Ethical, logical and aesthetic mind

Sri Aurobindo identified three trajectories of the higher mind (Buddhi) – ethical, logical and aesthetic.   The ethical mind is concerned with distinguishing right and good, the logical mind seen in scientists is concerned with reasoning while the aesthetic mind  seen in artists is in pursuit of beauty in nature.   This is a short note on the origin, perfection and conflicts created by these three trajectories of the mind.

In the philistine, one observes the working of primitive sense-mind; here life is lived for the satisfaction of small desires and there is little urge for creativity, development of thought or considerations of justice.   As our soul grows, the individual turn with which the higher mind interprets and detaches itself from the sense-mind begins to dictate the development of our personality and the higher capacities of our mind.  In this passage, Sri Aurobindo traces how the lower nature guides the development of these faculties:

The impressions of the sense-mind are used by a thought which exceeds them and which arrives at truths they do not give, ideative truths of thought, truths of philosophy and science; a thinking, discovering, philosophic mind overcomes, rectifies and dominates the first mind of sense impressions. The impulsive reactive sensational mentality, the life-cravings and the mind of emotional desire are taken up by the intelligent will and are overcome, are rectified and dominated by a greater  ethical mind which discovers and sets over them a law of right impulse, right desire, right emotion and right action. The receptive, crudely enjoying sensational mentality, the emotional mind and life mind are taken up by the intelligence and are overcome, rectified and dominated by a deeper, happier aesthetic mind which discovers and sets above them a law of true delight and beauty.  All these new formations are used by a general Power of the intellectual, thinking and willing man in a soul of governing intellect, imagination, judgment, memory, volition, discerning reason and ideal feeling which uses them for knowledge, self-development, experience, discovery, creation, effectuation, aspires, strives, inwardly attains, endeavours to make a higher thing of the life of the soul in Nature. The primitive desire-soul no longer governs the being.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – II: Purification – Intelligence and Will

With the practice of Yoga, as one completely transcends the lower nature and becomes filled with a Higher consciousness, each of these functions of the mind gain a plenary perfection in our luminous being.

The ethical mind becomes perfect in proportion as it detaches itself from desire, sense suggestion, impulse, customary dictated action and discovers a self of Right, Love, Strength and Purity in which it can live accomplished and make it the foundation of all its actions. The aesthetic mind is perfected in proportion as it detaches itself from all its cruder pleasures and from outward conventional canons of the aesthetic reason and discovers a self-existent self and spirit of pure and infinite Beauty and Delight which gives its own light and joy to the material of the aesthesis. The mind of knowledge is perfected when it gets away from impression and dogma and opinion and  discovers a light of self-knowledge and intuition which illumines all the workings of the sense and reason, all self-experience and world-experience. The will is perfected when it gets away from and behind its impulses and its customary ruts of effectuation and discovers an inner power of the Spirit which is the source of an intuitive and luminous action and an original harmonious creation. The movement of perfection is away from all domination by the lower nature and towards a pure and powerful reflection of the being, power, knowledge and delight of the Spirit and Self in the Buddhi.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – II: Purification – Intelligence and Will

What is interesting about these faculties is that in the intermediate, half-baked state of the ordinary mentality, many of the conflicts we experience in our daily life can be traced to these three tendencies of the mind.   This is an excerpt from a talk by Kireet Joshi, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother, on how these faculties create confusion in our thought process as well as shape our culture.

In the mind, there are three kinds of personalities. There is the personality of the logical mind, the personality of the aesthetic mind, and the personality of the ethical mind. These are the three major personalities of those who live in the mind.

Those who are tuned to logical mind, their main interest is: consistency of thought. They would like their own ideas to be consistent with each other and to arrive at an arrangement of ideas in which no idea contradicts the other. To remove all contradictions, to enlarge ideas and to make them as subtle as possible, as complex as possible is the fundamental need of the logical mind.

The aesthetic mind is turned to the object of art, pursuit of beauty. Just as the logical mind pursues truth, artistic mind pursues beauty, and expression of beauty through various instruments, through line and colour, through rock and plastic material, or through tunes and music, or various other kinds of artistry.

The ethical mind is very much concerned with the pursuit of the good. What is right and what is wrong? What is ideal? What is the standard? It constantly tries to find out if there are norms of action and whether one’s actions fit in with those norms or not and strives to arrive at perfection of arriving at those norms.

