Friday, April 15, 2016

Immanuel Kant and Theosophy by H. T. Edge, M. A. 1916


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OUR age being one of facile publication, public print reflects the lucubrations of inexperienced, unread and perfunctory thinkers; and consequently a new lease of life is given to doctrines which could never stand the test of criticism in the light of an acquaintance with the work of philosophers. As an example of the confusion that reigns, we may refer to a supposed antagonism between duty and freedom, between morality and liberty; a fallacy which has induced the supposed necessity for throwing over duty and morality in the interests of what is imagined to be liberty.

But that great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, shows that the "ought" implies liberty. Without freedom there can be no "ought"; for a man acting under compulsion is neither free nor conscientious.

Since without freedom there is no "ought," that is, no moral law would be possible, there is ground of knowledge (or rather of certainty) of freedom, and it, again, is a real ground of the moral law. . . . The certainty that freedom is, is purely subjective, comes to us from the fact that we "ought." — History of Philosophy, J. E. Erdmann, Vol. II, p. 399

Recognizing the duality of the human mind, Kant shows the man as both lawgiver and subject of the law (as in the relationship of noumenon and phenomenon), and thus the law both fills us with awe and inspires us with confidence, and the feeling of reverence unites in itself both compulsion and freedom. How much more adequate is this explanation than those hasty sophisms of speculation which see only the compulsory element in law, thus recognizing only man the slave — that is, the lower man — and ignoring the fact that Man is also the lawgiver!

Kant always attributes to the moral law the character of autonomy, and combats every form of heteronomy in morals.— Ibid. 401.

For Kant, as so well known, moral obligation was an unconditioned (or "categorical") imperative; in other words it is the decrees of our own higher intelligence, which discerns at once the actual conditions of our life and the necessity for acting in conformity therewith. Morality is the recognition of those actually existing laws of nature which pertain to the human self-conscious mind (or Manas in Theosophical terminology) and the will to abide by those laws.

The further problem arises as to how these higher laws, thus recognized and willed, are to be reconciled with the lower nature of man, whence proceed various inclinations of an antagonistic character. For Kant the whole business of our life consists in —

the action of our innate faculties on the conceptions which come to us from without. . . . The idea of good and bad is a necessary condition, an original basis of morals, which is supposed in every one of our moral reflections and not obtained by experience.— Encyclopedia Americana, Art. "Kant."

Man is at once a sense nature and a rational nature, and these are opposed to one another. Part of our knowledge is original and independent of experience; part based on experience; and in connexion with the former he uses his expression "pure reason."

Pure reason is the faculty to understand by a priori principles, and the discussion of the possibility of these principles, and the delimitation of this faculty, constitutes the critique of pure reason.— Preface to the Critique of the Power of Judgment.

Some students of nature have professed to see in it only the working of a concatenation of causes and effects, with no large and preconceived purpose behind it; and they have scoffed at those who regard nature as fulfilling great designs. The word "teleology," implying the existence of such purposes, has in particular stuck in their throat. But we find Kant saying, in the Critique of Pure Reason, that —

The systematic union of ends in this world of intelligences, which, although as mere nature it is to be called only the world of sense, can yet as a system of freedom be called an intelligible, i. e., moral world, leads inevitably to the teleological unity of all things which constitute this great whole according to universal natural laws, just as the unity of the former is according to universal and necessary moral laws, and unites the practical with the speculative reason. The world must be represented as having originated from an idea, if it is to harmonize with that use of reason without which we should hold ourselves unworthy of reason — namely the moral use, which rests entirely on the idea of the supreme good. Hence all natural research tends towards the form of a system of ends, and in its highest development would be a physico-theology. But this, since it arises from the moral order as a unity grounded in the very essence of freedom and not accidentally instituted by external commands, establishes the teleology of nature on grounds which a priori must be inseparably connected with the inner possibility of things. The teleology of nature is thus made to rest on a transcendental theology, which takes the ideal of supreme ontological perfection as a principle of systematic unity, a principle which connects all things according to universal and necessary natural laws, since they all have their origin in the absolute necessity of a single primal being.

