My Philosophy of Synthesis: Factors that Moulded It
Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev was, possibly, the greatest philosopher in Bangladesh. He came up with the idea of a synthetic philosophy in the Himalayan subcontinent. He criticized both materialism and spiritualism as one-sided and incapable of human welfare and progress, and introduced synthetic idealism by combining these two theories. He said that philosophical thought which is not connected with the life of the common man is worthless, even if conceptually perfect. That is why his philosophy is a synthesis of theory and application. This long essay by Govinda Dev elaborates on his philosophical views.
My Philosophy has almost always been to put old wine into a new bottle, and to sell it with a fresh and, if possible, also a fashionable label. By old wine here I mean the familiar intoxicating drug of philosophy of bygone ages which has alternately been called idealism and spiritualism. Luckily or unluckily, it does not allure modern man and woman much instead they find their spiritual sustenance in a new intoxicating drug the substance of which remains much the same despite the baffling variety of its name: Naturalism, Materialism or, better say, Dialectical Materialism, Secular Humanism and the like. Curiously enough, my endeavour all through has been to give Spiritualism a materialist and Materialism a spiritualist colour, to make food out of stone and stone out of food as some at least would like to call this. In a pre-eminently Materialist age and environment, I would like to resurrect Idealism from a materialist angle by putting a brake, if I can, on the excesses of so-called Materialism and Spiritualism.
For me at least Philosophy represents a way of life and I make no secret of the fact that in being driven to this curious compromise (this hotchpotch), I am not swayed by merely logical or, more precisely, theoretic considerations. I do believe that the future of humanity lies in such a healthy compromise, and primarily from that perspective, I have been with unwearied zeal perhaps trying to lay bare its meaning and implication and, through that, to make a defence of it.
The task is and perhaps must be difficult. It is not without reasons that in my attempt to balance the scale between inordinate Materialism and Spiritualism, I find myself in the unenviable position of the bat in the familiar tussle of the beasts and the birds for supremacy. When after a bitter strife, they signed a truce, the unfortunate bat was excluded from both the groups and given a safe abode in a region from which there is no return, feelably at least. I do not know whether I am heading a crisis like that. Even though extreme materialists as well as spiritualists are likely to treat me as an untouchable and an outcast, I am sure a time is fast approaching when, in the durable interest of man, a truce will have to be signed between them and the future of humanity assured and shaped on a full recognition of human values in their broadcast sense and widest perspective. If Philosophy could achieve it, as it should and must, it will have done its great duty by the common man and occupy a pride of place in human affairs.
After decades of toils and hardships, of hopes and frustrations, I feel inclined to ruminate over my past in order to catch hold of my old self and my old environment which dragged me, as it were, to a synthetic attitude and a synthetic philosophy. The story of my stumbling on it like a drowsy man aimlessly roaming about in darkness I cannot forget because it has become a more or less durable ingredient of my humble approach to philosophy.
A Man’s early education leaves, it has been said, an indelible impress on his mental make-up and I can hardly claim to be an exception. While a boy, through a contrivance of circumstances as it were, two opposite currents of thought exerted their influence, possibly their wholesome influence, on my young, plastic mind. According to ordinary usage and connotation, one of them could be called materialist and the other spiritualist.
More than half a century back, I was born in a village, innocent of modern amenities, in the interior of East Pakistan where my father (through his own effort) made a small fortune adequate to the sustenance of his pretty big family. There in a retrograde society he lived with his near and dear ones a considerably carefree life, free from economic hardship. Though in profession pretty religious, in actual practice he was a good, generous worldly man with love for those who surrendered and animosity for those who resisted. In that semi-religious atmosphere I had my early upbringing.
Luckily or unluckily, I do not know exactly what, during my school days my father had all of a sudden, due to an ambitious misadventure, a total economic collapse. He could hardly reconcile himself to this transition from decent living to grim poverty, from importance to insignificance and died a tragic death not very long after in despair, confusion and starvation. This meant a sudden change in my milieu and I was hurled by fate, as it were, in an atmosphere of faith and service. I lived for about eight years during that critical period with Missionaries whose love for spiritual values is only matched by their humanitarian zeal. Humanly speaking, it is they who implanted in me the idea of faith in late 1920’s and early 1930’s. It filled the vacuum caused in me by my apparent misfortune. Three decades of varied experience have gone by since I bade them farewell and entered the world of passionate scepticism and enlightened self-interest, but that soothing faith-bias did not leave me altogether. This is a left-over of the legacy of the Missionaries, the inveterate advocates of a faith that can move the mountain whom I love and admire, but cannot, I am sorry, follow. This is, however, one of the main forces that shaped my ideology while I was on the crossroad of adolescence and youth.
If my Spiritualism is a gift of the Missionaries, my materialism is a gift of my frustrated, adventurous father. But for a sudden transition from fortune to misfortune, from small joys to great worries, I suspect, I would not have been able to realise the importance of material sustenance, material values, as they are called, in the life of the common man in underdeveloped countries. These two conflicting experiences of my earlier years have left their mark on me. Both of them I have found fruitful in life’s struggle. That unshakable faith gave me solace and consolation when I was about to break. That material shake-up broadened my heart and made me feel my oneness with the starving millions. Both Spiritualism and Materialism have a lesson for me and made a contribution to my philosophy of life, if I can claim any, to my synthetic attitude. In spite of toils and hardships, in spite of rewards and debacles, I got stuck to it because with me it was not a mere theory or a logical construction but a practical adjustment. I got my first lesson in it, not from books of philosophy, but from the book of life1.
