotomy of physical (matter) and spiritual (energy) dualism, and has established matter as well as energy, both manifestations of the divine will, that can be freely interchanged and transformed into one another. This belief of unity is further reinforced by the theory of Quantum Electrodynamics that does not see universe as static but a dynamic arena, where matter and energy are spontaneously created and destroyed.


Ghalib, who was not a philosopher in the strict sense, made some allusions to some of the most perplexing philosophical themes. On world, he said:

“Keh sake kaun ki yeh jalwagaru kis ki hai

Parda choda hai wo us ne ko uthaye na bane

Ghalib hereby tries to uphold the multitude of the universe and the multi-formity of the cosmic phenomenon. Same is the belief of pluralists, who hold that world is not so simple to be reduced to matter or spirit. The reality of world is a manifold, which cannot be decomposed to further simple constituents. Thus, whereas monism holds unity in diversity, pluralism holds diversity in unity. This discussion shall be borne in mind, before we proceed and venture into the continental philosophy. For time being, we turn to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant was simultaneously a logician, mathematician, philosopher and metaphysic Ian. Among his masterworks “Critique of Pure Reason”, “Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics” and deserve special mention. In critique, he investigates the reality of “Knowledge”. Kant maintained that, there are certain forms of sense and categories of understanding, which precondition what we actually call knowledge. Further, “these forms and categories apply only things of sense, so, that the only knowledge man is capable of, is confined to the region of actual or possible experience”.

But on a genuine analysis, one cannot wholeheartedly accept Kantian view, for there are two more sources of knowledge. One of them being intuition, in the form of a special psychological experience, which, as Bergson holds is an advanced form of intellect or else in the form of dreams, later turns to be realities, the best example being the dream of Freidrich August Kekule, to whom the structure of benzene was disclose in a dream. The second important source of knowledge is that of divine revelation which cannot be ignored in any comprehensive concept of knowledge. Iqbal rightly said that: “Revelation is more fundamental as the source of ultimate truth and reality, reason should merely confirm what is given by revelation.”

Due to negligence of Kant to latter two sources of knowledge, Kant’s phenomenalism is prone to heavy criticism, for it eroded the garb of religion. Again, lqbal remarks wisely that, “It cannot, however, be denied that Ghazali’s mission was almost apostolic like that of Kant in Germany of the eighteenth century. In Germany, rationalism appeared as an ally to religion, but she soon realized that the dogmatic side of religion was incapable of demonstration. The only course open to her was to eliminate dogma from the sacred record. With the elimination of dogma came the utilitarian view of morality, and thus rationalism completed the reign of unbelief. There is however, one important difference between Ghazali and Kant. Kant, consistently with his principles, could not affirm the possibility of a Knowledge of God. Ghazali finding no hope in analytic thought moved to mystic experience, and there found an independent content for religion. In this way, he succeeded in securing the right to exist independently of science and mysticism”.

Kant, like many of his predecessors, held that humans occupy a special place in scheme of creation, and in the words of James Rachel’s, “human beings have an intrinsic worth, i.e., dignity, which makes them valuable above all price.

Other animals, by contrast, have value only insofar as they serve human purposes.”

Kant believes that this intrinsic worth is due to the rational nature of humans, who are bestowed with the faculty to think, analyse, judge and act rationally. To some extent, we may comply with this theory, for when angels challenged their superiority over Adam, the God Almighty invoked the intellect and rational nature of man to establish his superiority over angels and other creatures.

So it must be understood that, the elements of intellect and the art of acquiring knowledge are prime attributes of human nature, whosoever digresses from these parameters, in fact digresses from the human race itself. But the Kantian approach towards the existence of God was one of ambiguous and hesitant nature. Kant asserted that, because of the limitations of argumentation in the absence of irrefutable evidence, no one could really know whether there is a God and an afterlife, or not. For the sake of morality and as a ground for reason, Kant asserted that, people are justified in believing in God, even though they could never know God’s presence empirically. To Kant also goes the due for institutionalization of “Voluntaristic Idealism”, the doctrine which holds the primacy of will or idea. This doctrine was brought to climax by Schopenhauer, who in his book, “The World as Will and Idea”, which heralds with an epoch making statement that, “The world is my idea”. As Ghalib puts it:

“Hasti ke mat faraib mein aa jaiyo Asad

Aalam tamam halqa daam e khayal hai.”

This completes the Kantian picture of human nature, and of the universe in general, as much as is demanded by our purpose for our future continuation of the discourse.