Sri Aurobindo on the Human Cycle

After a break last week to remain caught up with the Sloterdijk reading, I am now four chapters away from the end of The Human Cycle and this seems as good a time as any to report in. Aurobindo is going to devote the remainder of the book to outlining the potential of the Spiritual Age, the “suprarational” stage in the evolution of humanity, as individuals and as social beings. As you can guess, mutual determination between the individual and the social collective is an important theme throughout, as is the notion that ultimately all the levels of human experience (here the animated video John shared with us in the “…Experimental Praxis” thread is extremely helpful) from the “vital” and “infrarational” through the intellectual to the stirrings and callings of the “suprarational” Divine must be integrated, with the “suprarational” exercising a firm but intimate and knowing control bringing all together in harmonious completion.

This shall be less of a polished book report and more of a presentation of a generous helping of direct quotations with some notes interspersed. I intend to let Aurobindo speak for himself. As I am still of the opinion that The Life Divine would be the better group investment, I need to remain true to what I have read if I would save others time, so to speak. (Not to mention that it is only right and proper for a dilettante such as I am to do so.) Therefore I humbly ask your forgiveness for what may be a long series of long posts, but feel free of course to comment, share, and correct (please!) throughout as you are inspired and we’ll see what emerges.

[All numbers in parentheses (#) refer to pages in The Human Cycle as published by the Sri Aurobindo Trust (1997) as part of Volume 25 of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, which is available as a pdf on line. The Human Cycle is a collection of essays submitted to an Indian periodical between 1916 and 1918, with some editorial commentary reflecting world events up to 1949 added later.]

I will begin, however, with a thought Aurobindo builds toward that may be the real touchstone of the discussion here.
“It is a spiritual, an inner freedom that can alone create a perfect human order. …[T]here is no logical necessity for the conclusion that the change cannot begin at all because its perfection is not immediately possible.”(220)



I cannot do better than Ulrich Mohrhoff’s short introductory essay on the life and aims of Sri Aurobindo:

…so I will start with a few notes of interest to those who may also be into the philosophy of history. (Feel free, in other words, to skip…)

Aurobindo borrows the “psychic development stages” of German historian Karl Lamprecht to orient his look at the evolution of humanity. He does not assert that these “stages” are absolute representations of the course of history: “Obviously, such classifications are likely to err by rigidity and to substitute a mental straight line for the coils and zigzags of Nature.”(6) But he finds the model useful as he presents certain cultural/psychological aspects of the Indian past in a systematic build-up to his main theme.

In a sense, Lamprecht represents one pole of a great debate over the proper scope and definition of “history”, one that remains as vigorously contested in some circles today as in Germany prior to the outbreak of World War I. At the turn of the 20th century, the ideals of Leopold Von Ranke held sway in professional circles (as they would later in the United States): “history” depended on the availability of documents, which essentially meant it was a study of literate élites and significant political events and was necessarily tied to languages accessible to researchers. One did not have to subscribe to the racial theories of the time to dismiss or avoid non-Western history; some actually did so out of respect for the fact that they did not feel qualified to understand it properly. But Lamprecht’s German History (3rd edition published in 1901) was centered on the cultural, intended to be a major contribution to the idea that art, literature, folklore, and social traditions could be used to capture something of the “mindset” of a people and an age. Lamprecht was convinced that understanding the past required a broad approach; his opponents were just as convinced that such an approach was prone to impressionistic error because it could not in the end be verified in detail with evidence. These opponents would in a few years take Oswald Spengler’s “analogical” presentations in The Decline of the West to task for the same reasons. But current endeavors to craft world history – to integrate a human story as it were – owe much to thinkers such as Lamprecht and Spengler, despite flaws to be found in their systems which can tend to oversimply universalize experience according to formulae bordering on the deterministic. “[Lamprecht] was convinced of the validity of his theories [about German cultural history] long before his interests turned to world history, and the doubts he intended to dispel were not his own, but those of his opponents…. The expansion into world history represented the historian’s final rejoinder to his opponents in the Methodenstreit*, for in his own eyes at least, an account of all the world’s cultures would confirm his views about German history.” – Karl Lamprecht: A German Academic Life (1856-1915), Roger Chickering (Brill, 1993): p. 339

