The Nature of the Philosophical Intellect

It is important to understand the human intellect, its capacities and its limitations, in order to get at the root cause of the disconnect that has generally taken place between the path of knowledge, the path of love and the path of works. The latter two are rooted in energies of life, while the mind has the capability of abstracting itself from life. This differentiating factor has caused the path of knowledge to move always further into abstractions, which has the effect of divorcing it from life and life-energies.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The nature of the philosophical intellect is to move among ideas and to give them a sort of abstract reality of their own apart from all their concrete representations which affect our life and personal consciousness. Its bent is to reduce these representations to their barest and most general tems and to subtilise even these if possible into some final abstraction. The pure intellectual direction travels away from life.”

Eventually the intellect comes to the conclusion that the most abstract formulation is the ultimate truth and all the external life and circumstances are somehow just incidents and thus, less “real”. The abstractions “existence”, “consciousness” and “bliss” represented one such attempt to satisfy the intellect’s need for some ultimate form of unchanging truth. As Sri Aurobindo describes it, this direction had to eventually “…throw all back into a pure featureless existence from which everything else had been discharged, all representations, all values, except the one infinite and timeless fact of being.”

The intellect could even find a further abstraction by treating this timeless, unchanging existence as “only a representation; it abstracted that also and got to an infinite zero which might be either a void or an eternal inexpressible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pp. 553-554