Intellectual Faculty

Chapter No.: 

This is the second most important faculty of man for acquiring knowledge. This distinguishes man from other animals and plants. The sensual faculty is present in animals as well, but they lack the intellectual faculty. Man has used this intellectual faculty and attained mastery over various ingredients of the universe whether they are physical, chemical, environmental or biological.

With the help of these two faculties i.e., sensual and intellectual, man has made great advances in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Biological Sciences, Geography, Astronomy and other such fields.

Those people, who saw the success of the faculty of intellect in the fields of Chemistry, Physics and other Biosciences tried to use the same tool (human intellect) for understanding the Truth. These people never succeeded in this. The Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and their followers, whose ideas supposedly moved the world, stretched their intellect to its maximum and put forward so many hypotheses about the Ultimate Truth. Though this is not the place to discuss their ideologies in detail, I would like to quote some of their main conclusions that were drawn by them about the Truth, so that one can understand the absurdity of their theories.

Theory of Emanationism:

To explain the relation of God and the world is one of the most difficult problems in the philosophy of religion. It is well nigh an impossible task and philosophers have always stumbled over it. According to Neo-plotonic theory, only one emanates from one, yet three things may emanate three kinds of knowledge possessed by first intelligence out from each kind. God did not create the world through an act of volition, for creation thus understood implies consciousness and will, both of which are limitations with regard to the Absolute. Knowing implies an object that confronts the knower as something alien to him. God being infinite and absolute has nothing outside His being; hence nothing can confront Him as something other than He.

This theory further states that the world emanates from God not directly but through intermediaries. These intermediary agencies are of various grades. First intelligence knows the god, there emanates from it the second intelligence, as it knows its own essence, there emanates from it the soul of the highest celestial sphere, and finally, as it knows itself as a possible being only, there proceeds from it the body of that sphere.

Whereas the philosophers endowed the first intelligence and in a similar fashion all the subsequent descendant intelligences, with three kinds of knowledge as stated above, they circumscribed God’s knowledge to His own glorious self-only. It was in keeping with the Aristotelian description of God as thought thinking itself, it must be itself that thought thinks and its thinking is thinking on thinking.

Theory of Cause and Effect Relation and Eternity of Matter:

These philosophers put forward the theory that cause and effect have direct relation, one cause can have one effect and that every effect must be preceded by one cause. Taking the example of the world, they say that if the world is taken as an effect, then there must have been one cause for it and for that cause also there must have been one cause and from this the Aristotelian school of thought put forward doctrine of eternity of the world. They could not understand this simple thing that for one effect there can be many causes and that can be both positive and negative and the effect can be delayed also. They also failed to understand the reality of the will of God and its relation with His creative activity. The Qur’an uses these two words “Amr” and “Khalq” to explain it.

Pringle Pattison, as quoted by Dr. lqbal, deplores the paucity of vocabulary of English language and says that English language has only one word for these two words of “Amr “ and “Khalq“ , in English both words are termed as “creation’.

Allahu Ta’ala says in the Qur’an:

أَلَا لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَالْأَمْرُ

“To Him belongs the creation and direction (Khalq and Amr).

He says that Arabic language is more fortunate to have these two words to express the two ways in which the creative activity of Allah Ta’ala reveals itself to us. On the contrary English language possesses only one word “creation” to express the relation of God and the universe on the one hand; and the relation of God on the other.

Aristotle’s Active and Passive Intellect Theory:

This is quoted from his last book on the soul (De-Anima), in which he makes the distinction between the active and creative intellect on the one hand and the passive intellect on the other. Active intellect, according to Aristotle, is the third between the object and the passive intellect, as light is the third besides the eye and the object. Thus active intellect is said to create the truths that we know just as light may be said to make colours which we perceive with its aid. We see here Aristotle’s general principle that “what is potentially, comes to be actually by the agency of something that already is actually” (Metaphysics, I049 b24). In passive intellect all concepts are merely potential, they are made real or actual by active intellect; actualised intellect thus may be called intellect in action. The active intellect is said to be separable from matter and impassive and unmixed, being in its essential nature an activity. There is no intermission in its thinking, it is only in separation from matter that it is fully itself and it alone is immortal and everlasting, while the passive intelligence is perishable and there is no thinking at all apart from this (De Anima 430).

