Education & Pedagogy

Sources of Knowledge

Sources of knowledge refer to the different ways in where individuals acquire information and understanding. 

But from viewing hundreds of books and sources it is finally concluded that these are the following five primary sources of knowledge.

Knowledge seems to be something we gain as we live. Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of particular aspects of reality. It is the clear, logical information gained through the process of reason applied to reality.

The traditional approach is that knowledge requires three necessary and sufficient conditions so that knowledge can then be defined as “justified, true, and belief”.

Every individual has a wide range of life experiences and expressions of thought and knowledge in their mind. Without a doubt, a wide variety of human knowledge branches separate from one another. A human is therefore helped by prior information in developing new knowledge. The challenge is to identify the main lines of reasoning and the collective body of knowledge as a whole.

Knowledge is the initial point of philosophical discussions for the establishment of a solid philosophy of the world and universe. One of the wide discussions is that which handles the sources and primary origins of knowledge through investigations, studies, and attempts to discover the primary principles of the powerful intellectual structure with which the human race is endowed.

Studying knowledge is something philosophers have been doing for as long as philosophy has been around. It’s one of the constant topics. Philosophy also strives to find the answer to these questions:

This issue has an important history in the various stages of Greek, Islamic, and European philosophy. Throughout the history of philosophy, it received several solutions. This article is focused on such solutions. It will describe in detail different sources of knowledge acquisition.

After studying this article, you will be able to:

5 Main Sources of Knowledge

There are mainly five primary sources of knowledge

All of above five sources of knowledge are discussed in detail below

Revealed Knowledge

This sort of knowledge is based upon revelation from some supernatural celestial beings. This type of knowledge is commonly found in religious books.

Revealed knowledge is the basis for qualia/phenomenal properties, as well as the belief in God.

Revealed Knowledge, or Revelation, is that body of knowledge that exists independent of human conception.

Revealed Knowledge is that special Knowledge with which this universe, and preceding universes, and universes in the making, and universes yet to be made are formed, sustained, and ultimately dissolved.

Revealed Knowledge described as a knowledge that God has disclosed to man. God inspired certain man to write down the truth that He revealed to them so that this truth might be known thereafter by all mankind.

Revealed knowledge is external knowledge. For those who profess this knowledge, the condition is that there must be a total surrendering of oneself to the source of such revelation, that is, the supernatural being, is eternally superior and cannot be said to lie or make a mistake.

In the Islamic tradition, the Quran is held to be an authoritative and revealed source of knowledge.

In the Christian fold, for instance, dreams, visions and even the Bible have come to be accepted as forms of revealed knowledge.

In African traditional religions, the status of self-revelation is given to deities, ancestors, divination of oracles and dreams.

Studies have shown that the bulk of knowledge we find in our religious institutions are informed by revelations of visions. However, it should be noted that revealed knowledge is associated with a major problem which is that of interpretation of messages.

In other words, messages may be subjected to various or false interpretations and thus giving room for misleading knowledge.

Revealed knowledge is also not suitable for classroom situations as teacher cannot impact objectives knowledge based on revelation. Revealed knowledge is from God.

In every revealed message, there is a metaphysical aspect and a physical. The metaphysical teaches the nature of the Divine Unity. The physical provides a code of behavior. Revealed knowledge has always been brought by a messenger who embodied it. The way he lives is the message. To behave as the messenger did is to have knowledge of the message, and in this knowledge is certainty. Revealed knowledge comes from a supernatural entity.

According to ancient Israelites believing that God gave Moses tens of thousands of words governing personal conduct and society.

According to Islamic belief, Allah created man and provided him with the tools for acquiring knowledge, namely hearing, sight, and wisdom. Allah says: “And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts that you might give thanks (to Allah)[al-Nahl 16:78]

Islam is the religion of knowledge. The first Aayah of the Qur’aan revealed enjoined reading which is the key to knowledge. Allah says: [al-‘Alaq 96:1-5] “Read! In the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.” This verse clearly shows that Allah has taught man which the men did not know.