*The title of a ‘peer-reviewed academic journal’ of the time, meaning… whatever Ed says it means… (LOL)


Chapter 1: “The Cycle of Society”
Lamprecht’s stages:
Symbolic – We in the modern age [here meaning turn of the 20th century] have “already become profoundly affected by an intellectual and practical bent of mind” and can “no longer enter into the ancient spirit.”(7) Metaphor, poetry, and ritual are intended to “image difficult and hidden truths” and do not primarily concern themselves with the socio-economic.(9) [Note the contrast with Marx’s assumptions…] The spiritual ideas may be fixed in this stage, but their social expressions are not. Aurobindo bids us remember that the religious impulses of this period were taken seriously and primarily as manifestations of the Divine functioning in human communities.
Typal – The ethical principle connected with the spiritual idea comes to the fore. Divine functioning begins to be eclipsed by “social utility”.(11) Allocation of social roles still depends to a large extent on temperament and talent, but expectations are beginning to become more rigid.
Conventional – The forms which outwardly support the ethical idea grow out of all proportion.(12) Social order becomes fixed over time, is supported and sustained by the weight of its own tradition with little connection to even ethical, let alone spiritual, experience. Social roles are passed from generation to generation. Throughout this chapter, Aurobindo uses the example of the “caste” “system” as an evolution (or, really, devolution) from the original Vedic understanding to the present. He shows how easily we can misinterpret the past when the view is collapsed from present appearances. More importantly, he sets up the topic of his next chapter by describing how an atmosphere of increasing discontent with dead forms can contribute to the emergence of the next stage. (It is not guaranteed, for the conventional has much staying power; in “the East” (his terminology), the conventional remained in place for centuries until the imperial expansion of Western powers…)


And Ed says: Methoden = methods; Streit = argument or disputation … therefore the journal would be called something like “Disputations of (over / about) Method”.

BTW and FYI: I checked a couple of your citations (I started into the text recently, but not as PDF, but rather as hard copy (I’m hopelessly paper-based)), namely the 2nd US edition (1999) published by Lotus Lights Publications, Twin Lakes, MI. (ISBN: 0-914955-44-6) and they track to the online version that you are using.


[NB: I don’t know where the opening quotation marks are for those closing ones found at the end of the above citation.]

When we think about what was happening at the turn of the 20th century, the rise of depth psychology, the establishment of Darwinism as a model for all development, the appearance of quantum notions and relativity theory, it would be a bit strange if we didn’t find an emphasis on “determinism” at this time. This isn’t to say it is right, but that can’t be the reason for rejecting thinkers like Lamprecht or Spengler. Throw out the determinism and look at what they have to say, and you start getting a feel for the fact that their pattern-recognition abilities may be worthy in and of themselves.


I’ve only got this far but find your remarks very much to the point regarding what he’s saying. I think the notions he’s inputting here are well worth noting because they not only are at variance with the accepted interpretation of his own tradition, if I may phrase it so (e.g., caste system as devolution), but because they get the reader thinking about what they think they know in other ways.

That’s my biggest takeaway from my reading thus far: understanding is not agreement (which sounds much better in German, because it’s a kind of pun: Verstehen ist nicht Einverstandensein, literally: “understanding is not same-understanding”. This point bears repeating and reinforcement, because it is so important, and because it is a subtle, but ever so important distinction … in fact, sometimes I think it’s more important to understand those you don’t agree with than those you do). Aurobindo obviously understands Lamprecht and Spengler, even if he doesn’t agree with them in detail; what is more, he knows there is value in what they are saying nevertheless, because they are doing something that gets our thinking (and feeling) moving in what can be fruitful directions.


Translation much appreciated, as always.

[The citation begins with “[Lamprecht]was convinced of the validity…” and goes to the end of the post.]

