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

Track Running The Human Aspiration - Track 201

Yesterday I spoke to you of the argument of Parmenides. This argument is a good exercise for philosophical thinking, so I shall dwell a little upon it. You know as students of philosophy there is a need for you to learn the art of argument. All philosophical statements in the world have taken the form of argumentation. So we should first understand what is the need for argumentation, secondly, what is the art of formulating an argument, and thirdly, how to evaluate an argument. We shall do all three things regarding this particular example.

First, what is the need of argumentation? There are situations where arguments are not necessary. For example we sit around this tree, and I make a statement: "Here is a large tree before us". We all see it and I don't need to make any argument and say that now a formulation is necessary. Everybody agrees, so there is no need of argument. In other words, whenever there is a statement, which one can verify in a common manner there is no need of an argument. You can make a statement and there is no argument – the statement only describes what is seen. But supposing we are all blind and sitting around the tree, a visitor enters, who has good sight, he enters and he says: "Oh you are all sitting under the shade of a tree!" then we are all surprised. And here, there is a need for that person to convince us that we are indeed sitting under a shade of a tree. If someone among us tells him "How do you know that we are sitting under a shade of a tree?" His first answer will be: "It is obvious!" Because it is obvious to him, he will say, "It is obvious". This is the first statement. This also is an argument. The statement "it is obvious" is also an argument. Why? Because it is not obvious to us, therefore it is an argument.

Most of the philosophers have made a lot of arguments, and when you dig deeper and deeper and deeper, you will find at the bottom, they say: "It is obvious". You may not find it immediately on the surface, but when you dig deeper, you will find at the base there is this statement "it is obvious".

I was at one time, a student of Bertrand Russell; I used to read Russell a lot. I was greatly impressed by him. Even today I admire him for many things, although I have left him and turned to other lines of thought. After lot of understanding pursuing his line of thought I discovered that his whole philosophy is based upon one statement: "It is obvious" – I am now formulating his argument – "that complex sentences, complex objects, complex situations, can all be reduced by analysis to simple statements, simple situations, simple sentences". In other words, his whole philosophy is based upon a statement that however complex is the world, it is obvious that this complexity is nothing but a combination of simple things. Meaning by which, that simple doesn't consist of complex. In other words he says: It is obvious that simple doesn't consist of complexity. This is his basic argument. It is the basic argument because even this statement can be questioned. It seems to be very obvious. At a later stage I will tell you what is the meaning of simple, and it is not as simple as we think it to be. If you go into the depth of reality, there is no such thing in the world as simple. Russell said that everything that is complex can be reduced ultimately to simple. If you have a complex building, you can say ultimately this complex building has been constructed out of simple bricks. So many bricks put together give a structure to them, therefore the structure is complex but this complexity is a result of simple bricks. It seems logically clear, clean, neat. But let us take a simple leaf of a tree. No leaf is simple. Every leaf has so much complexity in it. And you can further argue that even that complexity can be reduced to simplicity. Unfortunately you don't find anywhere in the world, anything that is simple. And yet Russell says, it is obvious that complex must be consisting of simple.

Similarly, you go to many other philosophical systems – I am only giving you one example that a man who comes from outside into an assembly of blind people who are sitting under a tree which is large and shady, would say "it is obvious that you are sitting under the shade of a tree". This is his answer: "it is obvious". But you may like however to be convinced that we are really sitting under a tree which has a large shade over us. Therefore, in India there is a very famous story, of an elephant and seven blind people. It is a very famous story, a parable told all over the country. And each philosophy student is told this story. The reason why is because it is assumed that we are all blind in this world. Philosophy has no reason to exist, in the way in which it exists today, if we were not blind. Assumptions behind every philosophical thinking is that we are all blind. If our eyesight was absolutely clear and clean and we could see the world within and without then argument would not be necessary. It would be simply obvious. But because we are blind, because, even with physical eyes open, our mental eyes are blind, our experiential eye is blind, our sensitivity is blind, emotionally we are blind, in many ways we are blind, therefore there is a need to state what some people think they are seeing. Anybody who feels he sees makes a statement. To him it is obvious but to the others it is not.

The story of the blind men and the elephant is that an elephant is put before the blind people and each blind man observes by touching and then describing. One who takes hold of the leg or the foot says it is like a trunk, but one who touches the ear feels it is like a vessel or a fan, and so on. If every part of the elephant is taken into account by each one touching it separately you will get seven different descriptions and none of them correct. And yet, for every one whatever is said is obvious.

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