It means that the revealed knowledge is the true source of knowledge. In Islam, knowledge comes before action; there can be no action without knowledge, as Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): [Muhammad 47:19] “So know (O Muhammad) that Laailaaha ill-Allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and ask forgiveness for your sin, and also for (the sin of) believing men and believing women”

Allah warns every Muslim against speaking without knowledge, as He says: [al-Israa’ 17:36] “And follow not (O man, i.e., say not, or do not, or witness not) that of which you have no knowledge.

Verily, the hearing, and the sight, and the heart of each of those ones will be questioned (by Allah)” Emphasizing the status of knowledge and the scholars, Allah calls upon the scholars to bear witness to His Oneness, as He says: [Aal ‘Imraan 3:18] “Allah bears witness that none has the right to be worshipped but He, and the angels, and those having knowledge (also give this witness); (He always) maintains His creation in justice. None has the right to be worshipped but He, the All‑Mighty, the All-Wise” Knowledge and fear of Allah may be attained by knowing His signs and creation.

The knowledgeable are those who know that; hence Allah praises them by saying: [Faatir 35:28] “It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah” The scholars occupy a noble status in Islam, and which is higher than the position of others in this world and in the Hereafter.

Allah says: [al-Mujaadilah 58:11] “Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge” Islam calls us to seek knowledge. The Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) made seeking knowledge an obligation upon every Muslim, and he explained that the superiority of the one who has knowledge over the one who merely worships is like the superiority of the moon over every other heavenly body.

He said that the scholars are the heirs of the Prophets and that the Prophets did not leave behind dinars and dirhams (i.e., money), rather their inheritance was knowledge, so whoever acquires it has gained a great share. And Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that seeking knowledge is a way to Paradise. Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever follows a path in the pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make a path to Paradise easy for him.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, Kitaab al-‘Ilm, 10) Islam calls us to learn all kinds of beneficial knowledge.

Intuition or Intuitive Knowledge

Intuitive Knowledge is the ability to utilize and acquire knowledge without the use of reason; that science is now facilitating and helping explain. It is the faculty of knowing without the use of rational processes.

It is the most personal way of knowing. It is immediate cognition or sharp insight. It occurs beneath the threshold of consciousness. Intuitive knowledge is based on intuition, faith, beliefs etc.

Human feelings play greater role in intuitive knowledge compared to reliance on facts. Intuitive knowledge involves direct and immediate recognition of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas. It yields perfect certainty, but is only rarely available to us. Intuition as a mode of knowledge develops based on immediate apprehension.

Bertrand Russel (1912) claimed that all our knowledge of truth depends upon our intuitive knowledge. According to Ezewu, intuitive way of knowing is that which involves an immediate insight or eruption into consciousness of an idea produced by a long process of unconscious work. This simply means that intuition is a way of knowing something that one cannot really explain because it transcends ordinary sense experience or reason.

Intuition may occur as a sudden arrival of solution to one’s problem or puzzle, having worked for some hours or days without arriving at such solution. It may also come in the form of quick guess of solution to a problem presented by another person. Intuitive knowledge cannot be verified by the senses or the intellect. The true knowledge that comes from beyond the intellect and that is the intuitive knowledge.

Everybody has got this ability and we have experienced in our life this gut feeling, knowledge from somewhere, which you cannot really make out what it is.

Somewhere you feel this is the right thing to do and something happens in your tummy. And that knowledge comes up at that time but then we don’t honor it. Many times, we stick onto the intellect or sensory perceptions.

Sometimes your intellect says this is wrong what I am doing, but you don’t listen to the intellect you keep doing the wrong things.

You sometimes go beyond your intellect. Your intellect is saying something but your inner gut feeling is saying something else. And you’re feeling says no, there is something different, something more. And we ignore that and we stick onto the intellect. That’s how many times your judgments have found to be a failure.

But sometimes, beyond your judgments you have seen and you have taken a step and have been happy about it. In spite of your intellect saying ‘no’, something says ‘yes’. Something else triggers and that is what happens when there is faith and that’s when the faith comes up you know.

