Limitations of the Reason in the Field of Ideas

As the human individual develops the use of the power of the intellect, he can move his focus from fulfillment of the needs and desires of his life, to the field of ideas.  In and of itself, this is a form of progress of the human evolutionary urge, yet it too has its weaknesses and limitations, which particularly adhere the vital force of the life to an idea and make it a partisan event rather than a wholly disinterested effort devoted solely to understanding and expressing the truth of life.  There are those who say that more people have died in wars fought in the name of religion than of any other cause, which illustrates this limitation.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But even the man who is capable of governing his life by ideas, who recognises, that is to say, that it ought to express clearly conceived truths and principles of his being or of all being and tries to find out or to know from others what these are, is not often capable of the highest, the free and disinterested use of his rational mind.  As others are subject to the tyranny of their interests, prejudices, instincts or passions, so he is subjected to the tyranny of ideas.  Indeed, he turns these ideas into interests, obscures them with his prejudices and passions and is unable to think freely about them, unable to distinguish their limits or the relation to them of other, different and opposite ideas and the equal right of these also to existence.  Thus, as we constantly see, individuals, masses of men, whole generations are carried away by certain ethical, religious, aesthetic, political ideas or a set of ideas, espouse them with passion, pursue them as interests, work to make them a system and lasting rule of life and are swept away in the drive of their action and do not really use the free and disinterested reason for the right knowledge of existence and for its right and sane government.”

The problem here is that each such idea is limited and circumscribed, and thus, even if it succeeds in gaining adherence and mastery for a time it can only do so either by making a pact with forces and ideas that dilute it, but which control the ground of human life; or else, they set up an opposition that seeks to bring other aspects into the view and the balance and thus eventually brings the idea down as circumstances evolve.

“Life escapes from the formulas and systems which our reason labours to impose in it; it proclaims itself too complex, too full of infinite potentialities to be tyrannised over by the arbitrary intellect of man.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 11,  The Reason as Governor of Life, pp. 107-108