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1. Gandhian Ethics

1.1. Gandhi and Morality

  • The "highest form of morality" in Gandhi's ethical system is the practice of altruism (self-sacrificing behaviour performed for the benefit of others). For Gandhiji "true morality" disregards loss or gain, life or death, and is ever ready to sacrifice the self for an ideal.

  • His religiosity was also unique, for he was a rationalist among believers and a believer amid rationalists. He says that ‘the true sign of man's nobility is the fact that, instead of being driven about like a cloud before the wind, he stands firm and does what he deems proper’. He exerted that "morality should be observed as a religion".

  • For Gandhiji, the substance of truth is morality, and non-violence is its essential part. Both need to be practiced


Gandhian Ethics and other Ethical theories

  • Virtue Ethics: Gandhian ethics is normative and virtue based. His non-violence is based on the principle of universal love, even for enemies and those involved in terrible acts. It is rooted in truth, courage and standing against injustice.

  • Deontology: Like Kant, Gandhi focuses much of his attention on motives and intentions. But he is not a Kantian. He describes himself as a ‘pragmatic idealist’. He focuses on results as well.

  • Utilitarianism: Gandhi emphasised on the integral, mutually reinforcing relationship between means and ends. He believed that one cannot use impure or immoral means to achieve worthy goals. That is why he rejected utilitarianism.

  • Religious Ethics: Gandhi’s approach expresses an activist philosophy similar to the action-oriented philosophy of karma yoga in the Bhagavad-Gita: Act to fulfil your ethical duties with an attitude of nonattachment to the results of your actions. Gandhi claimed that an individual's "highest duty in life is to serve mankind and take his share in bettering its condition”.

  • because Truth finds expression through non-violence.


Gandhi on Violence

  • Most philosophers equate Violence with hatred, and non-violence with love. But, Gandhi focuses on the violence of the status quo: economic violence, cultural violence, psychological violence, and so forth. For Gandhi, if X is accumulating wealth and power, and his neighbour is in great need, and X does nothing to help alleviate the suffering of the other, then X contributes to and is complicit in the violence of the status quo.


Gandhi on Self-Realisation (Realisation of ultimate truth):

  • He considers self-realisation as the summum bonum (ultimate purpose and goal) of life. For him, o Self-realisation presupposes a search for truth.

  • Himsa (Violence) makes complete self-realisation impossible.

  • Himsa against another is himsa against the self

  • Happiness in Gandhi's metaphysics is expressed as "an enlightened realisation of dignity and a craving for human liberty which prizes itself above mere selfish

  • satisfaction of personal comforts and material wants", while the meaning of life is based on striving to actualise what he calls the law of love in action (the scheme of the universe).


Gandhi on western pattern of production and consumption:

  • He considered the manner of industrialisation in West as unsustainable and a chaos if adopted by populous countries like India and China.

  • He believed in meeting needs rather than multiplying wants and meeting them in a ceaseless race.

  • He proposed a humane economy which could develop human personality in a holistic way (instead of focusing on material possession), promote human creativity, and help in the realization of human potential.

  • He advocated production by the masses, in place of mass production, to the extent that some industries and services would have to be on large scale, they would be run on no-profit basis by the state or a philanthropic minded private enterprise.


Gandhi’s ethics of inter connectedness and mutuality:

  • Gandhi believed in looking within oneself, change oneself and then change the world. For him, cultures and nations were not isolated entities, because they all played a special role in the making of human history.

  • He believed in ‘enlarged Pluralism’ that every culture should learn from others. This was a way for him to open up the world to a harmonic exchange and a transformative dialogue among nations.

  • For him, a spirit of genuine reciprocity and solidarity was not only a moral requirement, but also a geopolitical necessity.

  • He said that Non-violent organizations of the world should help in bringing peace and interconnectedness among cultures and civilizations.


Global Influence:

  • Satyagraha has been used globally as an instrument of non-violent dissent against authoritarianism and a pragmatic tool of the powerless against the powerful.

  • Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Benigno Aquino, Jr. and many others successfully used it in their countries for political and social integration.

  • In many countries, organized civic pressure and a principled commitment not to resort to violence has been used to fight colonialism and foreign occupation, advance women’s and minority rights, and improve transparency and good governance.

  • He adapted and changed his views throughout his life. He started movements, called them off, he was always willing to negotiate and begin discussions. His boycotts, too, were based on principles, never against individuals. He shunned British goods but not British people. He used the ideas of Christianity, Islam, Jainism, and Buddhism and remained a devout Hindu.

  • His life is a message regarding how to lead a public life as no security men were posted outside his Ashram, he was reachable to all, and his experiments were minutely dissected and criticised as well. There are scarcely few people in world who lived what they preached, and lived to such rightness, in spite of being engrossed so much in politics as Mahatma Gandhi did. He however followed a simple ideology that “it is not enough for thought to be based on truth, the life must express it’.

October Ethical Issues

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