Absolute agreement with this, as someone who finds Spengler very suggestive and useful. My main intention here was to illustrate battle lines drawn by some historians who tend to throw out the baby (pattern recognition) with the bathwater (one-size-fits-all ‘system’). Hehehe, I see how my post could give an opposite impression to my intent; I personally lean toward the Lamprechts of the world. One cannot be too careful with language… :smile:

To all: The bulk of The Human Cycle preceded the publication of The Decline of the West, which makes some of the observations Aurobindo will make in later chapters quite interesting…


Thanks, TJ, for taking the lead on this project. As I am a bit bogged down in several reading projects you are saving me some time and energy by doing some of the heavy lifting on this text. This is a community service! We also have the options of doing a break out session for a small group on zoom. We can record zoom conference calls for short readings or presentations, like a mini workshop or seminar, with two or more people if there is interest. It is easier to coordinate time zones for a few people. We talked about doing a reading of Zarathustra in the near future. I liked the article on Gebser and Aurobindo. Very helpful.


Another good talk by Banerji on Integral education. He gives a short meditation practice at the end which definitely grounds the discussion. I wonder if there is something going on between Spengler and Sri Aurobindo? I am ignorant about Spengler but am curious if there may not be an East-West and North-South history emerging out of the ashes of the West? Pardon my naivete but I sense that Aurobindo may have been a bit of a cultural analyst, too.


Chapter 2 “The Age of Individualism and Reason”
Individual – “The individualistic age of Europe was in its beginning a revolt of reason, in its culmination a triumphal progress of physical Science.”(16) Taken together, the “Renascence” [Renaissance] and Reformation represent a “vigorous return of the ancient Greco-Roman mentality” of free [Greek] inquiry and the [Roman] virtues of practical [non-arbitrary] order, and a questioning of Papal authority over Scripture (which would eventually become a questioning of Scripture and a re-structuring of knowledge according to the scientific method). These movements were respective counters to the conventional authoritarianism of absolutist state and Church. In them, Aurobindo sees a necessary step, the demand for individualized bases for Truth in lived experience, in breaking out of the conventional. But he has cautions as well, reasons why this cannot be the ultimate stage: “Manifestly, the unrestrained use of individual illumination or judgment without either any outer standard or any generally recognisable source of truth is a perilous experiment for our imperfect race.”(19)
The Western conquest of the world has in an important sense awakened “the East” from its hypnotic service to its own conventions. But whereas unchecked Western individualism may lead to “the well-ordered mechanism of the [totalitarian] State,”(21), there are also elements which may, in conjunction with the social wisdom of the East (the emerging Eastern individualist phase should be of divergent path and shorter duration, according to Aurobindo), arrive at a recognition of the spiritual as once again the rightful foundation and aim of social life.(24) The re-discovery of the individual, in but not simply of the social mass, as a soul is necessary for…

Chapter 3 “The Coming of the Subjective Age”
Subjective – The dangers in trying to reach toward the spiritual backwards from an individualist stage lie along two main paths. “The recovery of the old original ideas… is open to the practical disadvantage that it tends after a time to restore force to the conventions which the Time-Spirit is seeking to outgrow…”.(26) “And even if it were otherwise, the need of a developing humanity is not to return always to the old ideas.” In India, “[t]he work of a dissolvent and destructive intellectual criticism… has never gone far enough…” to contribute to the necessary steps for forward spiritual progress. This is why the impact of Europe has been so important, bringing “a new age of radical and effective revaluation of ideas and things.”(27) “But after a time it must become apparent that the knowledge of the physical world [brought in by scientific reason] is not the whole of knowledge; it must appear that man is a mental as well as a physical and vital being and even much more essentially mental than physical or vital.”(28)
“The closer touch attempted with the psychical entity behind the vital and physical mentality and an increasing reliance on its possibilities must lead to the ultimate discovery that man is inwardly a soul and a conscious power of the Divine and that the evocation of this real man within is the right object of education and indeed of all human life if it would find and live according to the hidden Truth and deepest law of its own being. That was the knowledge which the ancients sought to express through religious and social symbolism, and subjectivism is a road of return to the lost knowledge.”(33)