Chudn off (1985) said that according to Descartes‘ ‘we can best learn how mental intuition is to be employed by comparing it with ordinary vision,’’ and throughout his writings he characterizes intuition by drawing analogies between it and perception.

There are various such analogies one might draw: one might, for example, compare intuitive and perceptual phenomenology, or intuitive and perceptual justification. The intuitive knowledge is beyond intellect. The intellect plays on it and develops it further. Intuitive knowledge is a belief that amounts to knowledge because it is based on an intuition.

Intuitive knowledge being highlighted not because of what it comes from but because of what it leads to-namely, cognition of particular things which can give us an especially powerful hold on the truth that all things are in God.

Intuitive knowledge is supposed to be greater, finer, higher, than the mere exercise of reason; but we are not clearly told why. It is said that there are certain truths of which definitions cannot be given; that cannot be demonstrated by syllogistic reasoning; that must be grasped intuitively. The practicing politician censures the abstract theorist who lacks a lively intuition of how things actually are. The educational theorist stresses, first and foremost, the need to assist development by educating the faculty of intuition.

The critics holds himself honor bound to set aside, when confronted by a work of art, all theories and abstractions and to judge it by intuiting it directly.

The practical man, finally, professes to live more by intuitions than by reasoning. But to this ample recognition that intuitive knowledge receives in ordinary life there does not correspond an equally adequate recognition in the field of theory and philosophy. Of intellectual knowledge there is an ancient science-Logic-the existence of which everybody admits without bothering to debate the matter; but a science of intuitive knowledge is barely and timidly admitted by only a few.

Logical knowledge has taken the lion’s share, and even when it does not actually kill and devour its companion outright, it concedes to it only the humble and lowly position of handmaiden or doorkeeper.

It would be a servant without a master; and if the master needs the servant, the former is even more necessary to the latter, if he is to get in life. Intuition is blind: the intellect lends its eyes on it.


Authority or Authoritarian Knowledge

Authoritarian knowledge relies on information that has been obtained from books, research papers, experts, supreme powers etc. Authoritative knowledge comes from the experts. It is only as valid as the assumptions on which it stands. This kind of knowledge acquired by making recourse to or depending on authority without verifying claims.

This kind of knowledge is derived from the written works, documentation and reports of others. If Juliet accepts that Kano is the largest commercial city in northern part of Nigeria because he was told by his teacher, such knowledge is authoritative.

If Jameel accepts that Peshawar is the Capital of Pakhtunkhwa having read it from a book, his source of knowledge is accepted base on the authority of others. Authoritative knowledge is used in all academic activities as references are, most times, made to authorities, writers, and authors in some specific fields. In the use of authoritative knowledge, care must be made to avoid unnecessary or psychological appeal to authority as this will make nonsense of this source of knowledge.

Similarly, in old times, when floods, starvation, lightening, or leprosy terrified men, they blindly accepted ancestral explanations that their elders imparted, and they appealed to supernatural powers for help. Rather than attempting to determine truth independently. Modern man may also seek advice from authority. A trial lawyer my ask a psychiatrist to testify concerning the sanity of the defendant, a ballistic expert to give opinions concerning weapons, and a hand writing specialist to compare signatures. A house wife may consult a child care book or a doctor concerning the spots on her son’s chest.

Turning to authorities to obtain knowledge often saves time and effort but care must be employed in choosing authorities and evaluating their pronouncements. Tradition in many situations modern man does not evaluate the truth or falsify of his believes any more than his forefathers did. He unconsciously or unquestioningly accepts many traditions of his culture such as the customary modes of dress, speech, food, worship, and etiquettes. In the world of practical affairs this automatic acceptance of approved patterns of behavior is often necessary for one cannot question all things. But one should not make the mistake of assuming that everything that has customarily been done is right or that an appeal to the accumulated wisdom of the ages will always let to the truth.

Historical records reveal that man has not only solved many problems and accumulated much wisdom but has also formulated many erroneous explanations of phenomena. Many long-reversed educational, medical, and scientific theories have proved false.

