The Potential and Progress of the Reason, and Its Ultimate Limitations

It is not sufficient to judge the failures of Reason to gain control over the life of society and organize it along lines that are consistent, harmonious and progressive to achieve the goals of human evolution.  Whenever a power must be applied across vast numbers of people in a complex societal structure, it suffers dilution of its potential as it must adjust to and compromise with the general level of human development.  When we turn our attention to the individual development of the power of reason, we can see a much more effective and efficient power that has scope far beyond what we see in general in the society.  The heights of human progress, whether in science, philosophy, ethics, aesthetic arts, have been explored and raised by the power of reason.  This brings us to the question as to whether this power can actually ferret out the deeper truths of existence and meaning for which humanity continues to seek.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “In the modern era under the impulsion of Science this effort assumed enormous proportions and claimed for a time to examine successfully and lay down finally the true principle and the sufficient rule of process not only for all the activities of Nature, but for all the activities of man.  It has done great things, but it has not been in the end a success.  The human mind is beginning to perceive that it has left the heart of almost every problem untouched and illumined only outsides and a certain range of processes.  There has been a great and ordered classification and mechanisation, a great discovery and practical result of increasing knowledge, but only on the physical surface of things.  Vast abysses of Truth lie below in which are concealed the real springs, the mysterious powers and secretly decisive influences of existence.  It is a question whether the intellectual reason will ever be able to give us an adequate account of these deeper and greater things or subject them to the intelligent will as it has succeeded in explaining and canalising, though still imperfectly, yet with much show of triumphant result, the forces of physical Nature.  But these other powers are much larger, subtler, deeper down, more hidden, elusive and variable than those of physical Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 11,  The Reason as Governor of Life, pp. 109-110