by Swami Krishnananda
The inadequacy of the philosophic equipment of Western thinkers in comparison with the Vedanta system does not, however, mean that there is nothing good in them. Kant, Hegel and Whitehead are some of the greatest thinkers the world has produced and their monumental contributions to the fund of knowledge are indeed marvellous. They present different facets of the wisdom of the world and the part they play in chastening the human mind in its endeavour to know Truth is not only important but indispensable from the point of view of a student of clear thinking and logical approach to facts. These thinkers played a significant role in stimulating human understanding in the direction of its ultimate limitations and the realisation of its highest possibilities in its search for Reality. They tell us where we stand as embodied individuals and voice forth human dignity as also what is implied in its final reaches.
Kant's researches may be regarded as the foundation of modern critical philosophy and the turning point in the Western attitude to the nature of Truth. It was Kant who pointed out that we need not be overconfident of our faculties of knowledge and there are serious defects in their ways of working. He showed that we cannot see Reality with our eyes, for the senses are involved in the limitations of the space-time constitution. There is no such thing as sensing Reality as we see the things of the world. This is impossible, for our bodily structure is in space and time, which have the character of restricting the operations of anything existing or moving within their sphere. We cannot also think Reality, for the mind works in terms of the categories of quantity, quality, relation and modality, which have many controlling devices that restrain the mind from going beyond their limits. The moment the mind begins to think, it finds itself hemmed in by these categories from all directions and what the mind thinks is, thus, what the categories are. Like the frog in the well of the fable, the mind moves within the framework of the categories and thinks that Reality is confined to their structure. Mathematics and physics cannot give us truth, because of the reason that they work on the hypothesis of the reality of space, time and the categories of thought. The conclusions of these sciences may be correct as far as the world of these structural limitations is concerned, and we may well follow their lead in our abidance with the laws of the environment in which we all live, for we can never discover that we are wrong as long as we are circumscribed by space, time and the categories which will not allow us to know what is outside them. Kant also bars us from having any insight into Reality with the aid of the reason in us, for the reason, he says, is again limited to the categories and cannot help forming a false conception of Reality in terms of the categories. There is, thus, no metaphysics of Reality in the sense of any right knowledge of it, for we are always within a phenomenal world, and our faculties of knowledge are also involved in it. Mathematics, physics and metaphysics are all good as laws of phenomena, but unhelpful in our knowledge of Reality.
Then, what can we know, in the end? Kant's answer is: Phenomena. We cannot know Reality, because we have no means which are outside phenomena. We are in phenomena and it is futile to imagine that with our intellectual equipment we can have even a glimpse of it. Kant's greatness comes out when he accepts that we would have known Reality if we had been endowed with what he calls an 'intellectual intuition', which, in his system, is knowledge independent of the categories of space, time and thought, but he does not feel that any human being can hope to possess such a faculty, for everyone is within phenomena.
This incisive analysis of Kant is wonderfully equipped to meet the self-complacent attitude which overestimates human powers and makes man live in a world of vanity and ignorance. Further, Kant's great work, Critique of Pure Reason, is a masterpiece of acute thinking, logical deduction and honesty of approach in the human world, and it forms a necessary field of training for anyone interested in subtle thinking and comprehensiveness of argument. Kant does not deny the existence of God, though he holds that we cannot know him through our senses, mind and reason, for he postulates the existence of God on the basis of the moral urge for perfection surging within us. The affirmation of God, freedom and immortality is a subsequent phase of his thought, on different grounds. His study of the nature of human duty in society and the development of his thought on aesthetic beauty are important enough to engage the attention of any serious student of philosophy.
Another stupendous thinker is Hegel. His breadth of vision is supernormal, his passion for completeness breath-taking and the depth of his thought delighting to the soul. The spirit with which he starts narrating the story of the dialectical process of the Reason takes us above earthly vexations. As a true philosopher of great insight, Hegel attempts to bring the universe within a single fold of perfection as a wholeness which cannot brook any interference from outside. The Absolute has no outside, for everything is inside it. Every category in the universe has an opposite, every thesis is counterposed by an antithesis, for all things in it are parts seeking to find themselves in the whole. The thesis and the antithesis get blended in a synthesis which is a higher phase of reality in which the lower contradiction is overcome and transcended. The Absolute is implicit in every stage of this development, even in the lowest, as its vital essence and meaning. It is immanent in the thesis, antithesis and synthesis, equally, though it is revealed in a greater degree in the synthesis. This synthesis has, again, an antithesis in front of it, for it also falls short of the Absolute, and it forms the thesis in the face of this second antithesis. There is, again, a second synthesis in which the lower opposition is reconciled and a higher degree of reality revealed. But this second synthesis, too, has an antithesis, and the contradiction has to be solved in a still higher synthesis. This process, called by Hegel, the dialectical movement of the Reason, continues until the highest synthesis of all things, the Absolute, is reached, as the Supreme Idea.