For reasons already stated, I am not much enamoured of a bookish approach to Spiritualism and Materialism. For me at least, they do not represent two theories of reality as they are generally made out to be, but two distinct attitudes of life. When it is said that materialism is a theory which traces the origin of life and mind in matter, or, to give it an apparently logical colour, when it is added that Materialism believes only in sense and rejects inference, I for one feel that this supplies merely a skeleton of Materialism. The fragments of this lifeless skeleton I had myself to chew while I was a college and a University student of Philosophy. What is perhaps more amazing, by repeating almost verbatim the stereotyped criticisms of such a theory at times I scored high marks in University examinations, no mean achievement for a student of Philosophy in an environment not much congenial for its luxuriant growth. When Spiritualism is given out as the opposite theory of reality which maintains that there is a universal mind to start with, out of which matter, life and mind have come, my personal reaction is pretty much the same. Here also an attempt is being made to prepare a delicious dish out of the dry, dead bone of Spiritualism. Such accounts of Materialism and Spiritualism are to my mind only too true to be accepted for practical guidance. What interest can a layman have, for instance, in the familiar puzzle: mind first or matter first? Does it not sound like egg first or hen first, a barren question which baffles the philosopher as well as the common man? The real answer is to be found not in a theory but in actual life.
As to Materialism, we come across a very significant name of it in ancient and medieval philosophical literature. There it has been called “Lokayata Darsana,” which literally means a philosophy widespread among the people2. Sunstantially it is common man’s natural philosophy of life, it was taken for granted that the common man has an instinctive urge for satisfying his physical needs and Materialism is nothing else than an attempt to inspire a way of life. Its most important task perhaps is to evolve a harmonious social order consistent with this scheme of values.
I would like very much to assess Materialism and also to react to it in this fashion. The only thing that I would like to add is that much like the physical urge, there is in common man a spiritual urge, the urge for love, not necessarily sexual, and also for occasional dependence on the supernatural. This spiritual urge is as basic an element of human nature as the physical. lf the second makes of the common man a materialist, the first makes him a Spiritualist. Man, as a rule, alternates between these two conflicting tendencies. His success in individual and collective life primarily depends on this conflict being resolved satisfactorily, in a happy synthesis of these two opposing poles of his inner nature. Viewed rightly, the synthesis of Materialism and Spiritualism means nothing more, nothing less.
Apart from its psychological source, modern Materialism as an attitude of life is greatly a product of our scientific environment. Science, more particularly technology, has changed the shape of our globe, Poor Lazarus, if he comes back to the earth again, might feel being hurled on a strange, new territory, and bewildered at the enormous changes that have taken place since his last infructuous visit. Science has given us steam engine and electricity, telegraph and wireless, radio and television, to quote only a few of its great achievements. By scientific technique production has been increased on a gigantic scale and drudgery made almost obsolete and superfluous. By a peaceful use of atomic energy, atom for peace as it is called, hunger and poverty could be eradicated altogether. By a revolution in medical science, the cure of so-called incurable diseases has been found and longevity increased. Science has also taught the art of controlling growth of population and of keeping it within the limits of adequate sustenance. By providing wide facilities for air travels, it has brought the remotest corners of our globe into close contact and, of late, it has also made excursion into the outer space. With such enormous prospect of happiness held out before him by science from the seventeenth century onwards, common man’s natural love for the things of the flesh got the better of his love for the spirit. Materialism has thus gained ground as a pervasive philosophy of life and the glamour for the golden cup of grape juice in heaven considerably declined.
It has been said by historians, not without reasons perhaps, that a large number of Roman slaves became Christians because they found in the New Gospel of Christ and Apostles a way of escape from the miseries of this life to the other world, the Kingdom of Heaven. Such an other-worldly emphasis dominated Christianity for more than a millennium since St. Augustine made a defence of the City of God in heaven in his celebrated book, Civitas Dei. This one-sided emphasis could hardly satisfy the common man for long, notwithstanding the great concern of the Christian Church in human welfare. With due modification, the same might be said of Buddhism as a popular religion. In the universal love of Buddha and Christ may be found a common forum for the materialist as well as the spiritualist, and in it may be sought the key to man’s survival in this Nuclear Age. But, rightly or wrongly, the other-worldly aspect of their teaching has a limited appeal to-day. Every action has an equal reaction and soil was already fertile for the growth of a materialist philosophy of life. The Renaissance and the Reformation paved the way for it though its elan must be traced in the rapid growth of science and its increasing contribution to human happiness.
Modern science gave a sledge-hammer blow to Spiritualism by giving the go-by to some popular beliefs which somehow or other became part of the fabric of Christian faith. The rejection of Geocentric theory by Copernicus in the sixteenth and Galileo in the seventeenth century marked the beginning of this revolt. Darwin’s theory of the “Descent of Man” from his remote ancestor, the ape, publicised in 1871, meant a complete break of modern science with traditional religion.
One more factor hastened this spiritual crisis. Notwithstanding the application of the scientific technique in industry, in the highly industrialised West even in the nineteenth century, the living standard of the common man was in some cases deplorably low. In certain quarters at least, a rationale of this was sought in the other-worldly outlook of traditional religion. This misplaced zeal is in no small measure responsible for the growth of an antipathy to Spiritualism in modern mind.
In this anti-religious atmosphere Herbert Spencer formulated in the late nineteenth century his philosophy of evolution based on scientific evidences culled from various sources. He pointed out how, as a result of evolution, pain is being gradually eliminated and happiness secured more and more in human life. Evolution as enunciated by him means adjustment to environment, and a perfect adjustment must therefore mean perfect happiness. That indeed is the unattained goal towards which evolution moves. Thus, the Kingdom of Heaven was fast being brought down ot the Kingdom of “Good Earth”. When science has been paying such a high devidend to the materialist craving of modern man and woman, it is but natural that they have not much interest in Spiritualism except in moments of weakness, except as a diversion, at most as a holiday affair.
