Friday, April 20, 2012

Moral Return and the Problem of Good and Evil

"On the mixed egoism of human nature there can be no safe or positive reliance... " --Sri Aurobindo writing about good and evil

The problems of human life are myriad, but the of the most persistent and perplexing of difficulties lies with the perception and response to the nature of good and evil. It is to oversimplify the issue by dividing the world into two camps, the good and the evil. In maturity we see that bad things do happen to "good" people. But how, and why? What type of response may we mount in the face such a situation?

The idea of moral returns supposes that like begets like; that by positive intention, or positive self talk, one may garner positive rewards. This is thought by others to be an egocentric philosophy, not borne out by everyday experiences. And while there exists in the intellectual marketplace many such advocates of these types of ideas, there are the others such as Sri Aurobindo who examines the issue more closely, writing a part in the book, Lights on Life's Problems by Kishner Ghandi.

The rule of moral returns, or more commonly called the 'golden rule' is pervasive in human philosophical systems, especially those dealing with ethical systems, and ideas of faith and belief.

Aurobindo writes, "The rule is true to a certain  extent... but it is not true all the way and all the time. It is evident enough that hatred, violence, injustice are likely to create an answering hatred, violence and injustice... and I can only indulge those propensities with impunity if I am sufficiently powerful enough and prudent enough to provide against their natural reactions. It is true also that by doing good and kindness I create a certain good will in others... but this good and evil are both of them movements of the ego, and on the mixed egoism of human nature there can be no safe or positive reliance. An egoistic, selfish strength, if it knows what to do and where to stop... if it is strong and skillful, cunning, fraud, many kinds of evil, do actually pay in man's dealing with man hardly less than in the animal's with the animal, and on the other hand the doer of good... finds himself as often as not disappointed." paraphrased

Why? asks Aurobindo: "It is because the weakness of human nature worships the power that tramples on it...return[s] to every kind of strong imposition, belief" crouching and fawning admiration, flattery of self and others, even in moments of hatred and terror, possesses a singular and unreasoning loyalty to me, myself and I. "And its disloyalties too are as unreasoning, or light and fickle; it takes just reasoning and beneficence as its right, and forgets or cares not to pay." paraphrased

"Even', says Aurobindo, 'Christ on the cross or Socrates drinking his potion of hemlock are not very clear evidence for any optimistic notion of a law of moral return in the world of human nature. Actually in the cosmic dispensation [Aurobindo thinks] "evil comes out of good and good comes out of evil; there seems to be no correspondence between the moral and the vital measures." In summary Aurobindo concludes that good does tend to beget good, "the total power of good in the world and the greater this grows, the greater is likely the sum of human happiness" and that evil tends towards its inverse. Eventually surmises Aurobindo,  man or nations doing evil will have to pay in a theory of a harmonious cosmos, equal and balanced by its opposite. Though he notes, "it is not often in any intelligibly graded or apportioned measure, and not always clear in translating terms of vital good fortune and ill fortune."

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