The Path – May 1887

THE DOCTRINE OF INNATE IDEAS — E. D. Fawcett

[A PROBLEM OF WESTERN METAPHYSICS SOLVED IN THE LIGHT OF THE ESOTERIC DOCTRINE.]

The controversy as to whether our ideas of causation, substance, time and space are innate and referable to the original constitution of the mind or complex notions acquired from our experience of sensations, is one that cannot fail to be of interest to the student of occultism. The Intuitionalist school headed by Kant regard these ideas as existing in the mind independently of experience, as a necessary condition of our subjectivity; the Sensationalists — who include in their number some of the most eminent psychologists of the day — as due to our sensations and traceable to the operation of the Laws of Association. Mr. Herbert Spencer occupies a middle position between these contending parties. According to him they are the expression of the racial experience in the mental heredity of the individual. Take as an illustration our idea of space. According to the Intuitionalists it is innate — a condition of our perception of objects; in contradistinction to this view it is held by others that "space in the abstract is merely the community or similarity of extended bodies and of the intervals between them commonly called empty space" (1) our conception of space is contingent on our perception of objects; these latter again on our sensations, and the fact of our inability to perceive objects which do not occupy some position in relation to one another, produces so powerful an association between these two ideas, that we are unable to think of any object without the accompanying notion of its location somewhere. Hence the idea of space. The Spencerian Evolutionist, however, while admitting the justice of the Sensationalist contention with regard to the primary development of the idea, recognises in the phenomenon as present in the mind of the infant, an ancestral legacy bequeathed in the vehicle of heredity, an heirloom representing the experience of the countless organisms that constituted the evolutionary ascent up to civilized man. As, however, it is impossible to conceive of the heredity of a form of thought and in addition this explanation is purely materialistic, I shall not have occasion to regard it in the course of these brief remarks.

It is clear then that we can look for no decisive answer to Western psychology. To quote the forcible remarks of Buckle on European metaphysics: (2) "Whoever will take pains to estimate the present condition of mental philosophy must admit, that, notwithstanding the influence it has always exercised over some of the most powerful minds, and through them over society at large, there is, nevertheless, no other study which has been so zealously prosecuted, so long continued and yet remains so barren of results. *    *    *    *    * Men of eminent abilities, and of the greatest integrity of purpose have in every civilized country, for many centuries, been engaged in metaphysical inquiries; and yet at the present moment their systems, so far from approximating towards truth, are diverging from each other with a velocity which seems to be accelerated by the progress of knowledge." The too confident advocacy of them by their respective supporters as the truth, and nothing but the truth, he adds, has, "thrown the study of the mind into a confusion only to be compared to that in which the study of religion has been thrown by the controversies of the theologians." It would be difficult to frame a more severe indictment than this drawn up by so impartial and justly renowned a critic. It merely shows, that the physical intellect alone is absolutely inadequate to embrace the vast domain of Psychology or to formulate the more remote laws of being. Eastern psychologists — the masters of occult science — are therefore right in asserting that to form a true conception of the nature and potentialities of mind, it is necessary to develop faculties which enable the inquirer to rise altogether above the plane of our present consciousness. The contradictions and barrenness of the European "science" of mind are too palpable to escape remark even from the most unobservant critic. At the present day instead of being merely the accessory support to, Physiology has become the basis of, Psychology. The revival of mysticism, however, justifies us in questioning the durability of this tendency to subordinate the mental to the physical. Impermanency of influence is not the least noticeable feature of Western metaphysical speculation — a fact which has unquestionally caused the study of psychology and philosophical subjects generally to be now regarded by the majority of persons with positive aversion. The Truth has long proved a Will o' the Wisp to the Pure Reason. When intellectual giants like Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Mill and Bain only succeed in evolving mutually-exclusive and contradictory systems, it is evident that the physical intelligence must eventually resign its place to INTUITION in the search after Abstract Knowledge. But we are digressing.

The solution proposed of the long-standing problem before us is based on the philosophy of our Revered Teachers. It concedes a portion of truth to the speculations both of the Associationalists and Sensationalists. While it relegates the primary acquisition of such ideas to Sensation it declares them to be innate in the mind of the human infant. The Esoteric Doctrine shows the differentiation of individualities — i.e. the capacity of mind to exist as an entity apart from brain on the dissolution of its material substratum — taking place in the higher animal kingdom. It is admitted that animals acquire their notions of time, space, etc., — where present — from sensation, as described by the Associationalists. On the other hand owing to the impress of these ideas in the soul (3) in its upward evolutionary journey, they are undoubtedly, as claimed by the Intuitionalists, innate in the human "subject" — the generalized experience of former objective existences rising once again into consciousness. If this contention is true we have here a solution in the light of the Esoteric Doctrine of one of the most stoutly debated of metaphysical problems.

FOOTNOTES:

1. Dr. Alex Bain, Logic, Part I, p. 11. (return to text)

2. H. T. Buckle, "Hist. of Civilisation in England," Vol. I, p. 165-6. (return to text)

3. The higher portion of the 5th principle (Manas) which united with the Buddhi constitutes the "Transcendental Subject" of Kant and du Prel, the Monad. This Higher Self — the individuality as opposed to its innumerable faint reflects in physical incarnation — passes from birth to birth and like a bee amidst flowers, only absorbs into its essence the loftiest experiences — the honey — of each terrestrial life; consequently it will be apparent that the decision of the question "How much of our present personality will be immortal?" rests wholly with ourselves. (return to text)


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