This traces briefly the history of the growth of Materialism as a philosophy of life in modern environment. I do not think but for the holocaust of World Wars I and Il, the hands, of the clock would have begun to move slowly the other way. Not moral and religious outbursts of Spiritualism but the horrors of a devastating Nuclear War fought from sputniks and satellites seemed to have made modern mind a bit conscious of the dangers of reckless Materialism.
A little contribution to the growth of a spiritualist philosophy might have been made by scientists like Jeans, Eddington and others who are eager to trace the germs of Spiritualism in the modern scientific theory of Matter, in Quantum Physics and in the theory of Relativity of Einstein. If matter is not made of solid, inert atoms but of energy centres like electrons and protons, the ultimate stuff of the universe must be spiritual, they argue. They believe that action is the prerogative of mind and, as such, cannot be a property of matter. This is perhaps a legacy of Newton which modern Physics has already discarded. A further hint about the spirituality of the universe is derived from the Quantum Theory according to which certain variation in mass cannot be accounted for in terms of cause-effect relation as it is ordinarily understood. Science has virtually abandoned the idea that the cause must produce the effect, the idea of Casual Determinism. If freedom or indeterminism is a character of human will, and if freedom is a feature of the whole universe, it must be, says Eddington, ultimately spiritual. On the parallel of the relativity of space and time according to which they have no fixed, constant character, it has also been suggested that just like the world of inert, material objects in the world of modern Physics, the network of electrons and protons may in a mystic institution be found subjective. Being a bit too enamoured of the marvels of science, jeans conceives the Creator as a Supreme Mathematician and creation as His thoughts.
This theoretic defence of Spiritualism has, I suppose, an appeal for only a section of the intelligentsia. If we are about to show our back to reckless Materialism, it is not out of love and respect for spirit or logic, or even for scientific philosophy, but out of a fear that Israfil’s Flute of destruction might, if we are not alert, be blown a bit too early, but even then we do not feel inclined to revert to an other-worldly cult and fight shy of material comforts. The need of the moment is neither aggressive Materialism, nor its direct antithesis, aggressive Spiritualism, but a via media, a moderate attitude that can help assure a decent living standard for the common man without much detriment to his spiritual hygiene, to a faith in self-control, sympathy, love and service. In such a spirit of harmony, adjustment and accommodation are being sought today by sober people everywhere, the only feasible and dependable solution of perplexing human problems in their widest context. This is nothing short of practical application though not conscious, of the philosophy of synthesis I have been pleading for. This may not exactly be the philosophy of the present, but in a very real sense in it lies the pulse-beat of the philosophy of the future, the clue to “the shape of things to come”, to quote the happy phrase of distinguished modern writer.
I do not think an effective synthesis like this could be achieved in practical life without a proper adjustment of the claims of unquestioning faith and questioning reason, of the “Yea” of the first and the “Nay” of the second. Traditional faith cannot satisfy us because it is too cock sure. Modern logic fails us because it is too shaky. The fulcrum of Spiritualism is a faith that does not waver; that of Materialism, a logic that always wavers. We badly need a workable mean between the two, If and when achieved, it will not only resolve modern doubts and vacillations but will satisfy modern yearnings and aspirations.
For me at least it has not been an easy task either to achieve a measure of equilibrium between faith and reason when I came out of the small world of faith where I passed my early years into the larger world of scepticism which simply believes in efficiency and does not attach much value to goodness. Much like Alice in Wonderland, I was then unable to account for much that was happening around me by the criterion of values I was taught to imbibe and stick to. But for my faith in what an eminent thinker calls the “inevitability of gradualness”, it would not have been possible for me to get out of this conflict and achieve a workable escape from the dangers of a double personality. Looking round, I feel the need of the same synthesis in the larger life of man, and I can only indicate here the general line in which this could be reached through a logical approach.
As a transition from without, as a social inheritance, faith does not appeal much to modern scientific temper. But if the source of religion could be traced not in a bundle of traditions but in an experience beyond common reach, it will be nearer science I suppose. Just like a scientific hypothesis, it can then claim to be verifiable and may very reasonably appeal to all except those who are already committed to a philosophy of doubting for the sake of doubting, demonstrative scepticism as it might be called. I myself believe that the ultimate source of religion is an experience of the basic identity of the universe which William James characterises in his Varieties of Religious Experience as “the triumphant mystical tradition unaltered by the differences of claims and creeds”. It is also called intuition. Though, from a purely scientific standpoint, there is nothing basically wrong about this experience, being beyond the grasp of plain common sense it will be better if it could be justified by a purely logical approach.
The failure of Mathematical Logic to give us knowledge, rather the delight it takes in playing with symbols, makes me feel the need of such a synthesis all the more. Here I am reminded of the words of a renowned thinker of our times, the poet T.S. Eliot, who took in his early career lessons in Symbolic Logic from Russell: “It (Symbolic Logic) did not seem to have to do anything with the reality, but it gave me a sense of pleasure and power manipulating those curious little figures.”3 If “as logic improves, less and less can be proved,” if it is, “the art of not drawing conclusions,” and if whatever conclusions it draws must be hypothetical, as Russell would have us believe,4 Mathematical Logic leads us, indeed, to a desperate position. Its very precision and richness leave a vacuum which cannot be filled up, I apprehend, without an appeal to faith, for me at least logic thus digs its own grave.
Elsewhere5 I have made an attempt to show at some length how this could be done without much detriment to logic. I must admit I have drawn nightly or wrongly some inspiration in this regard from some of the main discoveries of Mathematical Logic itself.
Russell finds fault with the familiar view of Kant that mathematical judgments are synthetic a priori in character. We can explain this by an example. According to Kant, not only the opposite of a mathematical judgment, for instance, “two and two make four,” is unthinkable but it also contains a new idea as its predicate “four” is not a mere repetition of its subject “two and two”. As against this, Russell maintains that such judgments are all analytic, i.e. merely verbal statements which do not give us any fresh knowledge whatsoever, “four”, for example, is nothing but “two and two” put together. If there is no such thing as mathematical knowledge, a transition from it to intuition as in Plato and others is as good as building on sands, Russell contends. In the absence of a head, there could be no headache, as some philosophers of old humorously put it.
