Ethics and The History of Indian Philosophy

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Item Code: IDJ338
Author: Shyam Ranganathan
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788120831933
Pages: 420
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.6" X 5.4"
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy, by Shyam Ranganathan, presents a compelling, systematic explication of the moral philosophical content of history of Indian philosophy in contrast to the received wisdom in Indology and comparative philosophy that Indian philosophers were scarcely interested in ethics.

Ranganathan's critical thesis is that the arguments for this received wisdom are based upon an inadequate grasp of the history of moral philosophy in the West, against which the Indian tradition is compared, and an unworkable methodology, which could not even show that Western philosophers were particularly interested in ethics or that "good" is a value term. His novel, positive thesis is that "dharma" in all of its uses in the classical Indian tradition is a thin moral term, which is employed by authors to articulate their particular philosophies on morality or ethics.

Unlike most works on the topic, this book makes a case for the positive place of ethics in the history of Indian philosophy by drawing upon recent work in metamorality and by providing a through analysis of the meaning of moral concepts and PHILOSOPHY itself-in addition to explicating the texts of Indian authors. In Ranganathan's account, Indian philosophy shines with distinct options in ethics that find their likeness in the ethics that find their likeness in the writings of the Ancients in the West, such as Plato and the Neo-Platonists, and not in the anthropocentric or positivistic options that have dominated the recent Western tradition.

Shyam Ranganathan specializes in ethics, the philosophy of language and Indian Philosophy. He holds a BA (Guelph) and an MA (University of Toronto) in Philosophy, an MA in South Asian Studies (University of Toronto) and is completing a PhD dissertation in philosophy (York University). His dissertation, Translating Evaluative Discourse; the Semantics of Thick and Thin Concepts, drawn from research in metaethics, translation studies and the philosophy of language and deals with the general problem of translating philosophy and ethics across languages and cultures. He is the acting area editor for Indian philosophy for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and teaches various philosophy courses, including Asian Philosophy. At the time of this publication, his other writing projects included papers on metaethics, semantics and translation, as well as a manuscript titled The Moral Philosophy of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra: Translation and Commentary.


Shyam Ranganatha's book, Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy, persuasively presents a detailed and comprehensive account of ethical theories in Indian philosophy. It is a significant addition to works on this topic and must be welcomed with enthusiasm and seriousness. Very few works are available on Indian ethics, and this book sumptuously contributes to the progressively dwindling list of recent studies in the area.

The first distinguishing feature of this work lies in the way it situates its task against the received wisdom in Indology and comparative philosophy that has systematically expressed misgivings regarding the very existence of the concept Ethics in Indian philosophy. Stalwarts such as B. K. Motilal have maintained that Indians, except for cursory forays into the subject, have "seldom discussed" moral philosophy. In refuting this claim, Ranganathan refuses to take modern, positivistic Western ethics as canonical and escapes the limitations of trying to locate ethics in Indian philosophy in terms of this loaded comparison. On his account Indian ethics is not reduced to what could, at best, be seen as a derivative discourse. Instead, he rejects the approach of treating modern, positivistic Western ethics as a formidable universal benchmark, and situated the recent Western incursions into the discussion as merely one instance of ethics. Rightly so.

The strength of this volume lies in Ranganathan's efforts at the very outset in identifying the meaning of moral concepts and of "ethics". By asking or a substantively neutral ground of what ethics is, he redresses the limitations posed by extant literature on comparative philosophy and ethics, which often reduces ethics everywhere else to a poor cousin of the Western canon. In identifying the definition of moral philosophy, he rejects the orthodoxy and the prevalent conservatism in Indology that invariably disqualifies anything ethical from the purview of Indian philosophy. Instead, he makes a case for a reformist view, one that allows us to reconsider contemporary practices of interpreting the meaning of "dharma" by depicting it both as a moral phenomenon but also as designating an arena of moral discourse that the use of the concept might envelop. Moreover, discourse that the use of the concept might envelop. Moreover, accepting the reformist view makes it possible that a term like "dharma" stands for one concept with a clear moral meaning.

