The Role of Reason in the Progress of Human Development

The central position occupied by the Reason in the development of human consciousness and evolutionary growth is based on several distinct powers that it exercises.  Its ability to at least partially distance itself from the drives and instincts of the physical, vital and developing mental powers of life gives it the ability to provide guidance and clarity to the motives and actions of these lower members of the being.  Its ability to analyze and categorize is what provides this guidance and clarity.  It tries to develop a set of guidelines or rules of living based on what it perceives to be the issues and the needs for overpassing the wayward or counter-productive actions of these lower parts of the being.  But perhaps one of the most important functions is to not become ultimately satisfied with what has been achieved, but to always push forward beyond the frontiers through the power of questioning the status quo, even one that has been ultimately formed through its own action.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “It takes first the lower powers of his existence, each absorbed in its own urge, each striving with a blind self-sufficiency towards the fulfilment of its own instincts and primary impulses; it teaches them to understand themselves and to loo through the reflecting eyes of the intelligence on the laws of their own action.  It enables them to discern intelligently the high in themselves from the low, the pure from the impure and out of a crude confusion to arrive at more and more luminous formulas of their possibilities.  It gives them self-knowledge and is a guide, teacher, purifier, liberator.  For it enables them also to look beyond themselves and at each other and to draw upon each other for fresh motives and a richer working.”

“At the same time it plays the part of a judge and legislator, seeks to fix rules, provide systems and regularised combinations which shall enable the powers of the human soul to walk by a settled path and act according to a sure law, an ascertained measure and in a balanced rhythm.  Here it finds after a time that its legislative action becomes a force for limitation and turns into a bondage and that the regularised system which it has imposed in the interests of order and conservation becomes a cause of petrifaction and the sealing up of the fountains of life.  It has to bring in its own saving faculty of doubt.  Under the impulse of the intelligence warned by the obscure revolt of the oppressed springs of life, ethics, aesthetics, the social, political, economic rule begin to question themselves and, if this at first brings in again some confusion, disorder and uncertainty, yet it awakens new movements of imagination, insight, self-knowledge, and self-realisation by which old systems and formulas are transformed or disappear, new experiments are made and in the end larger potentialities and combinations are brought into play.  By this double action of the intelligence, affirming and imposing what it has seen and again in due season questioning what has been accomplished in order to make a new affirmation, fixing a rule and order and liberating from rule and order, the progress of the race is assured, however uncertain may seem its steps and stages.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 12,  The Office and Limitations of the Reason, pp. 114-115