Objective and Subjective Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo’s discussion of objective and subjective reality leads immediately to a review of objective and subjective knowledge. “In fact, subjectivity and objectivity are not independent realities, they depend upon each other; they are the Being, through consciousness, looking at itself as subject on the object and the same Being offering itself to its own consciousness as object to the subject.”

Those who are wedded to physical “reality” tend to dismiss subjective knowledge as being fanciful or unreal, and they attribute only to what they experience as “external, objective reality” the only real substance. However, it has been abundantly demonstrated that “we have no means of knowing the objective universe except by our subjective consciousness of which the physical senses themselves are instruments; as the world appears not only to that but in that, so it is to us. If we deny reality to the evidence of this universal witness for subjective or for supraphysical objectivities, there is no sufficient reason to concede reality to its evidence for physical objectivities; if the inner or the supraphysical objects of consciousness are unreal, the objective physical universe has also every chance of being unreal.”

In the end, since both objective knowledge and subjective knowledge rely upon an inner awareness and discriminative function, and since our only knowledge of the external world is through senses interpreted by this inner awareness, it is clear that both objective and subjective knowledge have an equal basis of reality, and come down to the same thing, namely, an inner cognisance.

It is important to note, however that this does not mean that every whim or fancy that arises to the subjective witness awareness has to be validated as real and substantial. Just as the experience of the senses and the outer world can be distorted or misinterpreted, leading to false conclusions about physical reality, so also similar things can occur with purely subjective experiences. In each case, a process of review, weighing, and determination must take place to sort out the “wheat” from the “chaff” in our conscious experience. And the standards of judgment we must apply to purely subjective phenomena cannot be, by their very nature, identical to those we apply to objective physical experience and phenomena.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 15, Reality and the Integral Knowledge

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