The Tripartite Soul

In essence, “knowledge is one,” even though knowledge manifests itself in thousands of different ways. Thus, knowledge is created and expanded by one source. In reality, knowledge of the source, its attributes, and its essence is the only true knowledge which exists. As J.M.E. McTaggart once suggested, nothing material exists.

Nevertheless, there are three types of knowledge. For one, there is outer knowledge pertaining to appearances and the different facets of the physical world, and this type of knowledge falls under the category of the worldly sciences and the arts. Second, there is inner knowledge, which consists of the essence of reality and thus the wisdom and understanding which pertain to a reality that is broader than the physical and social world. And third, there is the knowledge which is communicated from person to person for the governance of human affairs.

Those possessing the second kind of knowledge – namely, inner knowledge – transmit knowledge directly from the ultimate locus and ultimate source of knowledge. In other words, there is no intermediary or interference between the person with inner knowledge and the source of such knowledge. Given that inner knowledge contains the essence of reality, it follows that the transmitter of such knowledge is a direct reflection of such an essence. What one can infer from this logic is that the material world and the social world are not the ultimate loci or the ultimate sources of knowledge and information.

Also, the main difference between those with inner knowledge and those without inner knowledge is that the latter group is tainted with the material influences and base desires of the physical and social world, whereas those with inner knowledge have removed such impurities of the material and social realm from their hearts. It is believed that the heart is the locus for the soul, and the soul is the locus for the intellect. As a result, the intellect is able to transmit knowledge from an ultimate source and an “ultimate realm.”

Thus, as Imam Ali has said: “Fight against your lower desires, overcome your anger, and oppose your bad habits. You will purify yourself, perfect your intellect, and you will indeed bring to completion the reward that is with your Lord.” It just so happens that one’s appetite and base desires – along with anger and intellect – consist of the three parts of what is known as the “tripartite soul.” In essence, the human soul is a “tripartite soul.” As a result, if one’s anger and one’s appetite and base desires are given free reign, this comes at the expense of one’s intellect, whereas the development of the intellect requires control and restraint over anger, appetite, and base desires, given the very basic nature of the human soul.

In turn, “causal intelligence” belongs to the ultimate realm, and the “ultimate realm” is the source for the knowledge and information transmitted through the human intellect that has overcome the other two components of the human soul, namely, anger and appetite. Overcoming base desires, multiplicity, appearances, and illusions in order to attain the underlying unity behind knowledge means tapping the source of “causal intelligence” and thus acquiring access to this “ultimate realm” through the aforementioned methods and practices.

Thus, knowledge and information cannot be fully detached from religion and spirituality, regardless of how much modern man wishes for such a condition. There is in fact a nexus between knowledge and information on one hand, and religion and spirituality on the other hand. This nexus is discovered and fathomed primarily through the conquest of appearances, base desires, multiplicity, and illusions. Thus, the notion that the physical world and the social world act as a veil over pure and true reality is best illustrated by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” whereby pure and true reality can only be discovered and fathomed if one were to step out of the “cave” that is the physical and social world.

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