Iqbal and Hamann: some startling resemblances

Iqbal and Hamann share some affinities in challenging the autonomy and absoluteness of reason through the method of meta-critic. Actually they are not against reason but they regard sources other than the reason vital for the attainment of knowledge of the ultimate reality. Johann George  Hamann was an eighteenth century German philosopher known as “the wizard of the North”. The Enlightenment put emphasis on the universality, autonomy, absoluteness and impartiality of reason. Reason was presented by the philosophers of the Enlightenment as an autonomous faculty in the sense that it was self-subsistent, self-sufficient and self-governing, establishing and following its own rules within its own paradigm and it was considered independent of socio-cultural, political, psychological and linguistic contexts. This view of reason is absolute. So reason in this context becomes a sole and supreme criterion of all reality whether physical or metaphysical. One example of this belief in the autonomy of reason is Kant’s noumenal-phenomenal dualism presented in his The Critique of  Pure Reason.There is no denying the fact that more powerful critic of this belief came from Hamann. In his essay “Metakritk uber den Purismum der reinen Vernunft which was published in 1783, Hamann attacked Kant’s concept of autonomy and impartiality of reason. In this essay Hamann vigorously maintained that reason is itself a product and not an absolute criterion of reality. He also tried to establish that reality is one and cannot be presented as dualistic and pluralistic modes of thinking. According to him division of reality into many parts is a main flaw of reason which should be avoided. Here Iqbal comes close to Hamann. According to Iqbal reality is one but our reason presents it as plurality. Both Iqbal and Hamann are against regarding the reason as a supreme criterion of truth. They oppose what is called the purism of reason.   Hamann is of the view that reason is not a special kind of faculty judging other realities but is itself a construction of many factors. Same is the view of Iqbal when he regards reason as relative and not absolute. According to him reason is not the only path leading to the ultimate destiny. Both Hamann and Iqbal think that reason’s role is insufficient and inadequate regarding the knowledge of the metaphysical realities. They agree that the reason has some relativistic implications. But we should keep in mind that Iqbal is not against reason’s role in the phenomenal world i.e. in sciences and other practical fields of life. But as a great romantic poet he prefers Ishq over intellect.  

Both Iqbal and Hamann lay stress on the role of faith in human life. They tried to defend faith in the age of reason. It was Hamann’s mission to revive and defend the spirit of Luther when it was being attacked by Aufklarung. He believed in the authority of the Bible as Iqbal in that of the Quran. Both Iqbal and Hamann believe in establishing personal relationship with God. They both tried to establish the superrationality of faith. Iqbal as well as Hamann believe in the role of intuition in knowing the ultimate reality. They think that faith transcends reason and not the other way round but they cannot be regarded as the opponents of reason or irrationalists. They only tried to give reason its rightful place by challenging its supreme authority. Hamann tried to maintain that the reason cannot be assigned the role of a governing authority because it is itself governed by many other factors including human subconscious. He raises a very vital question: How a thing can be regarded as a sole governor if it is governed by others? The main principle behind Hamann’s critique is to put reason in its various contexts and not out of the socio-cultural matrix. 

 Both Iqbal and Hamann tries to establish the value of mystical experience. They are in favour of direct contact with reality. According to them the ultimate reality is non-temporal and non-spatial so the role of reason becomes limited in this regard, because reason works in terms of space and time as Kant has maintained. According to Iqbal the mystic experience brings us into contact with the total passage of reality in which all the diverse stimuli merge into one another and form a single unanalyzable unity in which the ordinary distinction of subject and object does not exist. Here it is interesting to note that Hamann is also against the dualism of subject and object. Iqbal in explaining the mystical experience that the mystic state is a moment of intimate association with a Unique Other Self , transcending, encompassing, and momentarily suppressing the private personality of the subject of experience and considering its content the mystic state is highly objective and cannot be regarded as a mere retirement into the mists of pure subjectivity. Hamann, like Iqbal also underscores the objectivity of the mystic experience by giving importance to the two sources of  knowledge, i.e. nature and history. Iqbal also lays stress on the other sources in knowing the ultimate reality. He says that the Quran, recognizing that the empirical attitude is an indispensable stage in the spiritual life of humanity, attaches equal importance to all the regions of human experience as yielding knowledge of the Ultimate Reality which reveals its symbols within and without. Here Hamann comes close to Iqbal too. According to his mystical vision, God embodies himself not only in nature, but also in history. What man thinks and does is also what God thinks or does through him. This is a purely pantheistic viewpoint which differs from that of  Iqbal.

Both Iqbal and Hamann regard man’s own reality and the reality around him as the proof of God. According to Iqbal a person affirms the existence of God in affirming his own existence. His concepts of God and Khudi are very closely interlinked. Hamann exhibits the same belief when he says: “Is not the smallest blade of grass a proof of God?  If so, then why should the smallest actions of man mean anything less?...Nature and history are the two great commentaries upon the divine word.” He also says, “Let us not forget that we require God’s assistance for all our actions, just as we require breath for all our living powers and activities, the breath of life in our nose is also the exhalation of God.” Here the bend of Hamann’s mind again seems to be towards pantheism while that of Iqbal is towards panentheism. Iqbal believes in the immanence as well as the transcendence of God, while Hamann believes only in immanence.  

The writer is a Ph.D research scholar at Punjab University, a visiting professor at the University of Education, a writer of many books on Philosophy, literature and Iqbaliyat. He is also the chairman of Iqbal Research Institute.

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