Chapter 4 “The Discovery of the Nation-Soul”
When Aurobindo wrote this chapter, the skepticism the experiences of the 20th century have taught (some of) us to associate with nationalism was not quite so deep! Even still, though Aurobindo uses the expressions of his time, he is under no illusions: as the individual is “a living power of the eternal Truth”, so the nation is and should see itself ultimately only as part of a greater whole. “For it is necessary, if the subjective age of humanity is to produce its best fruits, that the nations should become conscious not only of their own but of each other’s souls and learn to respect, to help and to profit, not only economically and intellectually but subjectively and spiritually, by each other.”(40) “It is evident that there is a false as well as a true subjectivism and the errors to which the subjective trend may be liable are as great as its possibilities and may well lead to capital disasters. This distinction must be clearly grasped if the road of this stage of social evolution is to be made safe for the human race.”(43) [Like Gebser, Aurobindo gives no guarantees. It does not much matter if these words were written before the advent of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union or added afterwards for their relevance to be clear.]


You are neither naïve nor ignorant, my friend. In the sense that an integral philosophy needs to examine culture among other things, yes he certainly was.
I do not know, but I am pretty sure Aurobindo would have heard of Spengler as his fame grew in the 1920s or 1930s . Whether Spengler ever learned about Aurobindo I cannot say. But Mr. “Optimism-is-Cowardice” would likely have derided the whole suprarational/integral project of both Aurobindo and Gebser. In any case, however, the events of 1914 to 1945 gave sensitive minds throughout the world plenty to think about indeed, so even if conclusions differed there was a definite synergy afoot! As I said in our last discussion, crisis tends to do that.

:blush: Just a labor of love… thanks.


Thank you for these vignettes @patanswer.

About the only thing I’d like to add is a quick note on the sheer volume of writing Aurobindo produced at this time. For this Arya publication alone, he was publishing well over 500 pages of writing and translations each year. And not much of this seemed to be fluff just to fill in the pages of the philosophical review. I assume, too, there were notes, unpublished material, poetry, lengthy letters, etc. of Aurobindo’s.

From "Sri Aurobindo Came to Me" pp. 34-35 (author quoting a letter by Aurobindo)

“And philosophy! Let me tell you in confidence
that I never, never, never was a philosopher — although
I have written philosophy, which is another story al-
together. I knew precious little about philosophy be-
fore I did the Yoga and came to Pondicherry — I was
a poet and a politician, not a philosopher! How I man-
aged to do it and why? First, because Paul Richard
proposed to me to co-operate in a philosophical re-
view — and as my theory was that a Yogi ought to be
able to turn his head to anything, I could not very well
refuse: and then he had to go to war and left me in
the lurch with sixty-four pages a month of philosophy
all to write by my lonely self! Secondly, because I had
only to write down in the terms of intellect all that I
had observed and come to know in practising Yoga
daily and the philosophy was there, automatically. But
that is not being a philosopher! "

Roy, Dilip Kumar (1952). Sri Aurobindo Came to Me. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.


Chapter 5 “True and False Subjectivism”
There are several traps at the end of an age in which individualism has literally called everything into question. One is the possibility that authoritarianism will return in pernicious ways (e.g., the “will of the people”). True subjectivism is not the mere magnification “of individualistic egoism into the more monstrous error of a great communal egoism.”(46)
It is not enough to decry a phenomenon such as Nazism, which acted out of the courage of destructive convictions, but to seek its defeat through “an equal sincerity and a less perverse honesty [which] has to be practiced by those who have arrived at a better law.”(52) Aurobindo pulls no punches – imperialism by any other name stands condemned: “The theory of inferior and decadent races was loudly proclaimed by other than German thinkers as has governed, with whatever assuaging scruples, the general practice of military domination and commercial exploitation of the weak by the strong; all that Germany has done is to attempt to give it a wider extension and more rigorous execution and apply it to European as well as to Asiatic and African peoples.”… “Woe to the race if it blinds its conscience and buttresses up its animal egoism with the old justifications; for the gods have shown that Karma is not a jest.”(53)