Hegel suggests, here, how everything in the universe is incomplete and insufficient, and yet is a phase of Reality. Everything is to be included, and nothing rejected, for all things are phases of the Absolute, in various stages of development in the process of Self-realisation in its experience. This is an immortal credit to the genius of Hegel, for, when carefully pursued, this suggestion can lead to the practice of universal love and sacrifice paving the way to perpetual peace among the nations. However, his deep understanding was not taken seriously by humanity, and today he is not even studied properly in many universities.
The dialectical process implies also the principle of 'internal relations'. Every stage and phase is connected with every other stage and phase in a way that everything is related to everything else in the universe, either implicitly in the lower categories or explicitly in the higher ones. The absolute is implied in everyone of its lower degrees and explicit fully in itself as the ultimate reality. We have already noticed the purport of these internal relations in some detail. This doctrine of Hegel is another masterstroke in the contribution of the human mind to world-solidarity. It tends to the bringing about of a togetherness of all creation and the abolishing of animosity, hatred and war among human beings. But here, again, Hegel's point has been missed by all people, and he has always remained too much for man's grasping power and appreciation.
The Absolute of Hegel is the grand culmination of every process in the universe,—whether physical, psychological or spiritual. The dialectical process is not confined merely to the mind or the thinking faculty, though it reaches its perfection in the Absolute Idea. Hegel is careful to see that Reality does not end with mere Idea. The Idea which is the highest synthesis of all lower opposition is also a thesis in relation to Nature or the universe of facts. Nature in its lowest form of presentation constitutes the astronomical universe, the stellar and planetary systems, the gross plane in which we live. The world of physics and chemistry is subtler and should be regarded as nearer to reality than the astronomical world. But life does not manifest itself even here and it begins its first revelation of itself in the biological world. While the laws of mathematics apply to the world of astronomy and of physics, the law of internal sympathy, of cohesion and mutual union reigns in the realm of chemistry. But in the stage of the biological life of beings, something more is made manifest, viz., the incipient stage of the revelation of Reason, which at this stage is called life. The higher stage is that of mind and here we find ourselves in the realm of psychology. Hegel takes us, now, from Nature to Spirit.
The Absolute Idea as the thesis and Nature as the antithesis are synthesised in the Absolute Spirit as the final synthesis. The Spirit manifests itself in the subjective, objective and absolute phases. The subjective spirit is the field of mental processes envisaged in psychology. Hegel presents an illuminating discourse on the structure and working of the human mind and discloses how it gradually unfolds itself in the process of development into higher phases of reality, and how there is meaning in every act of thought and significance in every situation in mental life. The study of the human mind is not complete unless it is able to reconcile the contradiction that is seen between thought and practical life in the world. With this in view, Hegel expounds the nature of the objective spirit which manifests itself as the principles of ethics, social contract, politics, government and law. All these principles are ultimately regulated by the law of the Absolute which requires that its immanent presence in every stage of life is recognised in the light of the highest perfection of an all-comprehensive internal relation of the structure of the universe. Human conduct, political legislation and the art of government are all to be consistent with the truth that the Absolute is all things and everything in the universe is a partial revelation of it. If this profound teaching of Hegel had been implemented in the lives of the nations, the world would have, perhaps, realised its dream of finding a heaven on this very plane of apparent discord and strife.
The subjective and objective spirits are reconciled and transcended in the Absolute Spirit. Hegel points here to a deep secret that our psychological and social lives are aspects of a higher reality and cannot be rightly interpreted or understood except in the context of a universal truth which embraces them in a sublimation of isolated parts and a transfiguration of individual values. The Absolute realises itself as the Supreme Spirit and it can be visualised partially in art, religion and philosophic contemplation. Though Hegel is not familiar with the spiritual meditations of Yoga or Vedanta, and has not understood any of their implications, his thoughts almost touch this point of elevated reasoning. Beauty is the visualisation of the Absolute through the senses, in its partial manifestations; and art is the way of seeing this perfection through the medium of sensory instruments. Religion envisages the Absolute as an 'other', a God to be adored and worshipped. But in philosophy which is the highest meditation of the human mind, the Absolute is realised in its truth, as it is, and here the need for the perception of beauty through sense and for the practice of religion as a worship of an external God is no more felt, for the Absolute is integral experience.