The Role and Benefit of the Reason for Human Progress

One might well think, when one considers all of the fallibility of the human reason, its ability to justify anything for anyone and to even justify conflicting views, that the reason is such a flawed instrument that it has no real or ultimate value in the quest for a greater truth of life.  Yet, it is this very quality of the reason that makes it valuable and even essential in the growth and development of humanity in its evolution.  It is not the role of the reasoning faculty to grasp ultimate, absolute Truth, but to fasten onto so much of the truth as is necessary for the immediate action before one.  The very narrow limitations of the power of the reason allows it to use its power of exclusive concentration to make progress in any specific field to which its attention has been turned, while not being distracted by the complexity and infinity of the full truth of existence.  It is this power that has led to the advancements we see in human life with the advent of the reasoning intellect, and, while it must eventually be surpassed, it has a serious and meritorious role to play at this stage of human progress.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “… it is the legitimate function of the reason to justify to man his action and his hope and the faith that is in him and to give him that idea and knowledge, however restricted, and that dynamic conviction, however narrow and intolerant, which he needs in order that he may live, act and grow in the highest light available to him.  The reason cannot grasp all truth in its embrace because truth is too infinite for it; but still it does grasp the something of it which we immediately need, and its insufficiency does not detract from the value of its work, but is rather the measure of its value.  For man is not intended to grasp the whole truth of his being at once, but to move towards it through a succession of experiences and a constant, though not by any means a perfectly continuous self-enlargement.  The first business of reason then is to justify and enlighten to him his various experiences and to give him faith and conviction in holding on to his self-enlargings.  It justifies to him now this, now that, the experience of the moment, the receding light of the past, the half-seen vision of the future.  Its inconstancy, its divisibility against itself, its power of sustaining opposite views are the whole secret of its value.  It would not do indeed for it to support too conflicting views in the same individual, except at moments of awakening and transition, but in the collective body of men and in the successions of Time that is its whole business.  For so man moves towards the infinity of the Truth by the experience of its variety; so his reason helps him to build, change, destroy what he has built and prepare a new construction, in a word, to progress, grow, enlarge himself in his self-knowledge and world-knowledge and their works.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 12,  The Office and Limitations of the Reason, pp. 121-122

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