Chapter 6 “The Objective and Subjective Views of Life”
“The ideal of human existence personal and social would be its progressive transformation into a conscious outflowing of the joy, power, love, light, beauty of the transcendent and universal Spirit.”(62)
The subjective must reach for the transcendent or it risks its own failures and distortions.
Aurobindo attacks the corruption of evolutionary theory known to us as “Social Darwinism”: “Science investigating life discovered that the root nature of all living is a struggle to take the best advantage of the environment for self-preservation, self-fulfillment, self-aggrandisement. Human thought seizing in its usual arbitrary and trenchant fashion upon this aspect of modern knowledge has founded on it theories of a novel kind which erect into a gospel the right for each to live his own life not merely by utilising others, but even at the expense of others.”(56) “Science investigating life” has also discovered that Nature favors the group (gene pool) over the individual in terms of species survival. Some have derived modern collectivism from this, where the individual disappears from political view. Nazi Germany asserted the supreme elevation of the individual nation and at the same time the complete subordination of the individual within the nation.(57)
“A law outside oneself, - outside even when it is discovered or determined by the individual reason and accepted or enforced by the individual will, - this is the governing idea of objectivism; a mechanical process of management, ordering, perfection, this is its conception of practice.
“Subjectivism proceeds from within and regards everything from the point of view of a containing and developing self-consciousness.”(58)

Chapter 7 “The Ideal Law of Social Development”
“The individual has to live in humanity as well as humanity in the individual; but mankind is or has been too large an aggregate to make this mutuality a thing intimate and powerfully felt in the ordinary mind of the race, and even if humanity becomes a manageable unit of life, intermediate groups and aggregates must still exist for the purpose of mass-differentiation and the concentration and combination of varying tendencies in the total human aggregate.”(69) Neither the individual nor the nation can live unto itself egoistically.
Man is nowhere near the attainment of an ideal balance among individual, collective (national), and cosmopolitan impulses, but the true aim of a subjective time is illuminating the problems and possible pathways.(71-72)


I think the parallels between Gebser and Aurobindo are becoming very clear in in these chapters. What Aurobindo is describing in the quote above is very similar to why Gebser said we can’t regress, we need to reactivate in light of where we are the efficient forms of previous consciousness structures.

Obviously written in the language of the time. This is very related to the latest exchanges that @johnnydavis54, @Geoffreyjen_Edwards, and I have had in the Irreducible Mind thread. I can understand Sri Aurobindo’s reluctance to use the word “spiritual” (just as Gebser stated it once very clearly, so to speak, regarding the spiritual nature of Origin, and only reminded of the reader of it gently thereafter. It rubs materialists (a reductive, gross generalization, I know, but addresses the root issue) the wrong way. The intellectual, rational, reasoning mental was very dominant at the time of his writing, but he seems to be moving in a, let us say, more ethereal direction with his argumentation.

This is a fascinating subject, and a controversial one, I can assure you. Not with me, but I’ve seen flame wars start over this idea. Just how concrete is this notion of “soul”. How does this correspond to or is it at odds with the notion of “egregore”? How do national and individual souls relate?

Great job, TJ, keep it up!


When you look up the word “prolific” in the dictionary, you often find a picture of Aurobindo there. :wink:

Now, you know why I dubbed this current work the “novella” of his opus, but as TJ is making clear, it is jammed full of food for thought.


Isn’t this an accurate description of the current Trumpist confrontation in the US at the moment? What Aurobindo may not have thought of was the rise of a numerical minority that is so loud that it is mistaken for a majority because it either has better access to media or is simply brazzen enough to speak as if they were the voice of the people (e.g., Congress = representatives of the people; therefore what they want is obviously what the people want, even though they don’t represent anything that the people at large really want).

I’m finding his use of the terms subjective/subjectivism and objective/objectivism worth reflecting on. He appears to be using them in a more substantial way than we are used to.