And these three minds also are in quarrel with each other. Very often what is logical may not be artistic, and what is artistic may not be ethical. What is ethical may not be artistic. In fact, the quarrel between the artistic and the good is very pronounced. Very often artists tend to live a life which is not ethical, and ethical people begin to abhor all that in the name of art is so called licence of life. They do not like licentious life which many artists live. And in the same human being these three tendencies exist, some more developed, some others less developed, but they all exist.  And because they coexist there is a quarrel among them, and this quarrel is very often mitigated by preponderance of one or the other; one simply suppresses the warring elements and prefers to allow only one part of the being to predominate. Therefore some thinkers for example have no sense of beauty. You go to a thinker’s house and you find things lying all in a pell-mell condition, there is no tidiness, there is no beauty. Similarly ethical minds are very wary of purely logical minds, they do not like philosophical discussions, debates on various kinds of ideas. They simply want to confine to one thing: what is right and what is wrong.

So there is a quarrel between the physical, the vital (life-force in man), the ethical mind, the logical mind and the aesthetic mind. These are the five quarrelling elements in every human being normally and most of the people do not even try to recognise this quarrel; they are moved by impulses of the moment and they act according to the predominant impulse of the moment. At a little more advanced state people begin to become aware of this internal conflict, and when this awareness comes, then with it also comes the necessity to repair the conflict, and one does not know how to repair it. And many human beings just go on wasting time in search of some kind of a solution to the inner conflicts. It is only some kind of mental beings that succeeds to some extent in finding some kind of a solution to this conflict. The mind has an idea of harmony. The vital and physical do not have normally an idea of harmony, or a feeling for harmony as such, but the mind has a very clear perception of harmony and by the help of this idea of harmony it imposes it upon the vital and the physical and establishes a kind of a harmony.

For education this whole psychological understanding is very important. For mothers, fathers, teachers, this understanding is very important because children have basically physical and vital needs and they have been fed with some kind of mental ideas and every mental idea that is fed into the child’s mind is like foreign material to the child’s psychology in the beginning. That is why very often children begin to wonder as to who has created studies at all and why should there be so much of study and why so much in detail and why so many pages after pages have to be studied. Because every idea that is thrown into the mind is a foreign material and is not congenial to the normal rhythm of life. So the question is as to how to make the child understand the importance of ideas and to habituate the mind to enjoy the ideas.

To make the mind capable of enjoying ideas and capable of controlling the vital and physical needs by the power of ideas is the first step of culture. There is three states in which human beings live: the state of barbarism, the state of philistinism, and the state of culture. Those who are interested only in food, housing, clothing and nothing else, are living in a state of barbarism. Even a barbarian takes care of these three things, and is very much tied up with these three things. The physical needs — satisfaction of these physical needs — is all that is of importance to the barbarian. The satisfaction of the vital needs is the level of philistinism. It is slightly higher than barbarism and it takes interest into some kind of adventure, life of ambition, life of great desires, attractions, repulsions which are not merely physical.

It is when mind begins to influence the body and the vital, then culture begins to take shape, it is a beginning. You can say that somebody is cultured only when he has begun to influence his vital and physical by the help of the mind. And the greater the influence of his mind over the vital and the physical, the greater is the culture in the man. And then the greater heights of culture are reached when the ethical mind, the artistic mind and the logical mind all begin to develop and they all begin to influence the body and the vital, then you can say: a greater height of culture has been achieved by the man or by the nation where this has happened.

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9 thoughts on “Ethical, logical and aesthetic mind

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  5. Sandeep Post author

    Hilarious article from the Onion magazine illustrating the absurd heights of the ethical mind

    Justice Breyer Unable To Look At Anything Without Deliberating Constitutionality Of It

    U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer told reporters this week that he cannot stop himself from deliberating over whether even the most mundane aspects of his personal life follow the dictates set out by the U.S. Constitution. “It’s completely automatic now; without even thinking about it, I’ll be staring at a cup of coffee and start mentally running through Third Circuit appeals that could potentially relate to it,” said Breyer, who estimated he spent at least six hours of his free time Saturday contemplating the constitutionality of issues ranging from throwing garbage in a neighbor’s trash can to a birthday card for his nephew, which certain creative property statutes might have applied to. “I was late to work this morning because I tried to figure out whether borrowing my wife’s car would violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions on unreasonable seizure in light of the precedent set by—hold on, I should be writing this down.” When reached for comment, the Supreme Court’s other eight justices were unanimous in their sentiment that Breyer should really stop calling them at home


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