PHILOSOPHY DURING THE AGES
EVERY serious thinker during the ages attempted to intuit the nature of Reality. He attempted not only to have a single vision of the Whole but also to communicate that vision in terms of thought and feeling and action. The whole was perceived to be One yet distinguished by manyness: indeed it was precisely this multiplicity that seemed to have been the problem for most of those who had tried to express their single experience or vision of Reality not merely to themselves but to others as well. In fat the second was much more difficult to do unless the others to whom this vision was communicated or described could in some measure go beyond understanding what was being communicated or described and be helped to recover or attain that vision. The need to have vision and the further need to communicate it to others and also help them to attain to it – these three seem to be essential to any philosophy, understood as the love of wisdom or knowledge that is Ultimate.
The Nature of Reality has been elusive in a sense because of the further considerations of the knower, the known and the knowing which differ according to what is to be known and who is the knower. If the knower belongs to a level of being lower that that of what has to be known, the known eludes his grasp. The adequacy of each to the other is the measure of the possibility of knowledge. This means that sensory knowing can only give the known of a certain quality and not that which is different or higher than it. It is precisely because most speculations on the theory of knowledge do not perceive this ill-mated adventure into philosophizing that there have resulted diverse philosophies not independent of each other as they ought to be but mutually accusing each other of inadequacy if not erroneousness or falsity. The solution to this situation is not to be found by developing a theory of hierarchical or relative truths leading up to that ultimate truth which will contradict absolutely all that is below it in the shape of knowing. Extraordinary logics have been developed by logicians belonging to different levels of cognitivity which have been most amusing on the one side in so far as they have led only to the determination of error rather than to comprehension of reality, and on the other side tragic in so far as they have all been shown to confound reality with their reasoning.
When the great thinker of the Vedanta Sutras stated that the Ultimate cannot be reached or established by tarka, he meant that dialectical logic, or logic that tries to reduce all propositions to absurdity, cannot establish the existence of Reality. But since the meaning of the word tarka itself has been forgotten it was thought that all reasoning belongs to the logic of reduction ad absurdum. No wonder the whole of philosophy became impossible with the help of reasoning.
SRI AUROBINDO AND THE DIFFERENT MEANS OF RIGHT KNOWLEDGE
Sri Aurobindo has clearly perceived the necessity for different means of right knowledge adequate to different levels of experience. This is in line with the ancient metaphysical thinkers. But it needs the proper presentation of the nature and limits of each pramana or measuring of experience and this unfortunately the ancient thinkers did not always clearly perceive. In the important translation and elucidation of the Kena Upanishad, Sri Aurobindo pin-pointed the need to discern the different kinds of pramana. He showed that man’s knowledge of the reality can proceed from either the grasping of the difference by means of difference, or by means of identity and difference. The first kind of knowing is what we are all aware of when we perceive objects. We distinguish particulars and understand other things by means of particularized comparisons or sheer particularities. This means we use firstly enumeration (sankhya) and then comparison (discrimination of identical qualities). Thus Samkhya is the discriminative procedure of knowing which knows by means of identity and difference. A third step may be seen when one tries to grasp the nature of an object by means of identity alone. This is knowledge by identity which discards the difference. There are grades of course in these ways of knowing. In the world of philosophy we know that a different method of classification of the ways of knowing has been available. Thus we have the sensory way of knowing called pratyaksa. The second way of knowing is called anumana or inference based on invariable concomitance (vyapti) because things occur together invariably they belong to one another. The third way of knowing is inference based on partial identity (upamana), whereas the fourth way of knowing is stated to be intuition (sabda). Revelational knowledge is something that breaks in from above the sensory and the rational (anumana and upamana). It has not been demonstrated that Sabda is knowledge by identity, though intuitive knowledge is explained as knowledge by identity.
In fact a very important question in philosophical speculation is the confusion that usually prevails in respect of the pramana and prameya, the way of knowing and the object known. Do we know an object as characterized by the way of knowing? Or do we make an appropriate adjustment of the way of knowing to the object that has to be known? Further, are there not objects which require special means and ways for knowing them? These are questions which have been critically considered by philosophers all over the world. It is true that as is the means so is the object. The means limit if not distort the object and as such give false knowledge of objects. The subjective approach through duality or difference makes the object distinguished and diversified or atomically particularized. Knowledge by difference as if difference were the characteristic of reasoning, or analysis as the way of knowing, becomes defective sometimes, especially when the object cannot be analysed or broken up into parts.
So also if the means or way of knowing is through identity then the object even if diversified or distinguished would appear to be one whole without diversity at all. Thus identity becomes the object of the means called knowledge by identity, even as knowledge by difference grants only diversity. Similarly if the approach is from the point of view of knowledge by partial identify and difference the object grasped would have the characteristics of partial identity and difference which make comparison and analogy a fruitful explanation of the objects.