Just a few random thought/feels as I listen to Aurobindo. Reading and writing and scholarly interests is the royal road to the Integral. Wide reading and study can enhance our psychic capacity. What I have found, what happens in the higher ( or deeper) areas of my own development seems to be a heightened sense of responsibility and care for others. This just becomes obvious. Altruism is the new norm, just as ego was the old norm. The weakest and most vulnerable capture my attention and even if I can do nothing the intention is always there to pay attention to the suffering of others rather than evade or look away. This willingness to be perturbed is a sign of depth dimensions, or signs of life from the Divine, that the We space is cohering and is becoming vaster and humans and the fate of non humans become a pressing concern. It seems head-heart-gut-in a particular context gets amplified into other contexts that slip and slide around in a kaleidoscopic way, and that simple location starts to disappear in the higher zones, as the spectrum of affect and intellect becomes vaster, the personal and the Other are on a continuum and an oppositional stance is hard to maintain.

We can forgive, but we do not forget. We remember and we do not repeat the pattern that divides and separates. We notice the meta-pattern and so carry an immune response within us that is for the species in harmony with other species. We know the in between areas of identity and self in motion, while it is happening. A kind of modeling in the moment as we did with our maps of time experiment. How another person processes information and comes up with novel language games becomes a great aesthetic pleasure. How another animal organizes reality becomes a fascination. We want to explore what it is like to be a bat, or a dolphin or a whale. We did this as children and that capacity gets stronger. The Magical Child returns.

Then we come back to the ordinary washing dishes, making breakfast, doing laundry but with a sense of that other life on other levels still happening. We can oscillate between levels while maintaining a sense of the ordinary, we enjoy the common every day trance states, and try to make them more efficient. The personal pronoun ‘I’ becomes more than just a linguistic device, but is a tool for dipping into other desire structures. We can sort of bi-locate, as we do when we are reading well, we enter the zone, and leave the confines of the library and become merged with a character or philosopher or an entire historical movement but we can stop our reading and do some other activity while still holding a connection to the book and other books simultaneously. This capacity that all good readers enjoy makes for a deep satisfaction that is hard to replicate in other contexts. There is no greater pleasure than a good book!

I understand why Sri Aurobindo in his later years needed solitude, to bring together the strands of all of this comparative research. We should strive for a culture that allows all of us, rather than just a privileged few, to have such leisure, which unleashes immense potentials for the Imaginal to take root in enough people. When enough people " get it" there will be a tipping point. It may be a long way off but near or far it will happen. And so we relax more and more, soften the hard edges, even when it hurts.


Chapter 8 “Civilization and Barbarism”
Aurobindo identifies dangers at each stage of development akin to what Gebser describes as “deficient” modes in his structures of consciousness. Aurobindo recognizes that “barbarian” can with the wrong mentality be merely an epithet for “them” and crafts a more careful definition: the “barbarian” is he who lives an almost purely (never totally – the human animal is too complex a thing) vital and physical life. There are modern barbarians in societies of high achievement who place too much emphasis on material and commercial satisfaction at the expense of time to cultivate the arts or the spiritual.