In this fruitful passage he speaks of the world as a world of intelligences; says that it can be regarded both as a world of sense and as a system of freedom (in which latter aspect it is a moral world); and contemplates a systematic unifying of conflicting purposes, which leads to the teleological unity of all things. The union of the practical with the speculative reason is also mentioned; the only right use of reason is the moral use; and all natural research tends to the form of a system of ends. Kant was an eighteenth-century philosopher, so his writings cannot be brought under the head of "Victorian teleological fustian"— the phrase used by Professor Bateson in his deprecation of the belief in ends and purposes in nature. (British Association Address, 1914). The moral order is defined as being of the very essence of freedom; a sufficient answer to those who seek to define it as a mere convention agreed upon by men and changing from time to time according to circumstances.

The writer in the Ninth and subsequent editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica says, in explaining Kant's philosophy:

The moral law, or reason as practical, prescribes the realization of the highest good, and such realization implies a higher order than that of nature. We must therefore regard the supreme cause as a moral cause, and nature as so ordered that realization of the moral end is in it possible. The final conception of the Kantian philosophy is therefore that of ethical teleology. . . .

The realization of duty is impossible for any being which is not thought as free, that is, capable of self-determination. Freedom, it is true, is theoretically not an object of cognition, but its impossibility is not thereby demonstrated. . . . The supreme end prescribed by reason, in its practical aspect, namely, the complete subordination of the empirical side of nature to the precepts of morality, demands, as conditions of its possible realization, the permanence of ethical progress in the moral agent, the certainty of freedom in self-determination, and the necessary harmonizing of the spheres of sense and reason through the intelligent author or ground of both.

Kant's touchstone of morality, "Act as thou wouldst wish that all should act," may be recommended to the advocates of "new" schools of ethics, especially to such as elevate an inclination to the rank of a divine necessity on no better ground than that it is very strong and in their eyes beautiful. Would they wish all men to obey such incentives?

Another interesting quotation is as follows:

Self-consciousness cannot be regarded as merely a mechanically determined result. Free reflection upon the whole system of knowledge is sufficient to indicate that the sphere of intuition with its rational principles, does not exhaust conscious experience. There still remains, over and above the realm of nature, the realm of free, self-conscious spirit; and, within this sphere, it may be anticipated that the ideas will acquire a significance richer and deeper than the merely regulative import which they possess in reference to cognition.— Enc. Brit.

The universal will is not what all will but what all rational beings should will, says Kant repeatedly.

In these citations we see how Kant presents the truth that the Cosmic scheme is the working of Spirit in Matter, a process which culminates, so far as we can discern, in man. The plan of evolution shows us a primordial and undifferentiated Matter, upon which Spirit, the Divine Breath, acts, producing in it various successive modifications, which are the manifestations in Matter of the potencies in Spirit. Hence the various kingdoms of nature, the various grades of matter, and all the innumerable forms of manifestation, some known to us and others not. The Divine Idea, in its work of ensouling Matter, reached a critical stage in the animal kingdom; and further progress in the evolution was impossible without the entry of a new principle — that of self-conscious mind, the faculty characteristic of man. It is this principle, called in the Theosophical nomenclature Manas, that we have been discussing. It forms the connecting link between the animal together with all lower kingdoms, and the realms of Spiritual intelligence above. As H. P. Blavatsky says, the Spiritual Monad of a Newton, grafted on that of the greatest saint on earth, and incarnated in the most perfect physical body, would only produce an idiot, if the combination lacked this connecting link (The Secret Doctrine, II, 242). This makes of Man a triad, for three universal principles are represented in his constitution, namely, Spirit, Mind and Matter. As to the lower kingdoms of nature, though they contain the Spiritual Monad, it cannot manifest its higher potentialities in them, as they do not possess Manas or the self-conscious mind as a vehicle.