MECHANISTIC, VITALISTIC, MENTALISTIC PHILOSOPHERS
We know that there have been philosophies based on the mechanical modes of explanation as in science today, especially in physics and chemistry and in other allied branches. The whole universe or reality is conceived in a mechanistic manner or, in other words, mind and life are reduced to the level of mechanism subject to the laws of mechanics. Similarly vitalistic or biological sciences have begun to explain all phenomena on the lines of biological laws and evolution based on the higher organizational powers of the organic over the mechanistic. However much materialism may attempt to bring all life and mind under the concept of mechanism, slowly we are having a new type of materialization which could be called biological materialism. Still earlier, attempts have taken place to bring all mind under the materialistic and mechanistic hypothesis. Reversely we have mentalistic philosophies which try to bring all materialism under the mental concept of idea and ideas or experience as such. Epistemological idealism is irrefutable when it reduces all experience as the real and the real as experience. Yet there is a surplus, inexplicable X, which goes beyond the particular and mind and mental experiences and this, though beyond most human beings accustomed to sensory experiences and inferences, is a transcendent reality, obtained by intuitive self-evidence. But there is an epistemological situation which grants existence to that which transcends the human ways of knowing.
THE SENSUOUS AND THE SUPER-SENSUOUS
From very ancient times we have had the second struggle, the struggle between the veridicality of the super-sensuous and that of the sensuous, between the human consciousness of practicality or the pragmatic test of truth for man and that which is transcendent to his purposes and consciousness as well. All philosophy is an attempt to have a view of Reality as a Whole, either as one undistinguished bare identity or a differentiated unity varying from organic integrality to a mere confluence or mechanism or clock to which Leibnitz compared it, and a bare plurality without any rational mode or permanent possibility of unity other than aggregation. A world Philosophy is the aim of the human mind in its highest flights of intuitive awareness. That this may be beyond the modern capacities of man can be admitted. But that philosophy should never go beyond these capacities, else it should cease to be a philosophy, cannot be as easily admitted or accepted. The greatest Seers of the East have gone beyond the humanistic self-imposed limitations when they affirmed the truths of mysticism and religion as transcending the regions of pure intellection of the human mind.
IS HUMANISM A SUFFICIENT PHILOSOPHY?
Humanism, however practically useful and intelligible, is not capable of being a real world philosophy. Or if the word ‘world’ refers to the current evolutionary conception of man alone, the reality which transcends man and his faculties would forever be refused the name of philosophy. In fact, that this is not so strange a conclusion can be sent from the enormous seriousness with which the pragmatic materialistic and mentalistic speculations about Reality have a larger hearing than the call to understand this world in terms of spiritual conceptions beyond the range and ability of the human consciousness as it is. The trend that registered itself as important in recent times was the linguistic analysis of sentences which condemned outright all metaphysical statements as meaningless because they were not current in daily speech and verifiable in the sensory or emotive way. This has found favour also among some Indian thinkers who have held that philosophy must be expressed in the language of the people, loka, the only world of discourse that merchants and common people know and live in. Perhaps the technical jargon of philosophy as of other sciences is sheer nonsense, more so for a philosophy going beyond the sensory and emotional intellectual universe which uses the way of knowing by difference rather than by transcendence and spiritual oneness. This criticism is unassailable but false.
There are more things in nature than philosophy dreams of. Reality is more than human thought. One of the most adventurous things or enterprises for man himself is to attempt to go beyond himself. Religion and mysticism show the way towards transcendence of the human even as society shows the way to transcendence of the personal and the private and particular. That modern theories of knowledge have recognized the social theory of knowledge as well as the personal theory of knowledge shows that Reality has more dimensions even within the humanistic views than it recognizes. Similarly in regard to the reduction of religion to the service of humanity there can be quite a distortion of the very basis of religion which is the attainment and experience of the Divine or Godhead who is recognized as transcendent to the human and his values. Modern philosophies so intricately and inextricably wedded to socialistic human patterns of behaviour or humanistic goals could hardly make themselves sensible to religious consciousness and much less to spiritual consciousness. It is the lesser way of knowledge dictating the boundaries and verities of the higher than the human.
Though a World Philosophy as the consensus of human philosophies may turn out to be humanistic in general it would yet reveal its imperfect apprehension of Reality. Humanism urges its own transcendence when it confronts the experiences known as the mystical and spiritual. That is why we cannot accept humanism as a sufficient philosophy.
OTHER INTELLECTUALISTIC PHILOSOPHIES
Mechanistic and humanistic philosophies having been found inadequate it behoves us to consider whether we would accept other equally intellectualistic and philosophies taking their stand on vitalism or life principle or on mentalism or mind principle as more ultimate. A recent book of distinctive merit, Professor Errol Harris’s Foundations of the Metaphysics of Science, has projected a comprehensive account of the whole field of science as a serious rival to philosophy. He has been able to discover that the mystic truth, ‘As in the macrocosm so in the microcosm’, is verified in each of the sciences. He has also been able to show that the higher laws or laws of superconsciousness, more fully understood and interpreted, would very much help towards understanding of the microcosm and even sub-atomic structures. A mind is at work at every level and is the principle or energy that organizes even as it provides the constant and continuous reorganization of units of existence or being. This is perhaps the most important work which would illustrate the approach taken up by Sri Aurobindo in his attempt at enunciation of a world philosophy or rather a philosophy that will be all-embracing and adequate to explain experiences of all levels of being in a unitary conception.
