The Functions and the Operative Limits of the Power of Reason

The power of Reason plays an important role in the development of human potential in the world.  While it is not the ultimate arbiter of truth, it is able to focus the attention and action of the individual through its powers of exclusive concentration and limitation so that the necessary steps can be taken without unnecessary distraction.  The reason limits itself, for the most part to the current stage or step in the development and its role is to carry the human intellect forward to prepare it for a subsequent stage or step.  At some point, however, it reaches the limits of its functionality and needs to be prepared to step aside for further evolutionary growth, even while it continues to carry out its necessary functions in the context of human life and action.

Sri Aurobindo observes, in The Human Cycle:  “…the rationalist … is supported by two constant articles of faith, first that his own reason is right and the reason of others who differ from whom is wrong, and secondly that whatever may be the present deficiencies of the human intellect, the collective reason will eventually arrive at purity and be able to found human thought and life securely on a clear rational basis entirely satisfying to the intelligence.  His first article of faith is no doubt the common expression of our egoism and arrogant fallibility, but it is also something more; it expresses this truth that 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 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 experiences 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 Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Three, The Present Evolutionary Crisis, pp. 17-18

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