Now when Manas becomes incarnate in Man, its nature thereby becomes dual, for one half is united with the Spiritual Monad and the other gravitates towards the animal instinctual principles. Thus arises Man's dual nature; he has two egos, the lower of them being temporary and fictitious like the part played by an actor. But there is only one real Man, says H. P. Blavatsky in expounding the teachings; but one real man, enduring through the cycle of life and immortal in essence, if not in form, and this is Manas, the mind-man or embodied consciousness (The Key to Theosophy, Chapter VI).

Theosophy gives us a new light on Kant's philosophy, supplying some missing links in the thought; and especially in connexion with the fact of reincarnation, which the philosopher could only imply. Morality is seen to be the law of the higher nature with which man has contact by means of Manas. In the present usual stage of his development, however, the knowledge so derived is partial and hence appears as a moral imperative proceeding from an undiscerned source, and put into form by the faculty called conscience. From Theosophy too we get definite promise of the possibility of further development, in the course of which the union between Manas and the Spiritual Monad will become closer during life on earth, thus enabling man to replace faith by knowledge in relation to many important matters that now cause him such perplexity.

The animals follow the laws of their several natures without friction, but Man is a being of a higher order. His self-consciousness and his power of changing his own character make a difference between him and the animal kingdom which is at least as great as that between the animal and the plant, and many would think it is greater. What is the law of Man's nature? At present he wavers between two laws, for he has not yet unified his nature. It is the destiny of Man to unite the upward and downward evolutions, thus making a complete being, combining all the potencies of the universe; and when that has been fully achieved, the laws of the lower natures in Man will be subordinate to the law of his higher nature and conflict will cease.

The relationship between European philosophy in general and the teachings of Theosophy is an interesting topic. It will be some time before the many realize, what the few do now, the importance of the step that was taken when H. P. Blavatsky introduced the ancient philosophy — sometimes spoken of as that of the Orient, but more properly designated the universal philosophy of antiquity — to the West. It is true that we had already had translations of the Upanishads and other oriental philosophies, with commentaries thereon; but it was H. P. Blavatsky, and her successor, William Q. Judge, who first illuminated these books with the light of a true understanding and commented on them from the standpoint of teachers expounding the text-books of knowledge wherein they were independently versed. And it is since their day that this field of study has gained its chief vogue. It was they too who translated the ancient systems into their nearest modern equivalents, showing the relation between ancient and modern ideas.

This question of the dual nature of the human mind is one that receives a new and most practical light from the teachings of Theosophy. Nor can we refrain from mentioning the flood of light poured upon many of the intuitions of our poets and the conclusions of our philosophers by the doctrine of Reincarnation, which completes the thought which so many thinkers, on account of inherited dogmas, had to leave unfinished.

The present cycle of evolution shows Man on this planet in possession of the Lower Manas, with a partial and sporadic development of the Higher Manas; and at a further stage, yet far in the future for the mass of mankind, the human race will have reached the point where it will have to choose consciously between two paths. But at present the crisis is not reached, except in individual instances; and mankind is engaged in cultivating both sides of its nature,

It is one thing to have analysed the mind philosophically and thus to have arrived at the conclusion that it is dual, and another thing to be able to use definite terms like the higher and lower Manas in defining this duality. For we are then able to take the further step of conceiving of the higher Manas as being immortal. In conjunction with Buddhi and Atman, the sixth and seventh principles of the human septenate, it constitutes the reincarnating Ego; and this Ego takes to itself also the best part of the lower Manas — or, in other words, the aroma of all that was best in the earth-lives. But, for the Theosophist, the immortal Soul is not regarded as an affair of after-death exclusively, but as being existent all the time and therefore during life on earth. Hence we have this source of light and power within us, and it is possible to invoke its aid — which of course is done by purifying the nature from selfishness, passion and other infirmities. The Truth does indeed make us free, as the gospel says; for, as shown above in the words of the philosopher, the moral man alone is free, being bound only by his conscience which interprets for him the law of his higher nature.

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