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Asalaamu alaykum,

What is the epistemological argument or proof that ‘alamiyyah (the claim that any one person is the most knowledgeable) can indeed exist?

Note: I am seeking the epistemological proof and/or argument that it is even remotely possible for anyone to make such a claim, and not an explanation of the means adopted by scholars to identify a particular person as being the most knowledgable (e.g. Ahl-al-Khibra) etc.


Alaykum salaam

Thank you for your question. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge with regards to the methods and scope of attaining justified belief. So epistemologically speaking the argument would be that the mind or the collective mind of a group of individuals can distinguish the various real levels of the expertise of the various maraji and on that basis identify the most learned. So the mind as an epistemological tool is capable of that. This is not something that is proven, it is a presupposition that is part of a larger philosophy of how a person sees the world and the ability of humans to understand the world. That is that there is objective truth and the mind is able to unveil those truths, in this case through comparison of the strength of the writings and classes of the maraji over an extended period of time.

Ontologically speaking it is that real levels exist and there is a possibility of some being more learned than others. The graded nature of expertise is something that is witnessed in many different fields of knowledge, with the possibility of their being a single world expert in a particular field not being far fetched.

Practically speaking identifying this person through fair comparison may be problematic, but this is a question of the theoretical possibility rather than practical issues with identification.

May you always be successful.

Zohair Ali.