The question that might arise at this point would be whether we are not assuming that the most important philosophical category is not Monism (Advaita), for that is indeed what all thought is impelled to arrive at. The scholastics always felt that a Philosophy must arrive at a One or Oneness which allows or permits or suffers a manyness within it. All problems of philosophy centered upon the need for a oneness of the many or a manyness in the One. It has been easy to dismiss either oneness or manyness but not both: but this too was attempted by the transcendentalist nihilist who abolished both, and claimed to have reached the summit of philosophy by going beyond it. It appears that the real problem of Philosophy was almost by-passed when the monistic and pluralistic mathematical modes of looking at Reality were seriously accepted as philosophical explanations. Thus the Advaita-Dvaita dialogue in Philosophy was extraneous to the real concern of the human individual, which is Reality.
SRI AUROBINDO AND THE REAL
It is one of the merits of the Aurobindonian approach to have realized the entire unsatisfactoriness of explanations based on this neat patterning and classification of philosophy in terms of Advaita-Dvaita and the in-betweens of varying degrees of Advaita and Dvaita or oneness and plurality or multiplicity. The true world philosophy should not get bogged up by this simplicity of mathematical oneness and manyness, but go beyond towards the apprehension of the dynamics of the process of creativity and perfectibility of the categories of being and non-being, mortality and immortality, darkness and light, so to speak. The real is the relative according to some, whereas the real is the rational according to others, to still others the real is the absolute to which all tends. To Sri Aurobindo the Real is that which infiltrates and perfects the relative and grants to each status of the relative the perfection of itself. The creative evolution of Bergson provided the ascent of spirit to a more-than-human status, the emergent evolutionists revealed how in the process of evolution new characters or emergents arise revealing creative novelty. But in the Aurobindonian evolutionary explanation the significance of the descent of the Perfect into the multiplicity of statuses and individuals is to uplift them to the perfection of the perfect in them and for them and by them. Perhaps it expresses the process called the ‘transformation’ of the imperfect into the perfect or the divinizing of the undivine in the multiplicity itself. Thus the meaning of existence or being for each individual which is explained as the liberation of the individual from his individuality or individualness in other systems, is exceeded by explaining that true liberation lies in the realization or the fulfilment of the Perfect in the individual and through him alone. The abolition of the individuals or multiplicity is avoided by showing that there is nothing wrong in aiming at being individuals but only in attempting to avoid the incarnation of the Perfect in him or the perfectibility of the individual or the multiplicity. Thus in a sense Sri Aurobindo goes beyond the walls of reason based on intellect and explores the infinite possibility of the Infinite as it realizes itself in and through the individuals or multiplicity. In a sense it is not enough that the individuals lives and moves and has his being in God, it is necessary for the Godhead to live and move and have His being in the multiplicity.
The philosophy of intellect or divisive or dialectical reason is superseded and made to function if at all in terms of the higher supermind. The life of man is lifted up to become the life in the Divine. The spiritual incorporates the mental and the vital and physical in an integrative way. The Integral Philosophy becomes more truly synthetical than the usual synthetical philosophies that juxtapose the multiplicity.
THE INTEGRAL PHILOSOPHY
The Integral Philosophy is more truly capable of being a World Philosophy than the humanistic and dialectical materialist philosophies which claim to be truly representative of the pluralistic individualistic aspirations of the many-phased Reality, Democratic imperfectionism would be overcome only when there is a spiritual One operating in and though each of the manynesses so as to realize its own perfection and fullness in each of them. But such a Spiritual One is transcendentally perfect as well, even in the most imperfect gross many. This is mystery of the Spirit that cannot be equated with any entity or reality already known to philosophy, eastern or western; perhaps it is nearest to the description given in the Veda as Purna, Brahman, Para that is described by the Agama as sustaining and supporting all its other statuses, and enjoying itself in and through the all without diminution.
Compared with the synthetic philosophies of the modern thinkers and with the synoptic thinkers of the past like Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, Sri Aurobindo provides a clear and dynamic account of Reality, more integral and holistic than any. Nor have modern thinkers been anywhere near providing an organon of philosophy which could cope with the magnitude of scientific and spiritual knowledge available, Partial in their approach, fragmentary and dialectical in their method, profoundly prejudiced in their mental structure and elevation in favour of humanistic traditions both existential and axiological, modern thinkers have been frittering away their philosophical heritage. With rare exceptions like Whitehead and Errol Harris, we have men who are hardly aware of the existence of the problems of philosophy as such. Whilst in the climate of India men yet are trying to knead all new knowledge into the ancient vessels of dialectical and superdialectial Vedantas, Sri Aurobindo sees clearly the goals (purusarthas), the means of approach and attainment (sadhana or yoga) and the possibilities opened up to man’s evolutionary ascent into Divine Nature. It must be a matter of satisfaction at all philosophers that a new dimension to philosophy has at last been opened up by Sri Aurobindo in his classic works.