For instance, man once believed that children differ from adults only in size and dignity, that asafetida bags warded off disease, and that the planets revolve around the earth. Truth is not a guaranteed product of a popularity contest; a statement is not true merely because “everyone knows it” or “everybody has always believed it.” Age, alone, is not sufficient to establish the truth or falsify of a belief.

Church, state, and ancient scholar’s preliterate man turned to tribal leaders when seeking knowledge. In medieval times, man believed that ancient scholars and church man had discovered the truth for all time and that their pronouncements could not be questioned.

The scholastics, for example Aristotle’s conjecture that women have more teeth than men as absolutely true, even though simple observation and enumeration would have provided evidence for contrary.

When invited by the Galileo to view the newly discovered moons of Jupiter, one scholar refused to look through the telescope. He was convinced that the moons could not possibly be seen because Aristotle had not mentioned them in his discussions on astronomy. Like most scholars of that era, the man who dropped Galileo’s invitation clung blindly to faulty Grecian theories and attacked any new idea that contradicted the accepted authorities.

With the rise of strong secular states after the Middle Ages, man began to run to king’s legislatures and courts as sources of information. Today, many citizens also expect government officials to solve problems concerning agricultural surpluses, international trade, and labor management difficulties.

Many people appeal to the court for interpretation on basic issues confronting them such as the validity of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, segregated school practices, and the use of prayers in public schools. From the earliest times to the present, man has sort guidance and information from his oracles, leaders, and rulers.

Man, often refers to relay on the judgment of understanding. Authorities whose believes have with stood the test of time, because he fears that if he himself searches for answers to difficult questions he might make errors. But if modern man can make errors when searching for knowledge, his ancestors must have been subject to the same weakness.

If tradition, the church, and the state are to be the source of all reliable information, what happens when these institutions render opinions that conflict with one another? The authorities in different churches and states do not always agree and traditions of culture vary.

Man may encounter perplexing problems when he turns to the multiplicity of existing authorities in a search for answers to the questions. Ignoring the cultural accumulations of the centuries is imprudent, for little progress will occur if each generation rejects the judgment of the ages and starts from the scratch to accumulate knowledge. On the other hand, refusing ever to question any accepted belief total reliance on dogmatic authority will result in social stagnation.

Expert opinion when searching for knowledge man sometimes seeks the testimony of experts who, because of their intellect, training, experience, or aptitude, are better informed than other people. Experts are necessary in a complicated cultural such as ours. An effort must be made, however, to find out whether the experts are recognized to know the facts about the particular problem under consideration.

One should check not only the credentials but also the arguments and evidence upon which they base their claims to knowledge. Accepting expert’s opinions unconditionally or and for all the time is a dubious if not a dangerous practice. Activity List down examples of authoritative knowledge from your own experience.

Rational Knowledge

Rationalists hold that at least some of our knowledge is derived from reason alone, and that reason plays an important role in the acquisition of all of our knowledge.

Rationalists believe that knowledge can be arrived at through the use of reason or deductive reasoning. The view that reasoning or logic is the central factor in knowledge is known as rationalism. There is clearly a limit to what we can learn through abstract thought, but the rationalist’s claim is that reason play a role in observation, and so that the mind is more fundamental than the senses in the process of knowledge-acquisition.

Someone who views the world through the lens of revealed knowledge has a belief, and then attempts to force all of the evidence to support the conclusion. If it does not support the conclusion, is it either discounted or discarded.

Someone who views the world through the lens of rational knowledge would look at the evidence and either admits he didn’t know, or theorize on the most probable likelihood, accepting the possibility that he might be incorrect, meaning he may need to adjust in the future as more evidence is discovered.

More than 2,400 years ago, Socrates developed an interesting question to help his students understand which of the two camps they followed by posing what is now known as the Euthyphro Dilemma. He asked: “Is something ‘good’ because God says it is good, making it dependent upon His will, or does God say something is ‘good’ because it is inherently ‘right’, making goodness independent of His will?”

Your answer to that will illuminate something very deep, and profound, about how you think the world is structured.