Chapter 9 “Civilization and Culture”
“The atoms and the elements organise brute Matter, the plant develops the living being, the animal prepares and brings to a certain kind of mechanical organisation the crude material of Mind, but the last work of all, the knowledge and control of all these things and self-knowledge and self-control, - that has been reserved for Man, Nature’s mental being.”(82) [Familiar scheme to readers of Arthur Young’s The Reflexive Universe; and despite the phrase “last work of all”, Aurobindo in his own way is certainly as prepared as Young to look ‘beyond’] “But there is here a double motive of Nature, an insistent duality in her human purpose….” Man learns “to control, create, and constantly re-create in new and better forms”, to make over himself and his environment. “And there comes from the observation of these conditions and of his highest aspirations and impulses the question whether he is not intended, not only to expand inwardly and outwardly, but to grow upward, wonderfully exceeding himself as he has wonderfully exceeded his animal beginnings, into something more than mental, more than human, into a being spiritual and divine. Even if he cannot do that, yet he may have to open his mind to what is beyond it and to govern his life more and more by the light and power that he receives from greater than himself.”(83)
“For our mental existence is a very complex matter and is made up of many elements.”(84)
Aurobindo outlines the elements in the following pages. My ‘paraphrases’ in italics:
• First tier – a fundamental stratum “nearest to the vital” in two ‘halves’
‘deep left-brain’: “active or dynamic life of the mental being”; and
‘deep right-brain’: “senses, sensations, and emotions”
• Second tier – also in two ‘halves’
“the moral being and its ethical life” responding to the Right; and
“the aesthetic” responding to the Beautiful
• Third tier – “the intellectual being”, “uneasy” sovereign of the conflicting pulls and impulses of the rest

Chapter 10 “Aesthetic and Ethical Culture”
“Even when a nation or an age has developed within itself knowledge and science and arts, but still in its general outlook, its habits of life and thought is content to be governed not by knowledge and truth and beauty and high ideals of living, but by the gross vital, commercial, economic view of existence, we say that that nation or age may be civilised in a sense, but for all its abundant or even redundant appliances and apparatus of civilisation it is not the realisation or the promise of a cultured humanity.”(92) By this formula, Aurobindo ranks modern industrial Europe behind “ancient Athens, to Italy of the Renascence, to ancient or classical India” in cultural achievement, “though their range of scientific knowledge and material achievement was immensely inferior.”(93)
“The aesthetic man tends to be impatient of the ethical rule; he feels it to be a barrier to his aesthetic freedom and an oppression on the play of his artistic sense and his artistic faculty…(95) The ethical man repays this natural repulsion with interest. He tends to distrust art and the aesthetic sense as something lax and emollient, something in its nature undisciplined and by its attractive appeals to the passions and emotions destructive of a high and strict self-control.”(96) As noted in the previous chapter, aesthetic and ethical impulses can be found struggling within each individual as well as expressing themselves in predominant character biases dividing men of different temperaments. Entire cultures are too complex to exhibit such clear predominance, but if abstracted examples can be used then the contrast between ethical Sparta and aesthetic Athens is instructive. Aurobindo is also intrigued by Republican Rome [especially prior to the influx of Greek culture]: “Rome was the human will oppressing and disciplining the emotional and sensational mind in order to arrive at the self-mastery of a definite ethical type; and it was this self-mastery which enabled the Roman republic to arrive also at the mastery of its environing world and impose on the nations its public order and law.”(97) Aurobindo credits Athens with a consistent and enlightening quest for the beautiful in art and thought, but “only a conventional and customary morality” which proved unsuitable for the cultural long haul. “Athens exhausted its vitality within one wonderful century which left it enervated, will-less, unable to succeed in the struggle of life, uncreative. It turned indeed for a time precisely to that which had been lacking to it, the serious pursuit of truth and the evolution of systems of ethical self-discipline; but it could only think, it could not successfully practice.”(99) [This works for the overall argument, but it is a bit harsh. It should be noted that the Peloponnesian War had much to do with it.*]
Of course, the final point here is an integral one: Both the aesthetic and the ethical “must be taken up and enlightened by a higher principle which must be capable of understanding and comprehending both equally and of disengaging and combining disinterestedly their purposes and potentialities.”(101)

*Apparently, we can even ask Sloterdijk. (LOL!!!)


A simple “like” is too weak here. This ^ is the kind of revolution that “sticks”.


Excellent, TJ, and this back and forth between ethical and esthetic of the ‘uneasy’ third way makes me feel better. We need to run the race sometimes in order to win but lots of life is not about that. We aren’t out to win. Daily maintenance requires a balance between brain waves, a mix of tasks, relationships, storytelling. Sometimes we need to sit in a rocker on the porch and listen to the breeze. A myopic focus on speed and the GNP has led us to a globalization without a planet to support us, a highly networked individual without any friends.