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Meliorism

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  15 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT

By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee

Meliorism implies the doctrine which believes in the possibility of the betterment of life and universe in their ethical, social and religious aspects. It is closely connected with the problem of values, which may be progressively realized and the individuals have the capacity to realise such values. Realization of the highest values of life indicates the realization of the Absolute Reality, which comprises all the values. The highest values are Truth, Beauty and Good. Meliorism erodes both the pessimistic and optimistic obligation to the rigid, gloomy and cheerful aspects of things respectively. According to Meliorism the world is not eterlly doomed to evil things nor is it a permanent home of good things. Actually the world is neither good nor bad. In fact, the quality of the world depends on our activities. It is human beings who make the world good or bad. Man has committed many crimes and perpetrated many sins. Through the years we see mankind going down to rock bottom in the sphere of morality.

Meliorism implies progress. Are we really progressing? What is the meaning of “progress”? Its dictiory meaning is “forward movement” or development. Evolutions have stated that the world with its things and beings has been evolving through the passage of time. Evolution implies development. I suppose that in today’s world progress means development in science and technology and in that sense. I think we have made enormous progress. During the British rule India had lost much of her ancient glory and the country remained poor and backward. There was no industry worth the me. But since independence the country has made tremendous progress in every sector and now India is almost at par with the super powers. Our scientists have created wonders with their extraordiry talent and intellectual achievements. We have been enjoying many wonderful contributions of science. People are fast progressing in every aspect. The latest world-news reaches us instantly. We can talk to people on the other side of the hemisphere. Obviously the scientific developments have made possible many things, which were considered as impossible in the past. Some people have gone to the space to solve the mysteries of the universe. Boundaries are falling apart. The world has become smaller and today distance means nothing to us.

Strangely enough this is also the age, when confined in tiny flats, trying desperately to be winners in the rat race; self-centred human beings are losing interest in friends, neighbours and relations. While brilliant intellectuals are trying to bring distance nearer, selfish human beings with cold hearts are pushing out the near ones to inconceivable distances.

Wonder drugs and miracle surgeries have extended the life-span of many people, who would have been left for dead in the earlier times. These brilliant scientists have opened new horizons of hope for the old and decrepit people. Mankind is indeed grateful to these extraordiry medical people for their wonderful achievements. Truly the scientists have done great many things for the benefit of human beings. For instance, once covering a distance of 100 kilometres was a major problem. But now one can move around the world in the shortest possible time. In the Ramaya Maharshi Balmiki rrated the incident of the abduction of Sita Devi by Rava, the King of Lanka. The King abducted Sita Devi and carried her to Lanka in his “Puspak Rath” which flew across the air. People regarded it as a myth created by the great writer. Our ancestors probably never even imagined that one day in future their descendents would be able to fly through the air like the King of Lanka. Life has become much easier now with all these magnificent scientific wonders.

Every day in every way mankind is achieving success. Yet in spite of all these wonderful achievements, the modern face is losing its smile and modern mind its peace. Perhaps that is the biggest contradiction of life today. We are utterly confused and do not know what we actually want or for what purpose. It is usually believed that God created the world and life. But surely he did not create it only for the pleasure or human beings or for their crimes. According to philosopher Leibnitz, God created this world, because it was the best of all the possible worlds. We do not have any idea regarding the veracity of the theory of Leibnitz. Yet we do know that man may be good or bad and the good or evil of the world depends on human beings.

The world, in which we live, accepts what we as individuals, bring into it by our own efforts and energies and by our trials and errors. If the world is a vale of soul-making then the soul is also the energy for world-making. The world not only makes the soul, but is also made by it. In this mutual making of one by the other, the values become manifested, and the realization of values is the goal of the individuals.

The question may arise regarding the meaning of value. The term ‘value’ is very commonly used in philosophy and in other aspects of our everyday life. Yet it is one term which has been the source of much misunderstanding and controversy. The reason is that the value is of such a ture that any outlook on life and universe involves some phase of it. Various philosophical systems explain the concept of value in different ways. The realistic point of view is entirely different from the idealistic or the empirical point of view. The animist will mean something different by the term ‘value’. In philosophic language ‘value’ implies ‘worth’ and ‘good’, while ‘perfection’ means “consummation of all values”.

Facts and values are different and this distinction has great significance upon our explation of life and universe. We may look upon the universe and events as they are, or we may look upon it as something else, which is different from what we are actually seeing. In this sense it has reference to an ideal, which is not a matter of our choice. Positive sciences remain satisfied with things as they turally and normally are. Many realistic thinkers believe philosophy to be scientific and ratiol and must study things as they are, that is in their positive character alone. Facts and phenome have no ulterior significance beyond what they present to us in experience. In the view of the positive scientists, to introduce any such ulterior motive is to indulge in mysticism, which philosophy as a ratiol and logical alysis of the world and things cannot accept. For instance, Russell is averse to any ideals or values, which he suspects as extra-logical. For him the mystical elements damage the bare, colourless character of things with which philosophy is really concerned.

