Once again we are required to utilise reason to understand the individual, to understand society and to understand the relationship between the individual and the society. In doing so there are many domains of data which need to be explored and unless you do that, we shall not be able to find a true solution. And the difficulty with the egoism of man and rational powers of man at present have come up with one very important statement – both agree to inquire, both show willingness to inquire but the paradoxical situation is that when the proposals for inquiry are being put forward, both egoism of man and rational powers of man, refuse to inquire. I do not know whether this statement would be accepted either by egoism or by rationality of man. But if you inquire into the depth as to why they are not able to make sufficient progress, at the root of it we shall find that while we profess to inquire, we refuse to inquire; there is some kind of a refusal.
In fact you might say that one of the most important problems of humanity today is the refusal, as Mother once said: ‘Refusal with R cap’, there is a refusal. Now Sri Aurobindo goes farther and says that in breaking this refusal the lead will have to come from the individual. In fact according to Sri Aurobindo it is the individual who has a pivotal significance today, why, how it is so, we shall see later on. But this is a statement that Sri Aurobindo has made that individual holds the key and that is why the need that this entire analysis that we are making is addressed to individuals individually. And each individual has to understand it to the best of his or her ability because it is the individual who has to make a choice. This question of choice is also extremely important. What is the role of choice in the process of evolution is also an extremely important theme to be explored. But in any case this being so, I am reminded of the very famous statement of Immanuel Kant, as many of us know that speciality of Kant is not merely in his analysis and critique of pure reason but in his analysis of the individual and in his analysis of the idea of the free–will and the importance of choice.
We must remember that Kant lived at the time of the French Revolution and one of the surprising facts that he witnessed was that an ideal was put forward and a group of people in France made a choice to realise those ideals. As a result of which the situation of pre–revolution was completely overturned and a new era in human history started on a higher level of revolution. Decisive factor was perception of an ideal and the choice which was made by a few individuals to realise that ideal. Now Kant pointed out that if there is something most important in the individual, is of course the choice, but he went farther because when we talk of choice, usually we talk of alternatives which are available in an ordinary life, whether I should go on the right hand side or the left hand side because both of them lead ultimately to the same destination, or there is more pleasure on one side and less pleasure on the other side and therefore I make a choice on the basis of what gives me greater pleasure. But what Kant pointed out was apart from this kind of choice there is a greater choice, a higher level of choice is a choice of an alternative which is governed by a law. That is to say you chose between a stage of existence in which there are alternatives but there are no laws determining what he called there are only hypothetical laws, if you want this, then this is good choice, if you want this, this is a good choice but he said that there is another choice available – a law, which he called the Law of the categorical imperative. And there is a choice available to man whether to accept the hypothetical laws or the categorical law. And the real freedom of man lies in the exercise of the choice between this and that. And he found that regal individual, what we call true individuality is really found, discovered, even the individual finds himself a living being, what you might call the existential experience of the individual, when he makes a choice, when he exercises this choice and selects and chooses this, the operation of the higher law – categorical imperative.
In fact you might say one of the greatest contributions of Kant in modern times is his emphasis on the individual. His discovery of the individual because you must remember that there was a tradition of a thought movement in Europe in which emphasis was laid upon a whole so that the individual was considered to be part was reduced only to the position of a cog in a machine and Kant pointed out that individual is not a cog in the machine. Individual is something quite unique. The whole idea of individual as a responsible being so that there is a choice, a freedom which is exercised by the individual gives to the individual a sense of being, a channel of a will, which is not his own personal will and that is also very interesting. There is a will which he considers to be universal law, a will of universal law which expresses this self through the agency of the individual in which the individual perceives it, makes a choice for it, experiences its freedom in it and feels himself to be a true agent of action, and a responsible agent of action. It is true that Kant does not take his analysis to the farthest extent possible, potentialities of the individual, and that even his definition of the categorical imperative and his own treatment of the universal law, they have been rightly criticised by many of the subsequent thinkers and there is great merit in the criticisms which have been subjected to the idea of Kant. We need not go into it too deeply into it at present as a part of our present inquiry. What is important however is the fact that individual is not a cog in the machine. This idea that individual has something in him which can play a pivotal role, a decisive role in the development of civilisation. This idea I think he underlined it and I think it is very important that thereafter in the West individualism has gained a great momentum on account of this discovery. In fact you might say that both post–romanticism and even post–modernism both of them have tended to give greater importance to individual than to the society. And both have given greater importance also to the operation of will rather than to reason. This is not to advocate a kind of romanticism or post–romanticism or post–modernism, it is only to see the merits, whatever merits both these movements possess and surely in emphasising the importance of the individual underling the freedom of the individual and the pivotal role that individual can play and must play and the impact it has made on the present thinking of civilian civilisation – this is to be underlined. Nonetheless the central idea that society is the most important thing and social perfection is the highest thing to be sought after even while making individual subservient to the society is also very, very prominent today. It is true that we speak of democracy and democracy derives its great value from the importance that is given to the individual and the freedom of the individual, we must understand that there is an overwhelming attempt to subjugate individual and that is why even in the fields of democracy the battle between the individual and the authority is quite acute. This would not be if individual is rightly understood in his true value. There is an uneasy equation today between individual and society and the overwhelming importance is given to the perfection of the society.
In any case Sri Aurobindo points out that faced with the present situation where we stand today, where economic organisation, perfection of economic organisation is being pursued vehemently. A situation where huge structures have been built up, and where the difficulties are being faced, although the impasse is not felt as an impasse as yet but still there is a tremendous movement to find some solution. There is no doubt that humanity does find itself in the presence of an enormous difficulty. We speak of bewildering multiplicity of problems which modern mankind is facing today. We may not regard this multiplicity of problems as basically a result of a deeper crisis, which Sri Aurobindo calls evolutionary crisis. This diagnosis may not be yet seen by many people but nobody can deny the fact that today humanity recognises, acknowledges multiplicity of problems and that there is a tremendous movement to find solution. Now in that search of solution, Sri Aurobindo marks out four alternatives which have been put forward in our last century, in the twentieth century in fact, if you examine the whole history of the century, we shall find that it is working out of proposing these four solutions. And it is by examining these four contrary solutions that we can move forward in coming to the grip of the real problem.