The First Standards of Conduct Are Individual Need and Desire and the Benefits for the Community

To understand the evolution of standards of conduct and the eventual overriding of a prior standard with a new, wider or higher, standard, it is useful to look at the basis and origin of standards of conduct.  Over time, humanity develops a successively layered matrix of standards.  The first standard is simply the desire or need of the individual.  There is hunger, so the individual reaches out for food.  Whatever gets in his way is subject to the drive of the individual trying to fulfill his need.  The second standard is an extension of the first, in that it applies a similar principle to the family, tribe, group, community within which the individual lives and interacts.  There is no question here of the principles of ethics, morality or anything other than what is perceived to meet the needs of the individual or the collective grouping.

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Synthesis of Yoga:  “There are four main standards of human conduct that make an ascending scale.  The first is personal need, preference and desire; the second is the law and good of the collectivity; the third is an ideal ethic; the last is the highest divine law of the nature.”

“The true business of man upon earth is to express in the type of humanity a growing image of the Divine; whether knowingly or unknowingly, it is to this end that Nature is working in him under the thick veil of her inner and outer processes.  But the material or animal man is ignorant of the inner aim of life; he knows only its needs and its desires and he has necessarily no other guide to what is required of him than his own perception of need and his own stirrings and pointings of desire.  To satisfy his physical and vital demands and necessities before all things else and, in the next rank, whatever emotional or mental cravings or imaginations or dynamic notions rise in him must be the first natural rule of his conduct.  The sole balancing or overpowering law that can modify or contradict this pressing natural claim is the demand put on him by the ideas, needs and desires of his family, community or tribe, the herd, the pack of which he is a member.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Four, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual freedom, pg. 41


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