Russell seems to be quite eager to strengthen this position by an additional discovery. He shows that mathematical entities are nothing but “class of classes”, we have classes like cows, dogs and tigers. These classes being all one, the number “one”, for example, is itself a class, “a class of classes”. It is thus at a second removed from facts. What is said of “one” could with due modification be said of other numbers. No use, therefore, to fall upon mystical intuition for the discovery of a realm beyond the world of common sense and science where mathematical entities could have a safe abode.
If we analyse the position a bit, we might, I fear, very much discover the ghost in the mustard seed, the ghost of intuition I mean which enlightened common sense is so eager to exercise by scepticism.
If the main task of Principia Mathematica of Russell and Whitehead is a merger of Mathematics and Logic and if mathematical judgments are all analytic, the fundamental idea behind judgment is identity of the subject and the predicate. To my mind this means an almost complete reversion to Aristotle. The same conclusion could be derived from an analysis of the idea of implication of propositions in which Mathematical Logic is mainly interested so far as relation of propositions is concerned. If you accept one proposition or propositions, you are bound to accept another. This necessary relation on a hypothetical basis is what Mathematical Logic wants to discover. It cannot possibly be forgotten that a necessary relation, whether in the case of analytic judgments or in the case of Implication of Propositions is after all based on the supposition that their opposite is inconceivable. Boiled down, it means that the basic concepts of Mathematical Logic veer round Aristotle’s laws of thought, primarily the Law of Contradiction and its predecessor, the Law of Identity. To me it appears that the Law of Identity and, its logical counterpart, the Law of Contradiction contain in them a tacit hint of the basic religious experience or mystical intuition. To many this might appear the very height of absurdity but, I believe, an unbiased approach will give the opposite verdict.
Logicians have often enough been eager to give a loose, flexible meaning to the Law of Identity. They generally maintain that identity is no other than the intrinsic nature of an object. For example, the Law of Identity means that the cow is a cow and it is not something else, i.e. a venomous snake or a ferocious tiger. Such an account is quite good so far as it goes, but there seems to be something wanting in it from a logical standpoint. As to the cow, after all it has many characters not contained in the idea of it. A cow is not bound to be white or black but may have any other colour. If the only predicate we can ascribe to the cow according to the Law of Identity is that it is a cow and nothing else, the law ceases to have much plausible meaning.
To get out of this difficulty some logicians, Bradley for instance, have said that what the Law of Identity purports to mean is that, in an argument, the meaning of a term must remain fixed. If I say, “The table is black”, and if I mean, as I should, by the table what Tom, Dick and Harry mean by it, and if a curious person understands by it a white elephant of the old Egyptian pattern, we can have no sensible argument between us and logical understanding becomes next to impossible. So it comes to this that the idea of identity has been devised as a guarantee for smooth logical tussles, as a way out of the dangers of Argumentum and Baculum.
But the more fundamental question is: Has the object really an intrinsic nature, has it an identity at all, or in making the Law of Identity the basis of our reasonings, are we making a vague, ill-defined idea the basis of conclusions which are in theory at least supposed to be clear and definite? In a deeper analysis of the idea of identity may be found an answer to this vexed question.
Some philosophers, the Buddhists of old and the Humeans of our times, for instance, do not believe in any identity in our sense of the word. They believe neither in a durable thing nor in a durable self. They say, we have no experience whatsoever of such an entity. Others with a logical bias maintain that we cannot account for our experience of objects as well as of ourselves if we do not believe in such an identity. “How can I connect my yesterday’s experience with today’s if there is no constant factor like myself and how can I possibly perceive the same table for hours and days together if there is not a more or less durable object called the table?”—they argue.
Russell, however, is very eager to treat the faith in a durable object and a durable self as a bad legacy of grammar to Philosophy. Grammar Speaks of a subject, having a variety of changing predicates. We Say, for example the table is black, it is round, costly and so forth. Even though there is no fixed table, we believe in it because in a grammatical sentence, in spite of the variations of predicates, the subject remains the same. Prejudices die hard and even though Ptolemic astronomy has been given a decent burial centuries before, we say, “the sun rises”, “the sun sets”. We are badly in need of a scientific language and much intellectual blood is being spent to devise and evolve it. Till that is done, we must guard against the vicious effect of the synthetical structure of a sentence in grammar on Metaphysics and keep away from the recognition of a durable object and a durable self.
Russell seems to miss very much the point that even though there is nothing in our experience corresponding to a durable object or a durable self, we believe in it because logic demands it. The conflict of logic and experience is a basic fact of our mental life which we can hardly ignore. If we stick to experience pure and simple, we shall have to reject logic which is as essential a dimension of our mental life as experience is. To the contrary, if we stick to logic and reject experience, we have to rest content with a fiction and mistake it for a fact. This is the curious position to which a careful analysis of the idea of identity drags us.
We can throw some light on this question if we take note of the analysis of the idea of contradiction, the negative aspect of the idea of identity in traditional Metaphysics. Metaphysicians since Plato and even earlier have tried to point out that the world of normal experience cannot be the substitute for reality since there is nothing in it which is devoid of contradiction. As early as the first century B.C., the renowned Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna in his Mulamadhya Mika-Karika makes a searching analysis of the basic categories of experience, and shows that they are all contradictory, and, as such, not worthy of being treated as real in its true sense. The same idea dominates the philosophy of Samakara in its dialectical aspect. To quote a recent example, Bradley in his Appearance and Reality shows how the world of plain common sense is shot through and through with discrepancies and leaves scope for a reality beyond, consistent and harmonious in character. The idea is so repugnant to our ordinary beliefs that a hostile critic observes sarcastically that Bradley’s Appearance and Reality should better be called “The Disappearance of Reality”. I presume this disappearance prepares the path for appearance of reality in a different context and in a distinct sense.
