Sri Aurobindo's - 'The Life Divine' - The Human Aspiration - Chapter I

Track Running The Human Aspiration - Track 007

 What is philosophy? Yesterday I spoke of science and philosophy and spiritual experience, this will be a great aid to the definition of philosophy. If there was a sweeping experience of the totality, then there would be no need of philosophizing, that experience would be filled with knowledge of the totality.

Philosophy arises out of the need to know the totality and if the totality can be known in a supreme experience then philosophy would not be needed. It is because normally we are not capable of that experience or because it is believed that such an experience is impossible or sometimes it is believed that even what you call totality is a fiction, there is nothing but assemblage of particulars. It is because of this reason that intellect comes into operation, not experience but intellect. It is an intellectual attempt to grasp the totality, not to be limited to particularities, not to be limited to specialized domains but to cross the borders of all the domains and embrace the whole, and attain some kind of knowledge of a the whole.

Philosophers of a certain kind, which include some of the best names in the field of philosophy,” like Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya they all maintain that the capacity of reason is not merely to understand or coordinate sensuous experiences and the knowledge derived from sense experience but has a very special access to the totality. There is, according to them Pure Reason which goes beyond the mixed action of reason. Mixed action of reason is the action which is dependent upon the sense experience. Yesterday I spoke about the activity of co–ordination of the results of sense experiences, this coordinating activity of the reason is a mixed action of reason, it is something more than sense experience but tied to the sense experience and therefore, it is a mixed action of reason.

Pure Reason goes beyond the mixed action of reason and has an access to the totality. It is argued that the very fact that there is an urge to know the totality, there must in human beings somewhere a faculty which is responsible for this urge. It is therefore spoken of as a light, the light of the Pure Reason, it is sometimes called the pure light, there is no mixture in it, ” the pure light of reason.

The way in which we grasp universal qualities is one of the best ways by which we open up to this pure action of reason. We perceive for example particular white objects all of them are white and we arrive at the concept of the idea of whiteness. How do we come to this idea of whiteness? What we see is only normally white objects but we can make a jump out of the experience of white objects to the quality and understanding of whiteness. You see only the beautiful objects or less beautiful objects, or ugly objects and yet you arrive at the concept of beauty. How do you arrive at this concept of beauty? You see human beings are doing good actions or bad actions with various shades. How do you arrive at the idea of goodness? It is understood by the human being, what is goodness.

Taking such examples it is said that Pure Reason has the capacity to jump from particulars to the universal. This jump marks the speciality of the domain of philosophy. A full development of this jump, take for example, the concept of essence, everybody seems to understand what essence. If somebody doesn’t, we can simply give them a paragraph and say ‘summarize it’, immediately the human mind is capable of summarizing. What does it mean? That there is something in the human mind, a capacity to grasp all that is given in a passage, to bring out the quintessence of it and to express the basic substance of what is said in such a long paragraph in a few lines, and you can judge, whether it is a good summary or not a good summary. By what capacity do we understand whether it is a good summary or not? We understand that the essence has been caught or not because you know what essence is. If you ask somebody to explain, it may be different but understanding, understands essence. In fact you might say understanding consists in the perception of essence. Whenever you say I have understood, basically it means that you have understood the essence. Without understanding the essence you can’t understand whatever is to be understood. You can understand details and paraphernalia, you can make distinction between also that and which is not essence. That which is principle that which is subordinate, how do we do this?

In the physical world nothing is written that this is essential and this is not essential. So, this knowledge is not derived from sense experiences. Spinoza, for example, wrote a book called ‘Ethics”, it’s one of the great books in the field of philosophy. The title is ‘Ethics’ but basically it is the totality. Ethics is the culminating point of his book, and therefore he calls it ‘Ethics’, but it starts with what may be called Ontology.

Ontology is a study of essence. What is essence, or study of what is called ‘Being’. We see in the world constant flux that is visible even to the physical senses,” that is called the knowledge of becoming, all that is in flux is becoming but the idea that the becoming is dependent upon Being and the study of this Being is the focal point of Ontology and Ontology is the heart of philosophy. You may say that philosophy is a very large term. One general definition of philosophy is that it is the study of the Ultimate. 

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