To someone who sees the world through a revealed knowledge framework, the highest ideals are obedience and blind allegiance. To someone who sees the world through a rational knowledge framework, the highest ideals are logical conclusions and independent thinking based upon demonstrable facts. In the view of the rationalists, human knowledge is divided into two kinds. One of them is necessary knowledge, or intuitive knowledge. (p. 71) By ‘necessity’ here, we mean that the soul is obliged to accept a certain proposition, without having to require any evidence or a demonstration of its soundness. Rather, it finds in its own nature the necessity for believing it, in a manner not in need of any evidence or conformation.

On the basis of the rational doctrine, the following [truths] hold: first, the primary criterion of human thinking in general is the necessary rational knowledge. It is the fundamental pillar that is indispensable in every field. The truth or falsity of every idea must be measured in light of it. Due to this, the field of human knowledge becomes wider than the sphere of the senses and experimentation. This is because it provides human thinking with powers that extend to truths and propositions that lie beyond matter, and achieves for metaphysics and the higher philosophy the possibility of knowledge.

Second, in the view of the rationalists, the progression of thought moves from general propositions to more particular propositions – that is, from universal propositions to particular propositions.

Finally, the rational doctrine does not neglect the powerful role of experimentation in the human sciences and knowledge, the enormous services that experimentation offers to mankind, and the secrets of the universe and the natural mysteries that it discloses.

However, according to this doctrine, experimentation alone could not have played this powerful role; because for the derivation of any such scientific truths from it, it requires the application of the necessary rational laws. This means that the derivation is achieved in light of the primary knowledge. Experiments in themselves can’t be the source and the primary criterion for knowledge. For it is analogous to the test that the doctor gives the patient. It is this test that provides the doctor with the opportunity of discovering the nature of the disease and its accompanying complications. However, this test would not help discover that, were it not for the previous information and knowledge that the doctor has. Had he not had such information, his test would have been null and empty of any benefit. Similarly, human experiments, in general, do not pave the way for conclusions and truths except in light of previous rational information.

Rational knowledge is the type of knowledge acquired through the application of reason or intelligence without reference to observable facts. It is a kind of knowledge that is firmly rooted in logical analysis for the fact that steps taken to acquire such knowledge can easily be explained to others and understood by others. As a product of reflective thinking, rational knowledge is based on the three laws of rationality.

These laws include:

In terms of presenting valid reasoning, rational knowledge is more convincing than intuitive knowledge because it lacks emotional states of affairs and founded on logical relations and meanings. Rational knowledge can be applied to different areas like 84 mathematical formulae and have been applied to some great intellectual advances in sciences and the arts.

  • What is rational knowledge?
  • To what extent logic is applicable?
  • What is the link between rational knowledge and epistemological knowledge?
  • What are the bases of rational knowledge?
  • How rational knowledge is different from intuitive knowledge? Support your answer with suitable examples.

Empirical Knowledge

Epistemology has many branches and includes essentialism, historical perspective, perennialism, progressivism, empiricism, idealism, rationalism, constructivism and others. Empiricism and rationalism can be specified as the two major constructing debates within the field of epistemological study. Empiricism accepts personal experiences associated with observation, feelings and senses as a valid source of knowledge, whereas rationalism relies on empirical findings gained through valid and reliable measures as a source of knowledge. Empirical knowledge relies on objective facts that have been established and can be demonstrated.

The empirical knowledge is an attempt to discover a basis for our knowledge in sense experience. In other words, empirical knowledge is the type that finds recourse or confirmed by the evidence of sensory experience. It is thus derived from the use of five senses since knowledge can only be acquired from the experience of seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, and tasting. It is the evidence of the senses that gives meaning to empirical knowledge since the senses, according to the empiricists, are the source and originator of our knowledge. The thrust of the empiricists as regard knowledge is that there is no knowledge prior to sense experience and there can be no knowledge outside sense experience. Since empirical knowledge is fundamentally rooted on sense experience, it stands to reason that observation and experimentation will also be basic to empirical knowledge.

Empiricists hold that all of our knowledge is ultimately derived from our senses or our experiences. They therefore deny the existence of innate knowledge, i.e. knowledge that we possess from birth. Empiricism fits well with the scientific world-view that places an emphasis on experimentation and observation. It struggles, however, to account for certain types of knowledge, e.g. knowledge of pure mathematics or ethics. Empirical knowledge is knowledge of such facts as one may meet in experience. These are always particular and may be of many kinds, including such as need a lot of training or some apparatus to experience them.