As normal experience fails to give us identity or the absence of contradiction and as reason perpetually runs after it without actually getting it, we should with ease find it in the sphere of religious experience or mystical intuition which is, rightly viewed, an awareness of identity. If we give a pride of place, as we should, to the laws of thought in logic and if we can afford to believe that what we cannot help believing is true, we can achieve without much difficulty this much-needed transition. I do not think Mathematical Logic is right when it holds the opposite view. Logic ultimately merges in psychology. We believe in perception because we cannot refuse to accept it as valid. The same is true of logic and I find no reason why the same rule should not be extended to the religious experiences of identity. In this merge of logic with psychology, I should say, transcendental psychology, reason and intuition, logic and faith can and do meet.
It has been observed that the mystical intuition of identity is not really an experience but, being beyond common reach, is a subjective fancy. I do not think it a sound argument or a sober attitude. It is not a sound argument because, rightly viewed, logic has no right to reject an experience. It can only analyse it and find out its meaning and implication. It is not a sound argument also because the religious experience is, as has been shown, demanded by logic itself. Being a fulfillment of the unattained ideal of logic, it cannot be said to be illogical but supra-logical. Again, such a denial does not characterise a sober attitude either, because those who have had this intuition are actually the “salt of the earth” and, as in other field, here also we should not give the mediocre the right to assess the merit of the expert. Religion as an experience of the basic unity of the universe has admittedly been a great incentive for universal love and I think it would indeed be very audacious to call it abnormal in order to take away from it its importance. Russell, a great critic of mystical experience, rightly says: “The greatest men who have been philosophers have felt the need of science and mysticism.”6 Not only for turning out great philosophers, but also for setting the human house in order, we must make a happy compromise of reason and faith and achieve a synthesis in ourselves in order to have its counterpart in the world outside.
It has been a bane of the history of Philosophy that in their respective scales of reality, materialists have under-estimated the role of the spirit, and spiritualists the role of matter. This over-emphasis from which one-sided Materialism and one-sided Spiritualism issue can be checked if adequate scope is left in Philosophy for intellect as well as intuition. By the help of our intellect which comprises perception and inference, we are aware of the world of facts we live in. It is a world of change, a process, and there is nothing static in it. This is what Materialism really stands for. Intuition gives a picture of reality which is just the reverse of it. The reality, according to it, is a static one in which there is not any the least trace of the world of facts, the ever-changing process, the will-o-the-wisp that perpetually baffles man. This indeed is the sum and substance of the spiritualist version of reality in its unadulterated form. To have a clear idea of the full dimensions of reality as far as it is humanly possible and to evolve a synthetic philosophy on that secure basis, we must place side by side the verdict of intellect and intuition and adjust their conflicting claim on Metaphysics. If intellect cannot deny intuition and if intuition cannot deny intellect, if they are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny, one and many, unity and plurality, matter and spirit, material and spiritual values, self-interest and self-sacrifice must occupy an equally important place in an adequate philosophy of life.
The essence of philosophical wisdom lies to my mind in finding the reality of matter in spirit and that of spirit in matter. Both materialists and spiritualists, as they are commonly understood, have actually done just the reverse. By their favourite formula, matter first and mind next, materialists spare no efforts to minimise the importance of spirit in their scheme of reality. Possibly they suspect that the recognition of spirit as a reality might prove a great obstacle to the realisation of the basic material needs of the common man. Spiritualists committed the same error from the opposite angle. They have almost always maintained that if matter be the basic stuff of reality, even human values like love and sympathy will cease to be significant, not to speak of God and hereafter. In the eighth century A.D. Kumarila Bhatta gives vent to this familiar spiritualist notion while he observes that Buddhist Idealism denies the reality of the world of objects and reduces it into the idea of mind in order to lay the sole emphasis on renunciation and detachment. If we are convinced, he observes, that the objects do not exist, that they are no better than ideas, our glamour for them will automatically disappear. In the early eighteenth century, Berkeley openly says that he does not believe in the extra-mental reality of material objects out of a religious motive.
Judged from a correct perspective, both aggressive Materialism and aggressive Spiritualism are prompted primarily by a practical motive. They are not the inevitable product of unbiased logical analysis as often enough they are made out to be. On apparently logical considerations, materialists are eager to show that mind or spirit is material in its essence unlike the spiritualists who often enough vindicate the opposite thesis by the help of equally bad logic. In extreme cases, Spiritualists have even denied the reality of matter outright. By far the majority of them, however, realise that the reality of matter cannot be altogether denied because we are immediately aware of it. Ingeniously enough, some of them, therefore, maintain that matter is material on the Surface but spiritual beneath in its essence. This is what the familiar Hegelian formula, viz. matter is Spiritual without ceasing to be material, really means. I have said in another context7 that this one-sided emphasis is not justified. If for the sake of Spiritualism, matter could be treated as spiritual without ceasing to be material, in the interest of Materialism, spirit could as well be treated as material without ceasing to be spiritual. If we avow, as we should, equal allegiance to intellect and intuition, plain common sense and religious experience, we cannot but lay equal emphasis in our philosophy on one and many, unity and difference, identity and diversity, stability and change, matter and spirit.
