The story of Civilisation, Hindu Philosophy-Will Durant

The story of Civilisation

 Mental of moral decay from the strain, stimuli, and contacts of urban life, from the breakdown of traditional source of social discipline and the inability to replace them, the weakening of the stock by a disorderly sexual life, or by an epicurean, pessimist, or quietist philosophy, the decay of leadership through the infertility of the able, and the relative smallness of the families that bequeath most fully the cultural inheritance of the race; a a pathological concentration of wealth, leading to class wars, disruptive revolutions, and financial exhaustion; these are some of the ways in which a civilization may die, for civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation and any serious interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end. Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization.

2. The natives of Australia are incapable of any labour whose reward is not immediate. There is a mute wisdom in this improvidence.( For) the moment man begins to take thought of the morrow he passes out of the garden of Eden into the vale of anxiety; the pale cast of worry settles down upon him, greed is sharepened, property begins and the good cheer of the thoughtless native disappears.( Economic elements of civilization).

 3. Man merely had the saving wit to imitate nature and to improve upon her.

 4. Man is not willingly a political animal. The human male associates with his fellows less by desire than by habit, imitation and the compulsion of circumstances; he does not love society so much as he fears solitude. If he asks for any laws, it is only because he is sure that his neighbour needs them; privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist and thinks laws in his own case superfluous.


 State is a late development and hardly appears before the time of written history. For it pre-supposes a change in the very principle of social organization- from kinship to domination in the primitive societies the former was the rule. Time sanctifies everything; even the most errant thief, in the hands of robber’s grandchildren, becomes sacred and inviolable property. Every state begins in compulsion; but the habits of obedience becomes the content of conscience and soon every citizen thrills with loyalty to the flag.

 A state which should rely upon force alone would soon fall. For though men are naturally gullible, they are also onstinate and power, like taxes, succeeds best when it is invisible and indirect. Hence the state, in order to maintain itself, used and forged many instruments of indoctrination- the family, the church, the school- to build in the soul of the citizen a habit of patriotic loyalty and pride. This save a thousand policemen, and prepared the public mind for that docile coherence which is indispensable in war.

 –         Underneath all the phenomena of society is the great terra firma of custom, that bedrock of time hollowed modes of thought and action which provides a society with some measure of steadiness and order through all absence, changes and interruptions of law. Custom gives the same statbility to that group that heredity and instinct give to the species and habit to the individual. It is the routine that keeps men sane, for if there were no grooves along which thought might move with unconscious ease, the mind would be perpetually hesitant and would soon take refuge in lunacy.A law of economy works in instinct and habit in custom and convention, the most convenient mode of response to repeated stimuli, or traditional situations is automatic response. Thought and innovation are disturbances of regularity, and are tolerated only for indispensable re-adaptations, or promised gold- when to this natural basis of custom, a supernatural sanction is added by religion, and the ways of one’s ancestors are also the will of the gods, then custom becomes stronger than law, and subtracts substantially from primitive freedom. Custom rises out of the people, whereas law is forced upon them from above; law is usually a decree of the master but custom is the natural selection of those modes of action, that have been found most convenient in the experience of the group.


–         Since no society can exist without order , and no order without regulation, we may take is as a rule of history that the power of custom varies inversely as the multiplicity of laws, as the power of instinct varies inversely as the multiplicity of thoughts.

–         Conventions are forms of behaviour found expedient by a people, customs are conventions accepted by successive generations, after natural selection through trial and error and elimination; morals are such customs as the group considers vital to its welfare and development.

–         Through the slow magic of time such customs, by long repetition become a second nature in the individual. If he violates them, he feels a certain fear, discomfort or shame; this is the origin of that conscience, or moral sense. In its higher development, conscience is social consciousness- the feeling of the individual that he belongs to a group and owes it some measure of loyalty and consideration. Morality is the co-operation of the part with the whole, and of each group with some large whole. Civilization, of course, would be impossible without it.

