The Life Divine is a philosophical book so we must first know what is philosophy, what is philosophical method because if we are clear about it, we shall understand how Sri Aurobindo expounds the entire theme in a philosophical method. As you know there is a distinction between science and philosophy. Science is a pursuit of knowledge by means of observation, experimentation, forming of hypothesis, verification of hypothesis and arriving at a conclusion, – a conclusion by means of deduction or induction.
There is a view that all knowledge to be true knowledge must be scientific in character therefore that which is not scientific is not knowledge, this is a very prominent view in the present day, particularly. According to this view therefore philosophy is not knowledge because it is not Science. Philosophy is not only abstract but it does not pursue knowledge. Science is a pursuit of knowledge by definition and the methods are observation, experimentation, verification of hypothesis, arriving at conclusion by deduction or induction. Since philosophy does not follow this method therefore philosophy whatever it may be, is not knowledge.
Now as against it there is a view that science deals with answers to two questions – how and why in regard to any question that it pursues, in regard to any observed fact that it observes. It takes up any fact and says – what is it, how is it, what it is and why is it what it is. It answers these three questions – what is it, how is it, why is it. But in doing so, it never answers these three questions fully. Its methods prevent us from going to the ultimate how and why and what? So it is argued that science by its very method of pursuit raises questions of what, why and how but does not answer these three questions fully in the ultimate sense, therefore the answers that science provides are always provisional answers, they are always imperfect answers and also it leaves us into some kind of a piecemeal knowledge, it does not give us fullness of knowledge; its knowledge is piecemeal. For example Physics is a science, it tries to analyse what is matter, how does matter operate and why certain things in material world behave in the way in which they do, but it deals only with the physical universe, it does not deal with life processes which Biology deals with. So biology answers questions only within the field of biology but the relationship between biology and physics is neither dealt with by physics nor by biology. Similarly psychology is the science of the mind, it deals with the mental phenomena but does not deal with physical phenomena, does not deal with life phenomena; therefore psychology is a scientific knowledge but limited to only the field of mind. But what is the relation between physics and psychology, neither physics deals with that question, nor psychology deals with that question. So the knowledge which is contained in various sciences is piece–meal knowledge, piece by piece, it’s limited. It does not give you the answer to the entire realm of knowledge – global, therefore it is argued that there must be a pursuit which raises fundamental questions, global questions, holistic questions, comprehensive questions and gives you answers to the ultimate what, ultimate how and ultimate why of all things taken together, that pursuit is considered to be Philosophy. So Philosophy is supposed to be a pursuit of knowledge in which you take into account all the data and then try to answer the questions of the ultimate how, ultimate why and ultimate what?
Now as against this view, it is argued that you can never have knowledge of all data, even if you try to have them, you can never have them. Therefore Philosophy is an impossible task. Therefore it is said Philosophy is either an impossible task or it is not knowledge that was the first view we considered, – Philosophy is not knowledge. Secondly even if Philosophy is pursued as knowledge such a task is impossible. Now as against this view, there is a view that it is possible to find out certain facts which are so universal that you can have a comprehensive knowledge, you can have, this is the argument on behalf of philosophers that there is a possibility of having certain facts which are so pervasive, so universal, unlikely to change therefore the moment you come to know them, you can have universal knowledge, total knowledge, comprehensive knowledge, therefore Philosophy is both possible and it is a pursuit of knowledge.
The question then arises: what are those facts which are so universal, which are so very pervasive. The answer is the following; one answer is that if you inquire into how do we know? Then we shall be able to arrive at facts which will be pervasive and universal. How do we know? How do we come to know anything? How do we know that we know and how do we know that what we know is true, is valid? If you raise these questions then the whole inquiry will be so pervasive, it will cover the whole universe and therefore you will be able to get answers which will be true fundamentally and comprehensively. This is the one approach, this is called epistemological approach. How do we know, how do we know what we know is valid or not valid? These questions are regarded as epistemological questions. And it is said that if you raise these questions then your pursuit will be fundamental, your pursuit will be comprehensive and you will be able to know everything that is to be known in the world. So in many books of philosophy begin with this question – how do we know? How do we know that we know that we know and how do we know that we know is valid or invalid? This is what is called epistemological approach.