They are in fact the same reality viewed from two distinct but complementary angles. We do not know how one and many are related. We do not know how unity can appear as plurality. We do not know how the same reality could be static as well as dynamic. But by putting together the verdict of intellect and intuition, we know that these apparently contradictory features are there in the reality. This is a mystery which we cannot solve. But we cannot ignore it either. This “somehow I know not how”, as Bradley aptly puts it, is called in traditional Vedanta “Maya”, perhaps the most mature fruit of a philosophy based on intellect-cum-intuition, more precisely on an analysis of both. Materialism and Spiritualism can thus shake hands and be an incentive for the realisation of material and spiritual values side by side in the life of the common man, a doctrine much emphasised by the Bhagavad-Gita near about the pre-Christian era and by Islam from the seventh century downwards with the advent of the Prophet.
This scheme of reality should not, however, be confused with the neutral Monism of the present which is, to my mind, Monism in appearance but Pluralism in reality. On the basis of a synthesis of intellect and intuition, we cannot say that reality is neither material nor spiritual, but it is material from the intellectual angle, spiritual from the intuitive. By an analysis of the nature of matter and mind in the light of modern Physics, on the one hand, and contemporary psychology, more particularly Behaviourism, on the other, the neutral monists have tried to remove the big gap that separates mind and matter as they are commonly understood. But they have, I suspect, laid more the foundation of a broadbased Materialism than made a defence of a neutral stuff in between matter and mind. I would myself like very much to defend this broadbased Materialism, of course, with an important reservation, i.e. an appeal to intuition which reveals reality as an all-pervasive spirit, as a stable reality, and not as a series of changing particulars which are in the final analysis mental and material in two different contexts. When this verdict of intuition is added to the broadbased Materialism of the neutral monist, the basic stuff of the universe ceases to be neutral and becomes material from one angle and spiritual from another, more precisely a mysterious mixture of both. Neutral monists exhibit without doubt some insight into the nature of matter, my only regret is that their philosophy remains in the final analysis one-sided because of their refusal to take note of the intuition of the basic identity of the universe, an idea which they want to eliminate altogether from Philosophy.8
I have, I know, ascribed very wide, perhaps the widest possible, connotation, to Materialism and Spiritualism. For this I am indebted primarily to Samkhya philosophy of old according to which the essence of matter (Prakriti) is perpetual change, that of spirit (Purusa) eternal rest. The Vedantic concept of intuition as an awareness of a stable reality behind the world of plain common sense, the rejection of the atomic theory of matter in Physics and also the recognition of time as the fourth dimension of space in the theory of Relativity of Einstein, all put together produced a cumulative effect on the synthesis of Materialism and Spiritualism or, better say, their equation which it has been my humble endeavour to visualise in imagination and understand by the help of logical analysis.
Judged from this perspective, on its emphasis on impermanence, though not in its recognition of Nirvana as the highest ideal of life, Buddhist philosophy is Materialism and Bergson a superb materialist who makes a defence of change even by an appeal to intuition. In theory at least, Vedantic Idealism appears from our standpoint a mixture of Materialism and Spiritualism, Materialism in its recognition of Mays the mysterious changing principle, and Spiritualism in its recognition of the static Absolute devoid of all differences as the ultimate reality; though in actual practice by laying almost the sole emphasis on the latter, it has at times made light of the material needs of the common man. Something like this could be said about Plato, who, even though he did not reduce the world of change into nothing pure and simple like his predecessors, the Eleatics, has laid almost all metaphysical weight he could on a stable reality beyond of which our world is a meagre copy. Rightly or wrongly, contemporary philosophy on the whole seems to move in the opposite direction. It believes even in a changing Absolute, in a God who is in some sense at least being perpetually created. This shows how deep-seated our materialist preferences are. In one word, our attitude of life today is pre-eminently materialist and our outlook of the world, our Weltanschauung, could hardly be an exception.
We can escape from this predicament, this muddle, in our practical, work-a-day life if we can afford to believe in intellect as well as in intuition, in science as well as in religion and, through that, look at matter and spirit as two inescapable but compatible aspects of the same reality. This is what the old dictum of identity of spirit (Citsatta) and matter (Jadadbastu) really means. In a Spiritualism toned down by Materialism and in a Materialism responsive to spiritualism must be found man’s future. Not one-sided emphasis but accommodation and adjustment of opposite perspectives of reality and life is what we badly need at this crucial hour of history.
I do believe that Professor Sharif’s Dialectical Monadism by steering clear of extreme materialism of Marx and extreme Intellectualism of Hegel gives the substance of the philosophy of synthesis outlined above. His idea of perpetual progress of the individual in society inspired by a faith in Perfect God contains the gist of Islam as expounded by its contemporary exponents, more particularly Allama Iqbal. As a meeting ground of Islam and modern thought, of Eastern faith and Western Logic, Dialectical Monacism has considerable value.
Whenever I think of the unresolved conflict of reason and faith, of Materialism and Spiritualism, and of material and spiritual values in the human mind which has throughout been a great handicap to man’s durable progress, I am almost invariably reminded of whimsical fairytale kings of bygone ages who used to keep two beautiful queens only to love the one and neglect the other alternately, possibly under the influence of the sadistic instinct. As in all one-sided experiments with life, here also it is emotion that gets the better of our reason and leads us astray.
From this practical angle, I would like to take a bird’s eye view of the Philosophy of the recent past, to make a semi-academic or rather an unacademic approach to it. This is not a bad altogether bad either. Philosophy is not an affair of the school or of the academician alone. Viewed rightly, it must have a meaning and significance for the unacademic common man as well.
In an atmosphere extremely hostile to Philosophical Idealism, being myself an idealist of a curious brand, it is but natural that my attention will be drawn to it first. As luck would have it, realists, pragmatists, dialectical materialists and existentialists, all and sundry, have joined hands in our times to cry down Philosophical Idealism. Yet I do not think this unpopularity of Idealism is mainly due to the destructive zeal of its critics. To my mind, for this it is not the critic but the advocate who is more to blame.
