Dialectical Spiritualism: John Stuart Mill, Part 3


Jul 14, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning morality, Mill writes: “Belief, then, in the supernatural, great as are the services which it rendered in the earlier stages of human development, cannot be considered to be any longer required either for enabling us to know what is right and wrong in social morality, or for supplying us with motives to do right and to abstain from wrong.”

Srila Prabhupada: Morality means abiding by the orders of God. That is real morality. Other moralities are manufactured, and they differ in different countries. Religion and real morality, however, function according to the same principle. Religion means carrying out the orders of God, and morality means following those principles whereby we can fulfill the desires of God. Before the battle of Kuruksetra, Arjuna considered killing to be immoral, but when he understood from the instructions of Krsna that the fight was necessary, he decided to carry out his duty as a ksatriya. So this is morality. Ultimately, morality means carrying out the desires of God.

Syamasundara dasa: For Mill, there are two moral sanctions of conduct. One is internal, which is our conscience and sense of duty.

Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean by conscience? A sense of duty is different from the conscience. It is our duty to receive instructions from higher personalities. If we do not, how can we know our duty?

Syamasundara dasa: Mill felt that our duty is that which produces the most good for the most people.

Srila Prabhupada: That is all so vague. What if everyone wants to take drugs? Is it our duty to help them? How can a rascal understand what his duty is? One has to be trained to know.

Syamasundara dasa: Mill would say that there is a rational or guiding principle for action, and this is the golden rule of the Christians: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”

Srila Prabhupada: This means that you have to approach Christ. You cannot manufacture golden rules yourself. You have to abide by the orders of Christ, and that means approaching a superior authority.

Syamasundara dasa: The second sanction of moral conduct is external: the fear of displeasing other men or God. We hope to win favor through acting morally.

Srila Prabhupada: This also means accepting authority. Therefore the Vedas tell us that if we want to be really learned, we must approach a guru. Did John Stuart Mill have a guru?

Syamasundara dasa: His father, James Mill, was also a great philosopher.

Srila Prabhupada: In any case, we must accept some authority, be it Christ or Krsna. Our duty lies in following the orders of the higher authority. Of course, we accept Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as our authority.

Hayagriva dasa: Mill himself rejected many basic Christian tenets, and he even believed that there is no intrinsic value in the belief in the immortality of the soul. He writes: “Those who believe in the immortality as those who have no such expectation. ”

Srila Prabhupada: We have daily experience of how the soul continues, even though the body changes. In our own family we can see that the body of an infant changes into the body of a boy, a young man, a middle-aged man, and then an old man. In any condition, the soul is the same. Why is it difficult to understand the immortality of the soul? If we cannot understand it, we are not very intelligent.

yasyatma-buddhih kunape tridhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat-tlrtha-buddhih salile na karhicij
janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah

“A human being who identifies this body made of three elements with his self, who considers the by-products of the body to be his kinsmen, who considers the land of birth worshipable, and who goes to the place of pilgrimage simply to take a bath rather than meet men of transcendental knowledge there is to be considered like an ass or a cow.” (Bhag. 10.84.13) If a person does not understand the immortality of the soul, he is an animal. There is no question of belief. It is a fact. If a man says, “I don’t believe that I will grow old,” he is ignorant of facts. If he does not die when he is young, he necessarily grows old. This is a question of common sense, not of beliefs. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that there was never a time when we did not exist, nor will there ever be a time when we will cease to exist (Bg. 2.12). The soul is immortal; he never takes birth, and he never dies. This is the beginning of knowledge. First of all, we must understand what we are. If we do not, we will surely be wrongly directed. We will take care of the body just as a foolish man might take care of a bird cage, and neglect the bird within it.

Hayagriva dasa: Mill was not only a utilitarian but a humanist, and he felt that a religion of humanity can have a greater effect than a supernatural religion. The religion of humanity would foster unselfish feelings and would have man at the center.

Srila Prabhupada: Without God, how can it be a religion? As I have already explained, religion means carrying out the orders of God.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning immortality, Mill asserts that there is no evidence for the immortality of the soul, and none against it.

Srila Prabhupada: What does he need to be convinced? There is a great deal of evidence. It is mankind’s misfortune that a person like Mill cannot understand a simple truth that even a child can understand.

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust


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