 Imp: We must not conclude that morals are worthless because they differ according to time and place and that it would be wise to show our historic learning by at once discarding the moral customs of our group. A little anthropology is a dangerous thing. Our heroic rejection of the customs and morals of our tribe, upon our adolescent discovery of their relativity betrays the immaturity of our minds; given another decade and we begin to understand that there may be more wisdome in the moral code of the group- the formulated experience of genearations of the race- than can be explained in a college course. Sooner or later, the disturbing realization comes to us that even which we cannot understand may be true. The institutions, convenetions, customs, and laws that make up the complex structure of a society are the work of a hundred centuries and a billion minds; and one mind must not expect to comprehend them in one life time, much less in twenty years.

 –         Uncertainty is the origin of greed. Men are more easily ruled by imagination than by science.

–         For since magic often failed it because of advantage to the magician to discover natural operations by which he might help supernatural forces to produce the desired event. Slowly the natural means came to predominate even though the magician, to preserver his standing with the people, concealed these natural means as well as he could, and gave the credit to super-natural magic- much as  own people often credit natural cures to magical prescriptions and pills.

–         The priest did not create religion, he merely used it as a statesman uses the impulses and customs of mankind; religion arises not out of sacerdotal invention of chicanery, but out of the persistent wonder fear insecurity, hopefulness and loneliness of men.

–         Religion supports morality by two means chiefly: Myth and Taboo. Man is not naturally obedient or chaste; and next to that ancient compulsion which finally generates conscience, nothing so quietly and continuously conduces to these uncongenial virtues as the fear of the gods. The institutions of property and marriage rest in some measure upon religious sanctions, and tend to lose their vigor in the ages of the ignorance, of primitive men about food were expressed in dietetic taboos; and hygience was inculcated by religion rather than by science or secular medicine.

–         Religion is not the basis of morals, but an aid to them, conceivably they could exist without it , and not infrequently they have progressed against its indifference or its obstinate resistance. As a rule religion sanctions not any absolute good, but those norms of conduct which have established themselves by force of economic and social circumstances; like law it looks to the past for its judgements and is apt to be left behind as conditions change and morals alter with them. The moral function of religion is to conserve established values rather than to create new ones.

–         Hence a certain tension between religion and society marks the higher stages of every civilization, religion- culminates by giving to a people morals and belief which seems so favourable to statesmanship and art; For as knowledge grows or alters continually, it clashes with mythology and theology which change with geological leisureness, priestly control of arts and letters, is then felt as a galling shackle or hateful barrier; and intellectual history takes on the character of a “conflict between science and religion”. In situations which were at first at the hands of the clergy, like law and punishment, education and morals, marriage and divorce, tend to escape from  ecclesiastical control and become secular, perhaps, profane . The intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and after some hesitation- the moral code allied with it. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea, conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden like to conscious poverty and to weary wealth.

–         For words are to thought what tools are to work; the product depends largely on the growth of the tools.

–         Onomatopocia – imitative works, eg: roar, giggle, hiss etc

 Pp 552– Hindu philosophy begins where European philosophy ends– with an enquiry into the nature of knowledge and the limitations of reason; it starts not with the physics of Thales an Democritus but with the epistemology of Locke and Kant; it takes mind as that which is most immediately known and therefore refuses to resolve it into a matter known only mediately and through mind. It accepts an external world, but does not believe that our senses can ever know it as it is. All science is charted ignorance, and belongs to Maya; it formulates, in ever changing concepts and phrases, the rationale of world in which reason is but a part-one shifting current in an interminable sea. Even the person that reasons is Maya, illusion; what is he but a temporary conjunction of events, a passing node in the curves of matter and mind through space and time ? What are this acts or his thoughts but the fulfillment of forces far ante-dating his births? Nothing is real but Brahman, that vast ocean of Being in which every form is a moment’s wave, or a fleck of froth on the wave. Virtue is not the quiet heroism of good works, nor any pious ecstasy; it is simply recognition of the identity of self with every other Self in Brahman; morality is such living as comes from a sense of union with all things.


The post above are excerpts from Will Durants, The Story of Civilisation where he talks about the uniqueness of Hindu philosophy.


1 thought on “The story of Civilisation, Hindu Philosophy-Will Durant

  1. Pingback: Dr.Manmohan Singh’s speech reflects intellectual slavery | Arise Bharat

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