Aristotle has left unexplained the precise relation between the active and passive intellects and the unity and individuality of the human personality. It seems vain to look in his doctrine for the possibility of personal immortality. The true interpretation of Aristotle on these points was a cause of dispute even among his own immediate disciples. It is needless to comment on these incoherent and baseless statements.


Another famous, so called rationalist philosopher, disbelieved his senses, distrusted all the knowledge acquired by him and disowned all the traditional authority and stopped at thought, finding certainty in the dictum ‘cogite ergo sum’ - ‘I think, therefore, I am’. He held that the reason was competent to explain the ultimate reality.


Famous German philosopher, on the other hand revealed the limitations of reason and reduced the whole work of rationalists to a heap of ruins, but he according to Dr. lqbal consistently, could not affirm the possibility of knowledge of God on the basis of his principles.

Kant further says that: “I think” which accompanies every thought is formal condition of thought and the transition from a purely formal condition of thought to ontological substance is logically illegitimate. He further says indivisibility of a substance does not prove its indestructibility.

Wilden Carr:

Challenging the theory that intellect is a product of evolution, he says: “If intellect is a product of evolution, the whole mechanistic concept of the nature and origin of life is absurd, and, the principle which science has adopted must clearly be revised. We have only to state it to see the self-contradiction. If intellect is an evolution of life, then the concept of life that can evolve intellect as a particular mode of apprehending reality must be the concept of more concrete activity than that of any abstract mechanical movement, which the intellect can present to itself by analysing its apprehending content. And yet further if the intellect be a product of the evolution of life, it is not absolute but relative to the activity of that which has evolved it; how then in such cases, can science exclude the subjective aspect of knowing and build on the objective presentation as an absolute? Clearly the biological sciences necessitate a reconsideration of scientific principle.

Professor Whitehead:

An eminent Mathematician and scientist, has conclusively shown that traditional theory of materialism is untenable. It is obvious that theoretically colours and sounds etc. are subjective states only and form no part of nature. He says our perceptions are illusions. His theory reduces one half of the nature to ‘dream’ and other half to the conjecture.

We cannot deny the importance of intellect in knowing the Reality but of course, it has its own limitations. It is impossible for any person to know all the pros and cons of a thing keeping everything about that thing in mind at the same time. Fancies often overlap intellect and inferences drawn by the intellect get fogged. Take the example of a dead body lying in a room; rarely would anybody sleep in that room. Though the intellect will clearly know the dead body is harmless, and there should be no problem in sleeping in that room, yet the fancy ideas overlap the intellect and people feel afraid of sleeping there. In this example one can clearly understand that many things influence the intellect. Hence its decisions cannot be fool proof; there is always possibility of errors and wrong interpretations.

Ibne Khaldoon:

A well-known Muslim Historian and father of Sociology, says that intellect has its own boundaries beyond that it cannot work. He gives the example of a balance and says that with the help of balance (which is meant for weighing gold and silver), if one tries to weight a mountain, one can imagine the fate of that balance, similarly, he says that using only intellect to know the Reality is same as weighing a mountain with a balance meant for weighing gold.

Changing Intellectual Experience:

Imam Gazzali (RA) says, “When a man is born, he has no knowledge.” Naturally, when a man is born his sensual and intellectual truths are also in infancy and as he grows, his faculties also develop. At every step of his intellectual development, he realises that at his previous step he was at fault and that now he has become wiser.

Again at the next step of intellectual development, he feels the same that at his previous step (which he was labelling as wiser) he was wrong and this process continues throughout his life. With this thing in mind at which step man will feel that he has obtained perfection? Obviously he will never feel so. When this is the state of his growing and changing his intellectual interpretations how can he decide with the help of this intellect about the absolute Reality without any blemish of error? Hence finite cannot comprehend infinite and every effort to do so is doomed to fail.

The people who rely only on this faculty of intellect for knowing the Reality always wander in the labyrinth of imagination about the Reality.