The Limitations of the Abstract Moral-Ethical Standard In the World of Life-Action

The development of the abstract moral-ethical code, while representing a progress for humanity from the ego-based individual and social codes of conduct, has its own limitations and issues. First, there is the enormous gulf between the abstract concept and the actual reality put into action by individuals and the society as a whole. While some of this may be posturing or hypocrisy, more likely there is simply the natural opposition between the law of survival and individual fulfillment, the law of society’s survival and operation and the ideal principle set forth by the mentally-based code of ethics. Justice as a concept, love as a concept, compassion as a concept have still not been fully implemented and tend to be compromised when survival or individual desire-will is at stake. The fact of there being a true aspiration for these higher principles is in itself an advance, and the ability of these principles to color and modify the action is certainly a progress, but we would be misleading ourselves to believe that these independent standards have acquired control over human conduct.

The second major issue is the fact that these rules are limited by their basis in the mind and tend to separate things into “black and white’ to such a degree that they become rigid and unforgiving, leading in some cases to inhumane results as the “moral code” takes precedence over the very real and necessary roles that the individual survival and growth instinct provides, as well as the beneficial aspects of the social organization in terms of human survival.

Sri Aurobindo explores these points in depth: “The moralist erects in vain his absolute ethical standard and calls upon all to be faithful to it without regard to consequences. To him the needs and desires of the individual are invalid if they are in conflict with the moral law, and the social law has no claims upon him if it is opposed to his sense of right and denied by his conscience. This is his absolute solution for the individual that he shall cherish no desirse and claims that are not consistent with love, truth and justice. He demands from the community or nation that it shall hold all things cheap, even its safety and its most pressing interests, in comparison with truth, justice, humanity and the highest good of the peoples.”

Of course, “No individual rises to these heights except in intense moments, no society yet created satisfies this ideal.” This remains a mentally constructed framework that has all the limits of the mind and thus, cannot truly work for the evolutionary framework and complexity of the divine manifestation that exceeds in all directions the mind’s limits. “Even it is found that it ignores other elements in humanity which equally insist on survival but refuse to come within the moral formula.” There remains an underlying truth and reality to the earlier standards which must be found and integrated, not suppressed or overturned in their entirety.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 7, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom, pp. 187-189


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