Personalities - Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

Our interest in Kant is based upon the human ascent to a certain level of consciousness where he becomes aware of the Categorical Imperative. It is a part of the ascent of human life. Where one begins to perceive a state of profundity, in which he discovers a state in which he has to be and he has to act simply because he has to, he has to act, he has to be, and he has no other reason except to be, no other reason except to act.

It's a state of unconditionally. A state in which one finds a sort of helplessness. Even a state in which like a child in its utter infancy can do nothing but be in the arms of his mother. But this is analogically so. What happens in our infancy happens also in that state of ascension where we reach a point where we are helpless, where we have to be, where we have to act unconditionally.

Now this state is discovered under many circumstances, while walking on various different paths. It is there that one discovers that there is something like an imperative. Something like a command. A command which is received clearly, received instantaneously, and obeyed instantaneously. Unconditionally. We may formulate this in many different ways and I think Kant's formulation is one of the possible formulations. The greatness of Kant is to recognise that state and to give it a very powerful formulation.

As you rise in the scale of conduct, in the scale of action, in the scale of works, our normal motivation of work is fixed upon the result of the work and enjoyment of the result of the work. This is a long road by itself where actions are motivated by results and by enjoyment of results of work. But a time comes when you find that this connecting oneself with the results of work is a bondage, is a great limitation. And it keeps you narrowed to a certain series of causal events; a series of action-fruit-action-fruit sequence and one is not allowed to rise higher than this. One becomes engaged in this.

Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

Now, it is in that stage that you perceive your whole world as it were a state of bondage. This stage is also a stage of helplessness, in the sense that you can do nothing but be chained to this action-fruit sequence. This is where we normally are, but we don't perceive that we are in that condition. It is only after a certain experience of this stage that you begin to withdraw from it and begin to perceive that you are constantly in the chain of action-fruit-action-fruit consciousness. And at the same time, you find that the whole world, not only the world of conduct and the world of action, but the whole world that is around you is a World which keeps you tied to what you see and what you think, keeping you away from what is really real, what is really there objectively.

Now, if you look at the world from this point of view, you may begin to Perceive that you are like an individual (this is the analogy given by C.E.M. Joad), you are like a person born with blue spectacles on, right from the beginning. So that you can see nothing but blue and your experience of the word is bluish. You are tied, you are helpless, you cannot see anything else but blue. Now, Kant gives what you may call an epistemological picture of the world and he points out that the human apparatus of knowledge is an apparatus of sensation, of perception and of thought and experience. It is an apparatus which is similar to blue spectacles which are fixed as it were on us irremediably. You cannot remove them. So it is an apparatus given to us and therefore all we receive is through that apparatus, and you can't see the reality as it is. The epistemological apparatus is the apparatus of sensation, perception, thought and experience.

Now Kant points out that we can perceive in this world nothing but space and time. It is our apparatus. Our psychological bondage. We are born with some kind of an inborn capacity — or incapacity you might say — so that we can only see things in space and time. We can't even imagine something else that space and time. Now in this space and time you can see nothing but quantities, qualities, relations, and modalities. This is also a result of our apparatus. Things always appear to you in terms of quantities, or qualities, or relations or modalities. You cannot go out of the arithmetic or mathematics of quantity and quality. You always happen to see things in terms of relationships, you cannot see anything except in terms of is, may be or must be.

Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

There are no other alternatives, either things are or they may be or they must be. You cannot but see things in terms of reciprocity,- I relate to you, you relate to me — or as cause and effect antecedent and consequent. I cannot but see things in terms of red and white and all different colours, all different qualities of smell, or in terms of quantity, one or many or unity. This is our limited scope as it were, and you can't go beyond it, you do not know what is behind it. What is a thing without colour, for example? What is a thing which is beyond unity or many-ness?

So Kant came to this conclusion that we are so obliged, helplessly obliged, that we cannot but see the world through the glasses which one has been wearing right since birth irremediably. And yet there must be that reality, which is not conditioned by all this, something that is beyond my spectacles. Because I can see very clearly that something which is presented, but because of the my blueness of the glasses, I perceive it blue, but the object as it is devoid of blueness, must be. It is that which is presented.

Therefore in every experience there are two things, the thing which we call "thing in itself", or the object in itself, and the object as it appears to us, because of the glasses. The glasses consist of space-time and quantity, quality, relation and modality. These are the contours of our glasses and anything that we perceive is immediately clothed in this, two intuitions and four categories, as he called them. Two intuitions, space and time, and four categories, quantity, quality, relation and modality. And then, The Object in Itself.

And then he asked the question, is it possible to comprehend or apprehend the object in itself? How do we grasp it, how to do we go beyond these spectacles? So he discovered that there is a mode of action in us which is the mode of what he calls Hypothetical Imperative (not categorical imperative, but hypothetical imperative) in which we are chained always to action-fruit sequence. Just as we are confined to the experience of appearances in our pure epistemology, similarly in our conduct, in our ethics and in our action. In our conduct we are constantly bound by another spectacle, action-fruit sequence. All our actions are motivated under a kind of command which can be expressed, "If I want to please you, I must pay a visit to you". This is a kind of hypothetical imperative. "If I want that I should succeed, I must put in such and such a Labour". An action-fruit sequence. Now so long as we remain in action-fruit sequence we remain both epistemologically and ethically in a bound world and we never approach the object in itself, the reality itself.

Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

But, if we now strive (and this is now where categorical imperative comes),if we break this action-fruit sequence, we arrive at a state of consciousness where we enter into that dimension in which there is no action-fruit sequence, and as a result we can also enter into the world of object in itself. It is an entry into the object as it is. It is only through this gate, through the gate of action which is notted up with action-fruit sequence. When we rise to a state where action proceeds from us automatically, not bound by any sequence or consequence, not for the sake of enjoyment of the fruit. Then we enter into the gates of the world as it is, or the reality as it is, the object in itself. Now that state in which we act is the state of the categorical imperative. And action proceeds. And if anybody asks the question, "Why are you doing this action?" your answer is, "It is a categorical imperative."  There is no hypothetical — not because you want this therefore you do this. No, you do this action because "It is to be done". Unconditionally. It is helplessness of the other kind. It is a helplessness in which you really experience the freedom. It is an action in which you are free from the clutch of action-fruit sequence. You are not any more bound by that sequence. You are now free, and if anybody says, "Why do you act", because you are not bound for that result or that result, but it has to be done. If you reach that state of consciousness, and this is the discovery of Kant that there is a dimension of our consciousness where you can spontaneously, it is not a labour, spontaneously you do because it is to be done.

Question: In reading about Kant, I don't find anything referring to these over arching states of changing consciousness, or that he is inviting people to move into higher states of consciousness.

Actually you might say that I have expounded Kant

Question: In the light of Sri Aurobindo.

No, in the light in which he should be. Because if you study Kant deeply, you find that whatever Kant says can be understood properly if you put it in this cadre or framework. Kant is found by many people to be incomprehensible. They expound Kant is such a way that people get frightened and feel this is not understandable. But if you go deep into Kant and ask: "Of what is that philosophy without distorting Kant in any way, on a formulation?" Then you find − contrary I feel that I am precisely stating what Kant really has to say. This is my personal honest view. Honestly, I may be misled or misguided, it's quite possible but it is a fact that if you want to understand Kant, you must look for what it is he has to say.

Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

He has discovered the categorical imperative, this is the whole point. He Speals of the Categorical Imperative in the sense that there is in us, he discovers in us, a consciousness in which action proceeds categorically. The word imperative is only a form of any ethical action. Ethical action is what Do it Every ethical action is in the form of; Do it;;I am doing; is a positive action, not an ethical action, ought to do is the ethical action. So ought to do is translated as the Word imperative. And since he speaks of action in which fruit is not the motive, it is categorical. I mean the words are used by him. Those words categorical and imperative are used by him and if you try to understand what it means, it means a state of consciousness in which there is an impulse, or an imposition on you as it were, in which you act, in which you must act, in which there is the emergence of your imperative command of acting, for what, for its own sake. This is what is called duty for duty's sake, and that is the formulation of Kant. So he said there is a state of consciousness in which duty comes to you as something to be performed not for any result, not for any purpose or enjoyment, but for its own sake. Duty for duty's sake. This is the discovery that Kant has made.

Question: But his personality doesn't seem to exemplify this Heroism, Illumination, ... or a liberated personality.

Your remark brings out the second aspect of Kant. The first aspect is his discovery, first, and his formulation in the form in which he presents us. And it is exemplified in his life, which is from the external point of view quite uneventful. So you must look into his uneventful life, so to say. But this uneventful life is full of acts which are noble. When he was about to die, it is said, his physician came to see him, and although it was impossible for him to rise, he rose from his bed, saluted him, and the physician said this is not what you should be doing, but "this is an action for its own sake". And soon thereafter he died, but this is the last anecdote from his life. You ask Dr. Chattopahaya to give you this anecdote, and many others. So in his lifetime, it is said that people set their watches by his movement at a given time, he was so regular and so conscious, they could set their watches by his arrival and departure.

Exposition on Kant

Exposition on Kant

Question: This is triumph of mind over the vital.

Yes. So this is one aspect. Now the question is, when he came to define this categorical imperative in great detail he said that an action for its own sake is to be judged intrinsically. How do you know that this is an action for its own sake? Because human beings are doing all sorts of activities, how do we detect that Bhavana is actually not in this syndrome of action-fruit sequence, but she is in the higher level where she is dictated only by action for its own sake. How do we find it out? How do you detect it? Basically his answer is that it cannot be tested externally. It is to be tested intrinsically, internally only. Your experience in which you are really free from clutching the fruit, how can somebody else fund out whether you are clutching the fruit or not. Intrinsically you find out whether you are clutching at the fruit or not. Secondly you will find experience of freedom. You are liberated from clutching consciousness, grasping consciousness, you automatically act and that is the end of it. You act, there is nothing to be gained out of it, you simply act. And every action of yours in that state will be of that kind. There is no grasping of fruits of action.

And he goes further, actually, and says that although from your side there is no clutching of action, but it would be in the eyes of justice not proper that action is not properly rewarded. Not from your side, but in the scheme of things, it is not appropriate that an action done by you does not get the reward which is appropriate to it. Now from this ground he derives two important conclusions. Namely that your soul must be immortal because that reward may come, now of later, even if you do your last action in this life there must be a reward, even after your death. So unless the soul is immortal this would not happen. And then he goes deeper and says, but how does this get guaranteed? How are you sure that this will happen? And he said therefore God must exist. He derives the proof of existence of God from this important experience.

I am sorry, I have to go.

Don't worry — action for its own sake. And therefore he concluded, God Freedom Immortality are the perennial ideas, irrefutable ideas, irresistible ideas and therefore true. God Freedom Immortality, the last phrase of Sri Aurobindo's first chapter, first paragraph of The Life Divine.

Question: How does it fit into book on Life Force?

It is a study of the upliftment of Life Force.

Exposition on Kant

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