IN order to establish that "dharma" is a moral term in the language of Indian philosophy, Ranganathan beings by delineating what a moral term means rather than embarking on a specific discussion on dharma. The necessary external reference specific discussion on dharma. The necessary external reference for arriving at this definition is found in the Anger Inclination Thesis, which he claims is inclusive and captures the essential nature of moral statements. After making a case or the Anger Inclination thesis in order to arrive at an accurate definition of a moral statement, according to which morality is always related to an inclination to get angry over the violation of the evaluative import of a statement, he goes on to prove that "dharma" of classical Indian thought qualifies as a moral term. Specifically, he demonstrates that "dharma" possesses a singular meaning and is the equivalent of "ethics" or "morality" in the context of Indian philosophy.

Having discussed the views on dharma of philosophers from the major schools of Indian philosophy, and having convincingly demonstrated that they have a clear and unambiguous idea of the ethical, he concludes that the majority of Indian philosophical schools have, indeed, affirmed the reality of morals as a sphere if values. He also points out that there are many accounts of the subject matter of ethics in the West that have failed to track the historical domain of ethics. This conclusion is premised on the deft philosophical move asking for an independent definition of ethics, or even philosophy, and a plea for not getting ensnared by recent fashions, however important they might seem at the present moment.

The second distinguishing feature of Ranganathan's work becomes clear when we Recall the already existing, though not always evident, comparative axis in the realm of intellectual activity in India, particularly the philosophical one. In the prevailing comparative mode, popularized by philosophers like Matilal, J. N. Mohanty and others, classical India is invariably compared with contemporary Western philosophy creating an imbalance of time, temporality and category. Ranganathan corrects this imbalance by his brilliant and magisterial use of Western and Indian sources across the relevant continuum of time and geography. The writer's sensitivity to methodology and his provocative thesis go a long way in making this book indispensable to any study of Indian ethics. It also opens new vistas in the arena of ongoing philosophical debates and its salience will not remain limited to the study of Indian ethics alone.

