The Evolutionary Necessity for an Age of Reason and Critical Thought

An age that focuses on critical analysis, insight and thought, an age that challenges established modes and ways of living and thinking, is naturally an age of discomfort for those who live in such times.  Conventional lines of thought and action are comforting to people, and they provide everyone a fixed understanding of their role in society and their goals for life.  When individuals begin to challenge these conventions and fixed habits of thinking and living, they are frequently harassed, treated as outcastes, imprisoned, tortured or killed.  With the advent of an age of reason and individualism, many people begin to question the assumptions of the societal order at all levels, and disruption can occur in many directions.  We see a weakening of the authority of the Church or the government, we see social mores brought into question.  Those who are satisfied with their lives and the conventions that cocoon them wonder why such disruptions need to occur.

Sri Aurobindo describes the essential nature and importance of such periods for human development and the evolutionary pressure of the Time-Spirit:  “A temporary reign of the critical reason largely destructive in its action is an imperative need for human progress.  In India, since the great Buddhistic upheaval of the national thought and life, there has been a series of recurrent attempts to rediscover the truth of the soul and life and get behind the veil of stifling conventions; but these have been conducted by a wide and tolerant spiritual reason, a plastic soul-intuition and deep subjective seeking, insufficiently militant and destructive.  Although productive of great internal and considerable external changes, they have never succeeded in getting rid of the predominant conventional order.  The work of a dissolvent and destructive intellectual criticism, though not entirely absent from some of these movements, has never gone far enough; the constructive force, insufficiently aided by the destructive, has not been able to make a wide and free space for its new formation.  It is only with the period of European influence and impact that circumstances and tendencies powerful enough to enforce the beginnings of a new age of radical and effective revaluation of ideas and things have come into existence.”

“It has compelled the national mind to view everything from a new, searching and critical standpoint, and even those who seek to preserve the present or restore the past are obliged unconsciously or half-consciously to justify their endeavour from the novel point of view and by its appropriate standards of reasoning.  Throughout the East, the subjective Asiatic mind is being driven to adapt itself to the need for changed values of life and thought.  It has been forced to turn upon itself both by the pressure of Western knowledge and by the compulsion of a quite changed life-need and life-environment.  What it did not do from within, has come on it as a necessity from without and this externality has carried with it an immense advantage as well as great dangers.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 3, The Coming of the Subjective Age, pp. 26-27