The Integration and Enlargement of the Ethical and Aesthetic Sense in Human Development

The tendency of the human mind to create “either/or” scenarios has provided a difficulty in finding a solution to the opposition between two strong characteristics in human nature, the ethical sense and the aesthetic sense.  It must also be remembered that these two do not, together, represent the entire complexity of the human being, nor the highest capabilities.  Sri Aurobindo explores the possibilities of integration of these two, and the need to call forth another power of human consciousness to bring about the final fulfillment for which humanity is preparing.

“Neither the ethical being nor the aesthetic being is the whole man, nor can either be his sovereign principle; they are merely two powerful elements.  Ethical conduct is not the whole of life; even to say that it is three-fourths of life is to indulge in a very doubtful mathematics.  We cannot assign to it its position in any such definite language, but can at best say that its kernel of will, character and self-discipline are almost the first condition for human self-perfection.  The aesthetic sense is equally indispensable, for without that the self-perfection of the mental being cannot arrive at its object, which is on the mental plane the right and harmonious possession and enjoyment of the truth, power, beauty and delight of human existence.  But neither can be the highest principle of the human order.  We can combine them; we can enlarge the sense of ethics by the sense of beauty and delight and introduce into it to correct its tendency of hardness and austerity the element of gentleness, love, amenity, the hedonistic side of morals; we can steady, guide and strengthen the delight of life by the introduction of the necessary will and austerity and self-discipline which will give it endurance and purity.  These two powers of our psychological being, which represent in us the essential principle of energy and the essential principle of delight, — the Indian terms are more profound and expressive, Tapas and Ananda, (Tapas is the energizing conscious-power of cosmic being by which the world is created, maintained and governed; it includes all concepts of force, will, energy, power, everything dynamic and dynamising.  Ananda is the essential nature of bliss of the cosmic consciousness and, in activity, its delight of self-creation and self-experience.) — can be thus helped by each other, the one to a richer, the other to a greater self-expression.  But that even this much reconciliation may come about they must be taken up and enlightened by a higher principle which must be capable of understanding and comprehending both equally and of disengaging and combining disinterestedly their purposes and potentialities.  That higher principle seems to be provided for us by the human faculty of reason and intelligent will.  Our crowning capacity, it would seem to be by right the crowned sovereign of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 10, Aesthetic and Ethical Culture, pp. 100-101