This doctrine states that experience is the primary source of all human knowledge. For that, it relies on the assertion that when human beings are deprived of the various kinds of experiences, they do not know any truth, regardless of its clarity. This shows that human beings are born without any innate knowledge. They begin their awareness and knowledge as soon as they begin their practical lives. Their knowledge widens as their experiences widen, and their knowledge becomes varied in kind as their experiences take on different forms. The empiricists do not admit necessary rational knowledge prior to experience. Rather, they consider experience as the only basis of sound judgment and the general criterion in every field. Even those judgments that the rational doctrine alleges to be necessary knowledge must, [according to the empiricists], be subject to the empirical criterion, and must be admitted in accordance with the determination of experience. This is because human beings do not have any judgment whose confirmation does not require experience. This results in the following:

First, the, power of human thinking is delimited by the limits of the empirical field; so that, any metaphysical investigation or study of metaphysical issues becomes useless. [In this, the empirical doctrine] is exactly the contrary of the rational doctrine.

Second, the movement of thought progresses in a way contrary to the manner asserted by the rational doctrine. Thus, whereas the rational doctrine asserts that a thought always moves from what is general to what is particular, the empiricists assert that it moves from what is particular to what is general; that is, from the narrow limits of experiments to universal laws and principles. It always progresses from the empirical particular truth to the absolute truth. The general laws and universal principles that human beings have are nothing but the result of experiences. The consequence of this is a progression of induction from individual things to a discovery of general objective truths.

For this reason, the empirical doctrine relies on the inductive method in [its] search for evidence and in thinking, since this method is one that ascends from the particular to the universal.

The natural sciences, which the empiricists seek to establish on the basis of pure experimentation, are themselves in need of primary rational principles that are prior to experimentation. This is because the scientist carries out his experiment in his laboratory on limited objective particulars. Then he puts forward a theory for explaining the phenomena that the experiment in the laboratory had disclosed, and for justifying them by one common cause. This is exemplified in the theory that states that the cause of heat is motion, on the basis of a number of experiments interpreted in this way. It is our right to ask the natural scientist about how he offers this theory as a universal law applicable to all circumstances resembling those of the experiment, even though the experiment did not apply except to a number of specific things. Is it not the case, then, that this generalization is based on a principle stating that similar circumstances and things alike in kind and reality must share in laws (p. 83) and decrees? Here, once again, we inquire about how the mind reached this principle. The empiricists cannot claim that it is an empirical principle. Rather, it must be a piece of rational knowledge that is prior to experimentation. The reason is that if it were supported by experimentation, then the experimentation on which this principle is based also, in turn, treats only specific subjects. How, then, can a general principle be based on it? Thus, the establishment of a general principle or a universal law in light of one or more experiments cannot be accomplished except after admitting prior rational knowledge.

With this, it becomes clear that all the empirical theories in the natural sciences are based on a number of pieces of rational knowledge that are not subject to experimentation. Rather, the mind accepts them immediately. Although there is great value of experience for humanity and the extent of its service in the fields of knowledge. However, experiments are not the primary criterion and the fundamental source of human thought and knowledge.

The seed of the positivist school in philosophy germinated during the nineteenth century, in which the empirical tendency prevailed. Thus, this school developed under the auspices of this empirical tendency.

In what situations revealed knowledge is suitable?

Reflect your views on revealed knowledge

Is intuition valid way of knowing?

Differentiate between intellectual knowledge and intuitive knowledge.

To what extent intuitive knowledge is reliable?

Describe few drawbacks of intuitive knowledge.

Is intuitive knowledge “subjective”?

In what circumstances authoritative knowledge is more reliable?

What are the advantages of authoritative knowledge?

What are the drawbacks of authoritative knowledge?

Give some famous examples of authoritative knowledge which were proved “wrong”.

Do you agree that verification of knowledge is essential?


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