But we should note that science may be of two kinds: positive and normative. Positive sciences deal with things and facts as they are and the normative sciences consider facts as they ought to be. So besides positive considerations of things, philosophy demands their normative considerations as well. Things and events do not exhaust their character merely by being what they are, but suggest norms or ideals or values for their fuller understanding. The normative sciences like Ethics, Aesthetics and even Logic are indicative of the fact that behind their actuality, things and events have an ideal reference. Even in our everyday life we consider what we should do, which is different from what we are doing. The question of ‘ought’ necessarily leads to the concept of value or norm.

Values cannot be reduced to facts, as progress cannot be reduced to process. Some scientific writers like Eddington, Whitehead and Lloyd Morgan have stated that the things and events of the world have, besides their mechanical frame-work, constituted by matter, force, space, time, causality, an ideal frame-work or a value-constitution, without which they cannot be fully explained. The experiences of life and mind convince us that they are more in harmony with values than with mere mechanical forces. In fact life and mind always refer to some ideal or value.

The conception of value is turally connected with the world of things and minds. Mind evaluates the things of the universe and thereby the value-frame of the universe is formed. Living human beings aspire to realise the values. The value-frame is the totality of spiritual values, which constitute the Absolute Spiritual Reality underlying everything. This Absolute reality expresses itself through things and minds and the different stages of self- expression exhibit values of different kinds. Hence it can be said that the values are the different self-expressions of the Absolute Reality, with which the different contents of the world are organically related. But the organic relation between the Absolute Spiritual Reality and the things and minds of the world has not been rightly realised. Hence we have different conceptions of value. The psychological theories of value define it as a quality of something that satisfies a human need or evokes a feeling of pleasure. The value-judgments depend on human ture and feelings, wish, volition and impulses. Briefly speaking, every judgment of value is dependent on the experiences of man. Value is then essentially subjective according to the psychological view. But if the value of a thing depends on the satisfaction of human desire or fulfilment of interest, then value will have to be different in each case, since every individual has different desires and different interests. For this reason the psychologists have to consider the question of intrinsic values as against the apparent subjective character of value. But psychology deals only with the subjective characteristics and feelings of individuals. Hence it is impossible for the psychological theory to account for the intrinsic character of value.

The main difficulty in the psychological theory of value is its attempt to isolate the individual psychical centre from the rest of existence, which is actually an organized whole. But the most characteristic difficulty of the psychological theories of value is that they are based upon unsound psychology. For instance, Mill in his utilitarianism observes, “that which is in itself valuable is in itself desirable” and that “such are only pleasure and freedom from pain”. These comments make pleasure and absence of pain to be fundamental values. Hedonists too think in the same way and for them whatever gives pleasure is true and valuable. These psychological processes actually degrade the evaluation to the biological level, ignoring the psychical and spiritual aspect of his being.

Diverse explations of value have been offered by the different systems of philosophy. Different realists have offered different aspects of the concept of value, but all of them agree that value and judgments of value need not suppose the spiritual constitution of the universe. According to Alexander, value has no reality of its own; it is not a determition either of the spirit or of ture. It merely emerges as a third front from the intercourse between the spirit and ture. Realist G. E. Moore has presented another account of value. According to him all things possess intrinsic value. For the pragmatists the conception of value is synonymous with value. For them value is not intrinsic nor is it a reality by itself. If utility is the criterion of value, then it must be subjective, as usefulness depends on the person concerned. But the ethical good, logical truth and aesthetic beauty, which comprise the spiritual reality, do not depend on usefulness. They are conceived as ideals or end in themselves.

The idealists do not regard value as a subjective addendum to reality nor is it a part or essence of reality, nor is it an ineffable quality attached to reality, nor again it is a form of utility. For the idealist value is the condition of existence and knowledge. We agree with the idealist that value pervades everything. It is a logically prior concept and as such incapable of definition. It is not subject to ratiol alysis and accessible only to intuition. Value as reality is super logical, but stands in a teleological relation with the world of things and minds. They are discovered and realised, but not made by man.

To the Indian mind in general, value is the frame-work of life and the universe, which pervades everything. The Ultimate Spiritual Reality is the home of the absolute objective values. These ultimate values are Truth, Beauty and Good. The absolute values make up the very constitution of God or the Absolute Reality. In Indian philosophy also it is said that Brahman or the Absolute Reality is “Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram”. They are the highest values, which comprise the Absolute Reality. Only the liberated people can realise these values.

Mankind has progressed a lot. But this progress is material and there has been no spiritual progress. I think that in the epic age there was spiritual progress and people led a virtuous life. Their aim was to attain liberation. The sages taught people to be good and honest. Today people are doing everything possible to satisfy their rrow persol desires. They are killing animals, destroying tural resources, even killing human beings for their persol gains. Their reckless activities may bring earth to extinction along with everything it contains. Hence I believe that there has been no real progress at all. In their craze for money and power man has lost his humanity. For being happy we have to change our view point.

It is clear that by Absolute values we mean Truth, Good and Beauty as objective forces that form the very essence of Absolute Spiritual Reality. These values manifest themselves when man ratiolly realises his unity with the ultimate Spiritual Reality. All other values are relative and they fall short of the ideal values. We may say that the reality of God or the Absolute is identical with the reality of the intrinsic, objective and absolute values. Only the person, who leads a good life can possibly realise the Absolute Reality and the values. And that is the way to be truly happy. Hence mankind should try to move forward, as Meliorism suggests arid progress in the spiritual direction. Only then the earth will be saved and the human beings would be truly happy.

(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)

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