Is theosophy "logical"?

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 26, No. 1, November, 1937
(Pages 32-35; Size: 10K)
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MOVED by the desire to gain new adherents to Theosophical philosophy, students are sometimes at pains to formulate what might be called a "Theosophical Dialectic," which would be, in effect, a syllogistic presentation of the major tenets of the teaching. Such an endeavor, while springing from a worthy resolve, rarely bears the fruits so hopefully anticipated; there are, however, other benefits which flow in proportion to the energy expended. One is bound, for example, to obtain a better understanding of the psychological obscurities for which "logic" is a label; to find, in fact, that instead of being an infallible means of arriving at final conclusions, it is rather a source of differences and endless uncertainties, the latter increasing with the number of logicians. But this is by no means to imply that Theosophy is a non-logical solution of philosophical problems. On the contrary, its sole appeal to the intellect is on the basis of its inherent reasonableness. Simply to regard The Secret Doctrine impartially from the academic point of view is to realize that here is an unparalleled example of the use of logic. Why, then, is not Theosophy recognized as the Truth?

The fundamental issue, it will be perceived, is: Is Logic a way of knowing, or an instrument of knowledge? But before this question can be decided, others demand attention. What is there to be known? In other words, Does Truth exist? How can we tell that what we think of as knowledge is nothing more than a bundle of changing relativities which have their sole validation in the act of our thinking them? Many men believe this, and except for the ironic fact that their own scepticism is subject to the same criticism, logic, as such, can do little to refute the argument.

We may recognize that such complete agnosticism is a blind alley of thought, and for practical purposes acknowledge that there is truth. How, then, is logic related to knowledge? A simple illustration will help:

Major premise: All men are brothers.

Minor premise: Nero is a man.

Conclusion: Nero is my brother.

All logic is based on this method of proceeding from the known to the unknown. By placing together established facts, further facts are demonstrated. Now if we grant the truth of the first two statements, the conclusion is irresistible. Of course, the premises are not completely stated, for one might say that the major premise does not make it clear that each man is a brother to all the rest. It is conceivable that every man might have a brother, etc. It would then be necessary to amplify by pointing out the special significance in which this term is used. Then another premise is required to the effect that "I" am a man, to make the syllogism complete. These, however, are technical details.

The important objections which might arise are those which would question the actual truth of the statements made. Why should we assume that all men are brothers? Moreover, Nero was more of a beast than a man. What is meant by "man"? And so on.

Logic can deal with facts; it cannot provide them. Nor can logic demonstrate the truth of its initial facts. The business of logic is to make thought orderly. It can neither give thought content nor lead it in a desired direction. These functions require a thinker. Logic is a tool which the thinker may use to make clear his own conceptions.

The student who attempted to deal in his own mind with the objections raised to the premises of the syllogism used above as an illustration soon found himself stating the Fundamental Propositions of Theosophy. He was unable to get "behind" these ideas for the simple reason that there is nothing (no-thing) which supports them. They are, for the Theosophist, self-sustaining. In any Theosophical discussion, or, for that matter, any discussion concerned with real problems, the sooner the issues are reduced to these fundamental ideas, the more "logical" have been the thought processes of those engaged in conversation. These are the common terms for the presentation of Theosophy, the premises which must be seen or granted if any progress in the comprehension of the philosophy is to be attained.

One habituated to the forms of logic, who is given to reliance on its method and its categories, may strain mightily to "prove" the fundamentals of Theosophy. He cannot do it. The universe was not argued into being, and it, its laws, its composition, will not be understood by argument. Either the essentials of this knowledge are present in every man, or they will remain forever unknown and unknowable.

We are not without evidence that the basic Theosophical ideas are at the root of all our knowledge. Moreover, the fact that they are almost always incorrectly conceived is itself evidence that we can know them truly. There is not a human being but has some conception of Deity. That is, he regards himself in some way or other, and he recognizes a universal power of some sort. He may think he is a member of the animal kingdom, a fortuitous development on this planet brought about by wholly inexplicable concurrences of blind force. Nevertheless, he thinks of himself and of primary causes. This form of thought, correctly directed, is the contemplation of the First Fundamental.

Equally inevitable is it that a man must think of his relations with other beings. All his practical knowledge is in terms of the order in which these relations occur. Whatever we may hold with respect to the idea of universal law, the fact is that our understanding of life increases only with our knowledge of law. To deny law, therefore, is to refuse to think. This is the second of the Theosophical principles.

Finally, no man lives without a motive. He may deny that he knows where he is going, or why; he may even deny the existence of progress of any kind; yet the very composition of his being forces him to strive on. This law of evolution completes the trinity of premises which are at the basis of every conscious thought.

Logic is a process, not a meeting ground for philosophers. For there to be an identity of conclusions, or ideas of truth, there must be an identity of assumptions to begin with. It is simply because every great teacher in history founded his doctrines, either explicitly or implicitly, on the three fundamentals, that the student of comparative religions is able to discover that one common truth pervades them all. Misunderstanding or misconception of these axioms has been the sole cause of all the differences among men in their religious and philosophical ideas. The whole of western speculative philosophy, with all its erudition, its interminable nomenclature and its metaphysical subtleties, can be reduced to these three factors: The idea of God, the idea of Law, the idea of Progress. The variants of this triple theme are in most cases expressed with admirable logic, but the western world is no closer to truth than it was hundreds of years ago.

The controversy in modern thought as to the priority and respective merits of deductive and inductive reasoning illustrates the artificiality of the problems with which the philosophy of the day is concerned. No one can think at all without some kind of a generalization to begin with. He needs, in fact, three. And were it not for "experience" -- which provides the material for induction -- there would be nothing to think about. Where do we get our generalizations, our "universal" ideas? We don't "get" them at all; we bring them with us. They are the fundamental characteristics of Self-Consciousness, which have been subjected to the modifications of past action -- Karma. How, then, does one come to see the truth of Theosophical first principles or generalizations?

The eye of Wisdom is not opened by logic. The man who loves his fellow men does so for better than a syllogistic reason. He feels himself at one with them. His heart tells him this. Logic may confirm the structure of philosophy, but it cannot postulate those elements of reality which are prior and superior to thought of any kind. This is the reason why H. P. Blavatsky talked, wrote, and lived Altruism. She knew that Brotherhood is the Key of Keys.