A First Attempt at a Psychological Understanding of Human Society and Evolution

Eventually scientists and researchers reach the point where they begin to recognise that Matter cannot explain everything, and they start to search for other ideas and forces which provide a deeper insight into the workings of the universal creation and in particular the developments which directly affect mankind, including the development and organisation of societal forms.   Thus, the idea that humanity develops through a series of different types of society based on different psychological principles was developed.   This theory held that humanity at various stages has different ways of understanding and relating to the world, and that these stages follow a coherent principle of development, one after the other.  Sri Aurobindo recognised the power of this paradigm and used it as the basis for the current study.

“…there is the beginning of a perception that behind the economic motives and causes of social and historical development there are profound psychological, even perhaps soul factors…”

This first attempt, formulated by the German Lamprecht in the period prior to World War I, had its own serious limitations.  “Nevertheless, its basic idea formulated a suggestive and illuminating truth, and it is worth while following up some of the suggestions it opens out in the light especially of Eastern thought and experience.”

“The theorist, Lamprecht, … supposed that human society progresses through certain distinct psychological stages which he terms respectively symbolic, typal and conventional, individualist and subjective.  This development forms, then, a sort of psychological cycle through which a nation or a civilisation is bound to proceed.  Obviously, such classifications are likely to err by rigidity and substitute a mental straight line for the coils and zigzags of Nature.  The psychology of man and his societies is too complex, too synthetical of many-sided and intermixed tendencies to satisfy any such rigorous and formal analysis.  Nor does this theory of a psychological cycle tell us what is the inner meaning of its successive phases or the necessity of their succession or the term and end towards which they are driving.  But still to understand the natural laws whether of Mind or Matter it is necessary to analyse their working into its discoverable elements, main constituents, dominant forces, though these may not actually be found anywhere in isolation.”

“The suggestive names he has offered us, if we examine their intrinsic sense and value, may yet throw some light on the thickly veiled secret of our historic evolution, and this is the line on which it would be most useful to investigate.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 1, The Cycle of Society, pp. 5-6

Advertisements

Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development

Featured

Philosophers and historians have attempted to develop an understanding of the stages or cycles through which human civilisation passes through time.  These cyclical patterns have primarily focused on how government forms evolve based on circumstances that arise in the preceding stage.

Sri Aurobindo develops the overview of mankind’s evolution to show that societies go through a series of stages, starting from the “symbolic”, moving to the “typal and conventional”, evolving to the “individualist” and finally ending in the “subjective”.  Each of these stages has characteristic elements as to how mankind aspires and builds its social structures and relationships, and how individuals view their own purpose and activity in life.  It is based upon this understanding that Sri Aurobindo reviews the history of humanity and its various societies and then provides us a platform for the coming new age of humanity, an age based on the principle of spirituality as the fulfillment of the subjective stage of human development.

The coming of a spiritual age of humanity is the fulfillment of the seeking of all religious and philosophical leaders of the ages.  The spiritual age of humanity differs from earlier ages in that it is based on a subjective foundation that retains the freedom and diversity of true inner growth rather than tying down this impulse within a fixed series of formulae or conventional definitions to which all people must conform.

Within this framework, the role of the individual will be reconciled with the needs of society, such that both can find their utmost fulfillment without the suppression of  the values embodied by the other.  Sri Aurobindo puts before us a goal that is at once sublime and uplifting:

“The ascent of man into heaven is not the key, but rather his ascent into the spirit and the descent of the Spirit into his normal humanity and transformation of this earthly nature.  For that and not some post mortem salvation is the real new birth for which humanity waits as the crowning movement of its long obscure and painful course.” (The Human Cycle, pg. 250)

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development