From a practical as well as a logical perspective, there is something wanting in modern Philosophical Idealism. By its round about denial of the reality of matter, in the final analysis at least, it underestimates the importance of material values in the life of the common man, In the extreme form as in Hegel, it has attempted even to efface the line of demarcation between the real and the ideal. This lays the axe at the root of progress, more particularly of material progress which means so much for modern man and woman. Possibly confining his attention to this aspect of Hegel’s philosophy, Russell observes: “Such is Hegel’s doctrine of the state,—a doctrine which, if accepted, justifies every external aggression that can possibly be imagined.”9 In its logical aspect, Philosophical Idealism fights shy of intuition and makes Spiritualism very dry for common man’s acceptance. William James rightly says that Philosophical Idealism has made religion much too abstract for the Spiritual substances of the layman innocent of the subtleties of logic. This is without doubt the result of an unjustified emphasis on a merely intellectual approach to reality and a merely intellectual account of religion. with Hegel, for instance, logic is not only the method of knowing reality, but God Himself is a Gigantic Logician who has been fashioning the whole history according to the familiar triadic formula of Hegel’s dialectic, a thesis quickly followed by an antithesis and immediately after both merged in a comprehensive synthesis.
About half a century after Hegel, Bradley realises the dangers of this over-intellectualisation and tries hard to adjust the scale between logic and intuition by maintaining that logic can give only a general idea of reality but not an adequate knowledge of it. But even Bradley does not seem to recognise much the importance of intuition in Philosophy which is for him a purely logical affair based on a purely logical approach. This logical bias possibly leads Bradley to pitch Philosophy above religion and maintains that God is after all the highest appearance and not reality.
I do believe that by its denial of the importance of matter in its scheme of reality, Philosophical Idealism could not satisfy the material interest of the common man, and by making its Absolute much too intellectual, it could not also satisfy his spiritual interest. Though its main purpose has almost always been to justify religion by the help of logic and to keep Materialism at a safe distance, judged by its actual performance, Philosophical Idealism has not been able to achieve either of these two objectives. As a matter of fact, its artificial denial of Materialism actually led to its fresh growth in a much vigorous form and its effort to make a purely intellectual dish out of religion made it unpopular not only with the masses but also with the protagonists of religion. The lesson that Philosophical Idealism teaches is that we should not deny the reality of matter by our left hand while emphasising it by the right, nor should we make religion, which is primarily a matter of the heart, much too intellectual and abstract for general acceptance. What we really need is not an overintellectualised theoretic idealism with a skeleton of spirit around it but a practical Idealism that draws equally from reason and intuition, from faith as well as logic, banks equally on matter and spirit and does justice to our material as well as spiritual needs.
Modern Realism has been pretty successful in exposing the excesses of Philosophical Idealism, but on its positive aspect, I do not think, it fares much better, Its fundamental error, I presume, is its attempt to detach Philosophy from life. Most realists maintain that Philosophy is a theory of reality and it is not necessarily its task to encourage good life. Most that Philosophy does is to find out what goodness or good life is. It can hardly teach us how to be good or how to lead a good life. Possibly, realists do not always realise that just like theoretic science minus its practical technique, a theoretic Philosophy which does not inspire a way of life is not very significant. If and when reality and value, theory and practice merge, Philosophy becomes a potent instrument for human welfare. Ortherwise, as against its best traditions, it remains a bookish, academic affair.
Again, by their horror for synthesis, in most cases the realists make a fetish of analysis. If idealist synthesis has at times given a much too hazy idea of facts, the realist analysis has often enough dissected them a bit too much and missed their unity. If the former ignores a bit to much the seamy side of things and hides the corpse under a heap of flowers, the latter, by concentrating too much on the dark side of them, almost always suspects that there is a poisonous snake behind the green grass. The best philosophy of life, i.e. a reasoned-out optimism, can come out of analysis putting a check on sweeping generalisations and synthesis putting a check on the excesses of an analysis that takes away from the unity of things. If we simply analyse things, we might reduce them into mere aggregates, cut loose from one another. If we simply synthesise them, their individuality might be utterly lost sight of. If the former helps grow a sense of distinctive individuality, the latter a sense of unity and solidarity. For healthy growth we need both. It is extremely to be regretted that we very much miss this spirit of accommodation and adjustment in Philosophical Idealism as well as modern Realism.
Bergson realises the drawbacks of intellectual analysis as well as synthesis and leans on intuition. But, unfortunately enough, he has left a big gap between intellect and intuition. This is why even though he shows us a way out of the labyrinth of logic, he could not provide a synthesis which can give a real push to man’s progress, to his future. Like a great sentinel, he crys halt but could not give a command for a march onwards. Our complex needs cannot possibly be satisfied by a one-sided emphasis on intuition and intellect, on faith and reason.
In this welter of ideas, Logical Positivism spared no efforts to give a decent burial to Metaphysics by the application of the dexterous method of linguistic analysis in Philosophy. There may not be much that is new about its denial of Metaphysics. But there is, perhaps, something new about the way it tries to do this.
It is a pretty known fact, for instance, that the meaning of a sentence like “Sugar is sweet” can be verified in experience but not of a metaphysical statement like “God exists”. But it will be very audacious indeed to say on that account that the former has a meaning while the latter none. It will be as well for a man born blind to say that there can be no perception of colour. Logical Positivism is quite right when it says that by idealist synthesis we cannot possibly swallow reality as a whole, nor by realist analysis can we catch hold of it piecemeal. But it forgets that if we can go beyond intellect and appeal to intuition, we can dispense with both analysis and synthesis and yet be assured of a reality beyond the realim of sense. Anyway, the logical positivist does not pretend to make Philosophy a way of life and I have no mind to tease him on that score. His failure only indicates that if we want to make Philosophy a matter of life and not a mere catalogue of “bloodless categories”, we must broaden its dimension by an appeal beyond intellect to intuition.
