The Inception of the Concept of a Higher Moral and Ethical Ideal

There is clearly no solution in the conflicting needs and demands of the individual will and the collective will of humanity.  The search for such a solution led eventually to the concept of a higher independent ethical ideal which would overlay both the individual and the societal framework.  This represents the action of the mental power attempting to use its independent logical reasoning to rein in the impulses of the vital nature and through this action to develop an influence over the society’s standards..

In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Above the natural individual law which sets up as our one standard of conduct the satisfaction of our individual needs, preferences and desires and the natural communal law which sets up as a superior standard the satisfaction of the needs, preferences and desires of the community as a whole, there had to arise the notion of an ideal moral law which is not the satisfaction of need and desire, but controls and even coerces or annuls them in the interests of an ideal order that is not animal, not vital and physical, but mental, a creation of the mind’s seeking for light and knowledge and right rule and right movement and true order.  The moment this notion becomes powerful in man, he begins to escape from the engrossing vital and material into the mental life….”

“It is therefore essentially an individual standard; it is not a creation of the mass mind.  The thinker is the individual; it is he who calls out and throws into forms that which would otherwise remain subconscious in the amorphous human whole.  The moral striver is also the individual; self-discipline, not under the yoke of an outer law, but in obedience to an internal light, is essentially an individual effort.  But by positing his personal standard as the translation of an absolute moral ideal, the thinker imposes it, not on himself alone, but on all the individuals whom his thought can reach and penetrate.  And as the mass of individuals come more and more to accept it in idea if only in an imperfect practice or no practice, society also is compelled to obey the new orientation.  It absorbs the ideative influence and tries, not with any striking success, to mould its institutions into new forms touched by these higher ideals.  But always its instinct is to translate them into binding law, into pattern form, into mechanic custom, into an external social compulsion upon its living units.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Four, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual freedom, pp. 44-45

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