The "Arya's" Fourth Year 07-1918 Sri Aurobindo
All philosophy is concerned with the relations between two things, the fundamental truth of existence and the forms in which existence presents itself to our experience. The deepest experience shows that the fundamental truth is truth of the Spirit; the other is the truth of life, truth of form and shaping force and living idea and action. Here the West and East have followed divergent lines. […] Our view is that the antinomy created between them is an unreal one.
Spirit being the fundamental truth of existence, life can be only its manifestation; Spirit must be not only the origin of life but its basis, its pervading reality and its highest and total result. But the forms of life as they appear to us are at once its disguises and its instruments of self-manifestation. Man has to grow in knowledge till they cease to be disguises and grow in spiritual power and quality till they become in him its perfect instruments. To grow into the fullness of the divine is the true law of human life and to shape his earthly existence into its image is the meaning of his evolution. This is the fundamental tenet of the philosophy of the “Arya”.
This truth had to be worked out first of all from the metaphysical point of view; for in philosophy metaphysical truth is the nucleus of the rest, it is the statement of the last and most general truths on which all the others depend or in which they are gathered up. Therefore we gave the first place to the “Life Divine”. [ESSAYS IN PHILOSOPHY AND YOGA: SHORTER WORKS - 1910-1950 (The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Set in 37 Volumes, Volume 13)]
A new book tries to explain how it may be possible to view moral judgements as objective truths. Can moral judgements be true or false?
One major argument against objectivism in ethics is that people disagree deeply about right and wrong, and this disagreement extends to philosophers who cannot be accused of being ignorant or confused. If great thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham disagree about what we ought to do, can there really be an objectively true answer to that question?
Parfit's response to this line of argument leads him to make a claim that is perhaps even bolder than his defence of objectivism in ethics. He considers three leading theories about what we ought to do - one deriving from Kant, one from the social-contract tradition of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the contemporary philosophers John Rawls and TM Scanlon, and one from Bentham's utilitarianism - and argues that the Kantian and social-contract theories must be revised in order to be defensible.
Then he argues that these revised theories coincide with a particular form of consequentialism, which is a theory in the same broad family as utilitarianism. If Parfit is right, there is much less disagreement between apparently conflicting moral theories than we all thought. The defenders of each of these theories are, in Parfit's vivid phrase, "climbing the same mountain on different sides".
Readers who go to On What Matters seeking an answer to the question posed by its title might be disappointed. Parfit's real interest is in combating subjectivism and nihilism. Unless he can show that objectivism is true, he believes, nothing matters.
When Parfit does come to the question of "what matters", his answer might seem surprisingly obvious. He tells us, for example, that what matters most now is that "we rich people give up some of our luxuries, ceasing to overheat the Earth's atmosphere, and taking care of this planet in other ways, so that it continues to support intelligent life".
Many of us had already reached that conclusion. What we gain from Parfit's work is the possibility of defending these and other moral claims as objective truths. Peter Singer is professor of Bioethics at
Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the . Revised editions of his books Practical Ethics and The University of Melbourne Expanding Circle have just been published.