Dialectical Spiritualism: John Stuart Mill

BY: SUN STAFF - 15.3 2023

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: In Essay on Nature, Mill writes: "The order of nature, insofar as unmodified by man, is such as no Being whose attributes are justice and benevolence would have made with the intention that his rational creatures should follow it as an example It could only be as a designedly imperfect work which man, in his limited sphere, is to exercise justice and benevolence in amending."

Srila Prabhupada: Man is called a rational animal; he has a rational nature and an animal nature. Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending are activities common to animals, but a man should cultivate his rational nature. For instance, by his reason, man can understand that it is not necessary to eat meat in order to live a healthy life. It is not that man should be carried by nature's way, which says that man can eat anything. Human beings are accustomed to eating the most abominable foods, and in so doing, they become implicated. Beyond eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, man should search out the Absolute Truth. In this way, man's rationality is properly used. Otherwise, he remains an animal.

Syamasundara dasa: Mill claimed that the world, or nature, can be improved by man's efforts, but that perfection is not possible.

Srila Prabhupada: In one sense, that is correct. This world is so made that although you make it perfect today, tomorrow it will deteriorate. Nonetheless, the world can be improved by this Krsna consciousness. You can better the world by bringing people to Krsna consciousness and delivering the message of Krsna to whomever you meet. That is the best social activity you can perform.

Syamasundara dasa: The goal of the utilitarians was more specifically to obtain whatever the people desire or require.

Srila Prabhupada: The people desire happiness. The utilitarians try to give people artificial happiness, happiness separate from Krsna, but we are trying to give direct happiness, happiness that is connected with Krsna. If we purify our existence, we can attain spiritual, eternal happiness and bliss. Everyone is working hard for happiness, but how can happiness be attained in a diseased condition? The material disease is an impediment to happiness. This disease has to be cured.

Hayagriva dasa: Mill felt that virtues like courage, cleanliness, and self-control are not instinctive in man but have to be cultivated. In Nature, he writes: "The truth is that there is hardly a single point of excellence belonging to human character which is not decidedly repugnant to the untutored feelings of human nature "

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Therefore there are educational systems in human society. Men should be educated according to the instructions given in the Vedic literatures. Bhagavad-gita is the grand summation of all Vedic literature, and therefore everyone should read it as it is. It is not necessary to interpret.

Syamasundara dasa: For Mill, there are several ways to ascertain knowledge. For instance, we can determine the cause and the effects of things by determining whether the phenomena under investigation have only one circumstance in common. If so, we can conclude that the circumstance alone is the cause of the effect.

Srila Prabhupada: Certainly there is the natural law of cause and effect, but if we go further to determine the cause, we ultimately arrive at Krsna. Everything has an original source, a cause. If you try to find out the cause of this and that, and conduct research, that is called darsana, which means "to find the cause." Therefore philosophy is called darsana-sastra, which means "finding the cause of the cause." The idea is that we ultimately arrive at Krsna, the original cause of everything.

Syamasundara dasa: But what kind of test can we apply to phenomena to find out the cause? How can we determine that God is the cause behind everything?

Srila Prabhupada: For every phenomenon, there is a cause, and we know that God is the ultimate cause. Mill may give many methods for studying immediate causes, but we are interested in the ultimate cause of everything. The ultimate cause has full independence to do anything and everything beyond our calculation. Everything that we see is but an effect of His original push.

Syamasundara dasa: If we see rain falling and want to prove that God is the cause of rain, what test can we apply?

Srila Prabhupada: The sastras, the Vedic literatures. We are advised to see through the sastras because we cannot see directly. Since our senses are defective, direct perception has no value. Therefore we have to receive knowledge through authoritative instruction.

Syamasundara dasa: In other words, when we see an apple fall from a tree, we have to see through the eyes of the sastras in order to see God in that act?

Srila Prabhupada: God has made His laws so perfect that one cause effects one thing, and that in turn effects another, and so on. We may see an apple grow and explain it as "nature," but this nature is working according to certain laws. An apple has a certain color and taste because it is following specific laws set down by Krsna. Krsna's energies are perfect and are working perfectly. Everything is being carried out under systematic laws, although we may not perceive these laws.

Syamasundara dasa: Scientists admit that nothing can come out of nothing.

Srila Prabhupada: If something emerges, there must be a cause in the background. We say that the root cause of everything is Brahman, the Absolute Truth.