In Existentialism there is very rightly, I believe, a shift of emphasis on the practical aspect of Philosophy. In its emphatic defence of the rights of the individual, it strives hard to find out a way of life that can save him from being crushed by the onslaught of a totalitarianism—materialist or spiritualist, it does not matter much. It challenges Naturalism because of its mechanical interpretation of human personality and also Absolutism because it makes the individual a tool of the Absolute. Its centre of gravity is not the universal as in Plato and Hegel but the individual. To save himself from being lost in the crowd, the individual must challenge all traditions, all static ideas, that have gained ground in the human mind and evolve his own philosophy, his own morals and his own religion, and should not smoke the pipe through other’s palm. To be a copy of others is to have “unauthentic being”, to cease to exist in a very real sense. “Authentic being”, real existence, consists in making one’s own distinctive approach to the problems of life. Very naturally indeed Existentialism has at times been theistic, at others atheistic, at times inclined to religion, at others opposed to it. It is not one’s conclusions but one’s method of approach that really makes an existentialist. One’s main business is not to lend support to this or that theory but to defend the full liberty of the individual in theory as well as in practice.
Like every other reaction in thought, Existentialism is perhaps more right in what it affirms than in what it denies. Its great concern in the individual, in its free growth, could, I presume, be a landmark in man’s progress if it is not carried beyond reasonable limits. In the complex modern set-up, if an undue premium is put on the rights of the individual, mutual understanding in the sphere of human relations may well nigh prove impossible. This will either reduce the human house into a veritable “Tower of Babel” where exchange of ideas and emotion is not feasible or might even mean its total collapse.
The problem of modern man and woman is to make for individual growth consistently with social cohesion, more precisely with the solidarity of the human race. If, by an intuitive appeal, we can bring out more fully the practical implications of the idealist concept of unity, it will be a great incentive for the development of the distinctive personality of the individual and also leave full scope for the solidarity of man on the widest possible scale. Idealism will then cease to be a theory and work in the life of mankind as a whole. In such a union of Idealism and Pragmatism, of the idealist philosophy of the spiritual unity of man and the pragmatist idea of workability as the core of truth lies the future of Philosophy and also the future of man, Idealism has failed man because it could not work on the material plane. Pragmatism has failed him because, by an alliance with Pluralism, it could not effect a sound philosophy of love and action which alone can work today in the sphere of human relations.
Though science was originally a quest for knowledge, in its latest phase, as technology, it has become a most potent instrument of action hitherto unknown and unimaginable. In the absence of faith in the spiritual interest of man, this might with ease degenerate into a power cult with a most bleak and gloomy prospect for the common man. A microscopic minority with adequate skill could, if it so desires, ignore the will of the vast majority and even crush it altogether. In the durable interest of man, this immense power must be controlled and guided by a pervasive love which finally draws from a faith in the unity of creation, more particularly in the unity of man because, as Schiller rightly observes, however wide our purview, as human beings, our approach will and must be human.
This philosophy of love has no geographical limit and it can hardly be a sectional affair. To be effective, it must be human in a most intense and most wide sense. Technology has today become an all-pervasive influence and an all-pervasive human love alone can come to terms with it. Technology has given us a world philosophy of power and for the survival of man, more precisely for the successful living of the common man, we need a world philosophy of love which can give the prevailing philosophy power the right direction.
In 1943, while the Second World War was being fought, Willkie observed: “There are no distant points in the world any longer… our thinking in the future must be worldwide.”10 In the course of about two decades that followed, the need of a world understanding has become more urgent and more pressing. It has become a virtue of necessity and remains no longer a dream of visionaries. Science has made the whole world physically one. This physical unity is not merely a privilege but is also a problem and a challenge. It is both a problem and a challenge because without a corresponding broadening of the heart, without a liberal outlook and broad human sympathies, this may well lead to almost endless conflicts of small groups, small ideologies and, above all, of small minds.
The physical unity is also fast making for an all-pervasive cultural pattern. A world culture, scientific in appearance and materialist in substance, is about to devour the whole world, the entire human race. Its benefit has already been great. It has struck a death blow to prejudices and supperstitions. It has helped material growth considerably. But being inspired by a power cult without the cementing force of love, it has created a spiritual vacuum that perpetually leaves us in an unstable equilibrium. An unshakable faith in the basic unity of man, of his basic unity, must gradually but inevitably fill up this vacuum and make for a better world and a better existence.
This one world of faith will in due course bring in one world as a potent, political instrument for the durable welfare of mankind. Without a treaty of peace being signed between the warring forces of his nature—faith and reason, intellect and intuition, his material and spiritual carvings—man can hardly expect to move steadily towards that goal and achieve it. But for this synthetic attitude, our efforts to build a one world will melt before the heat of mutual hatred and jealousy, strifes and conflicts and the story of Icarus of old who failed to cross the sea with wings fastened to his shoulder by wax which melted under the burning rays of the sun will be repeated in our case. I do believe that our instinctive urge for life will finally keep us to the right path, the path of unity and love, and an equitable world structure wedded to a happy union of love and power will emerge. It will be possible then for the common man to repeat with a sense of joy and relief the old Vedic prayer: “Let us live for a century and have the power of sight, hearing and speech and also the fire of life unabated for a century. Let us not feel depressed and dejected but aspire to live for even more than a century.”
1. A more detailed account of it will be available in the writer’s newly published Bengali book ‘Amar Jiban-Darshan (My Philosophy of
Life), Chaps, II and III.
2. Such a meaning has the support of Mr. E. B. Cowell, Dr. S. N. Das Gupta, Mr. H. P. Shastri, Mr. D. P. Chattapadhyaya and many others.
5. Dev. Idealism and Progress (Das Gupta and Co. Ltd. Calcutta) Chap. II; Idealism : A New Defence and A new Application (Dhaka University), Chap. III.
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