Foreword i
Preface v
References ix
Part I: Introduction
Chapter 1: Introduction3
1.1 Problem of Ethics in Indian Philosophy3
1.2 The Problem of "Dharma"5
1.3 Approach to the Problem9
Part II: Dharma
Chapter 2: "Dharma" as a Moral Term13
2.1 Extention and Intention13
2.2 Key Philosophical Terms22
2.3 Definitions of Moral Statements31
2.3.1. Social Content and Conduct35
2.3.2. Categoricality and Universalizability38
2.3.3. Importance and Overridingness43
2.3.4. Blame Inclination47
2.3.5. Conformity 50
2.3.6. Punishment52
2.3.7. Anger Inclination53
2.3.8. Composite Accounts of Moral Statements 66
2.4 Definition of Moral Terms70
2.4.1. Subsidiary Features of Moral Terms72
2.4.2. Double Role of Some Moral Terms74
2.4.3. Meaning of Moral Terms74
2.4.4. Studying Moral Terms76
2.4.5. Terms that Designate the field of Moral Concern78
2.4.6. Some Criticism Considered79
2.5. Anger Inclination and Debate85
2.6. The Meaning of "Dharma"91
2.6.1. Modern Notion of "Dharma"91
2.6.2. Traditional Meaning of "Dharma"95
2.6.3. "Dharma" and the Fact-Value Distinction98
2.6.4. When Moral Failings are not Frowned Upon100
2.7. An Argument for the Reform View105
Chapter 3: The Classical Meaning of "Dharma"113
3.1. Arguments Against the Reform View116
3.1.1. Argument for the Principle of charity116
3.1.2. Evolutionary Perspective on Language119
3.1.3. Argument from Empiricism120
3.1.4. Argument from Analogy120
3.1.5. Problem with Translating Formal Moral Terms Consistently121
3.1.6. The Character of Indian Philosophy122
3.1.7. Grammatical Argument for Equivocality122
3.1.8. Appeal to Authority124
3.1.9. Qualified Criticism 124
3.1.10 Charge of Equivocation125
3.1.11 Argument from Family Resemblance Theory126
3.1.12. Falsifying Evidence: Morally Reprehensible Dharmas127
3.2. Defence of the Reform View129
3.2.1. Debate Maximization129
3.2.2. Constancy in Language132
3.2.3. Inference to the Best Explanation134
3.2.4. Response to Argument from Analogy135
3.2.5. Translation and Paraphrase136
3.2.6. Indian Philosophy is not a Dispassionate Endeavour139
3.2.7. Response to Grammatical Argument for Equivocality140
3.2.8. Response to the Appeal to Authority141
3.2.9. Response to a Qualified Criticism143
3.2.10. Response to the Charge of Equivocation147
3.2.11. Response to the Family Resemblance Argument147
3.2.12. EVIL ETHIC155
3.3. Metatheoretical Considerations157
3.4. Critics Reprisal158
3.5. Four Theories of "Dharma" in Review167
Part III: Implications of the Moral Meaning of "Dharma"
Chapter 4: Indian Axiology181
4.1. The Purusartha Explanation of Indian Ethics181
4.2. The Summum Bonum and Indian Ethics184
Part IV: Moral Philosophy
Chapter 5: Ethics in Philosophy189
5.1. What is Ethics?190
5.2. On the Pursuits that Answer to "Ethics" 194
5.3. "Moral Philosophy"?201
5.3.1 What Does "Philosophy" Mean?202
5.3.2. Substantive Accounts of Philosophy206
5.3.3. Extensions of Moral Philosophy210
5.4. Indian Moral Philosophy?213
Part V: Explication of Indian Ethics
Chapter 6: Introduction to Indian Ethics219
Chapter 7: A Buddhist Debate in Ethics227
7.1. Buddhism and the History of Indian Philosophy227
7.2. Dependent Origination and Dharma228
7.3. Noble Truths and the Path235
7.4. Early Buddhist Justificative Ethics236
7.5. Mahayana Ethics238
7.6. Buddhism and Indian Ethics242
Chapter 8: Jainism245
8.1. Sectarian Differences245
8.2. Historical Background of Jainism246
8.3. The Kriyavada-Akriyavada Debate249
8.4. Motion and Moksa251
8.5. Important Moral Terms in Jain Literature253
8.6. Jain Criticism of Early Buddhist Ethics254
8.7. Jainism and Negative Utilitarianism?255
8.8. Implications of Jain Ethics 258
Chapter 9: Sankhya and Yoga261
9.1. Background of Sankhya and Yoga261
9.2. Common Framework263
9.3. Moral Significance of the Gunas265
9.4. Akriyavada and Kriyavada267
9.5. Dharmamegha Samadhi273
9.6. Yoga's Technical use of "Dharma"274
9.7. Contrast276
Chapter 10: Nyaya and Vaisesika279
10.1. Nyaya280
10.2. Vaisesika281
Chapter 11: Purvamimamsa287
11.1. Vedic Foundationalism287
11.2. Dharma and Artha288
11.3. Who is Eligible to Practise Dharma?291
11.4. Motive and Consequences293
11.5. Eternality, Meaning and the Vedas296
11.6. Noncognitivism298
11.7. The Greatest Good299
11.8. Is Purvamimamsa a Unique Ethic?300
Chapter 12: Vedanta305
12.1. Versions 305
12.2. Basic Vedanta Doctrine307
12.3. Agency and the Problem of Evil308
12.4. Animal Sacrifices311
12.5. Advaita313
12.6. Visistadvaita319
12.7. Dvaita324
Chapter 13: Carvaka327
13.1. Our Knowledge of the Carvaka327
13.2. Possible Carvaka Axiology329
13.3. Is the Arthasastra Materialist Ethics?331
13.4. Was there ever a Carvaka Ethic?333
Chapter 14: Summary of Indian Ethics335
14.1. Justificative Ethics335
14.2. Moral First Principales341
14.3. Dharma and the Other Purusarthas344
14.4. Reality of Morality346
14.5. Analysis of Moral Concepts347
Part VI: Conclusion
Chapter 15: On the Importance of Ethics to Indian Philosophy353
15.1. Dharma Philosophy353
15.2. Importance of Indian Moral Philosophy357
15.3. Moksa Philosophy359
15.4. Moksa and Dharma362
15.5. Moral Philosophy; East and West 363
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