The Hellenic Ideal, the Modern Ideal and the Development of a Future Ideal of Human Life

We can review several different philosophical approaches to the meaning of life and what we, as human beings, are to do with it.  The ancient ideal of the Greeks focused on the harmonious, balanced and integrated development of the human capacities of mind and body.   The development was multi-faceted, and brought about the expression of aesthetic, moral, and philosophical ideals within the framework of a human physical body and life that was balanced, harmonious and prepared to carry out the needs of the entire range of human activities.  Modern life focuses more on the role of the human individual as an economic unit in the machinery of society and thus works to train the mind in directions that suit the societal requirements for technology, engineering and scientific development, while placing a lesser emphasis on the other aspects of human evolutionary growth and expression.  Both of these developments, however, are limited by their fixation on the outer life of man, without any deeper significance or calling.  Sri Aurobindo maintains that a future subjective age will call forth the true purpose of human life and evolution and these other developments will be seen as steps or stages of preparation along the way.

“The ancient Greek mind was philosophic, aesthetic and political; the modern mind has been scientific, economic and utilitarian.  The ancient ideal laid stress on soundness and beauty and sought to build up a fine and rational human life; the modern lays very little or no stress on beauty, prefers rational and practical soundness, useful adaptation, just mechanism and seeks to build up a well-ordered, well-informed and efficient human life.  Both take it that man is partly a mental, partly a physical being with the mentalised physical life for his field and reason for his highest attribute and his highest possibility.  But if we follow to the end the new vistas opened by the most advanced tendencies of a subjective age, we shall be led back to a still more ancient truth and ideal that overtops both the Hellenic and the modern levels.  For we shall then seize the truth that man is a developing spirit trying here to find and fulfil itself in the forms of mind, life and body; and we shall perceive luminously growing before us the greater ideal of a deeply conscious self-illumined, self-possessing, self-mastering soul in a pure and perfect mind and body.  The wider field it seeks will be, not the mentalised physical life with which man has started, but a new spiritualised life inward and outward, by which the perfected internal figures itself in a perfected external living.  Beyond man’s long intelligent effort towards a perfected culture and a rational society there opens the old religious and spiritual ideal, the hope of the kingdoms of heaven within us and the city of God upon earth.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 13,  Reason and Religion, pp. 124-125