Iqbal posits three sources of human knowledge: nature, history, and inner experience. The human mind is endowed with the ability to conceptualize all that it observes. And, contrary to what many philosophers have asserted, Iqbal finds this conceptualization to be in congruence with the reality outside the self.
Therefore, the environment of the self—i.e. nature—is a legitimate source of knowledge. But by ‘nature’ Iqbal does not simply mean the natural world; rather, he means all reality outside the self. Thus, by making ‘nature’ a legitimate source of action, Iqbal is not merely affirming the worth of the scientific endeavor. He is also making the knowledge and meanings embodied in communal institutions, mores, religion, etc., as relevant sources of knowledge for the individual ego. However, he singles out History as a separate source of knowledge.

 This is so because even though historical knowledge is also contained within the world outside the self, its content is different. While residing in the world now, History conveys to the individual a sense of all that has gone before, thus providing a sense of continuity with the past. However, these two modes of acquiring knowledge—Nature and History—are both contained outside the self; the flow of information, therefore, is from outside the self towards the self. And this flow makes the self a passive recipient of knowledge—and passivity, as we have seen, is anathema for Iqbal’s concept of the personality. It is the third source of knowledge, then, which is crucial to Iqbal: inner experience. Iqbal call this inner experience ‘intuition,’ and makes it a ‘higher form of intellect.’ It is ‘intellectual’ because the products of this experience have a definite cognitive content; it is a ‘higher form’ because while normal discursive or analytical intellect approaches Reality piecemeal in serial time, intuition apprehends Reality in its wholeness in non-serial time. This inner experience, for Iqbal, plays multifarious roles—in ascertaining the spiritual nature of all reality, especially of the human self; for corroborating the validity of the knowledge derived from History and Nature; and, most importantly, for providing an independent content of knowledge for the individual, as well synthesizing the knowledge derived from the other sources into a unique product. This, then, is for Iqbal, the creative process that preserves the individuality of the self, and rather than making it a passive recipient of knowledge, makes it the active creator of unique knowledge. The individual ego thus acquires knowledge through Nature, History, and inner experience. The relationship between knowledge and the human personality can now be elaborated.


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