First published in 2002, Ethics: An Anthology is a collection of sixteen essays on some of the basic issues of moral philosophy. The collection addresses moral
issues from Indian and Western perspectives. This book will be helpful for students, researchers and those with a more general interest in moral philosophy.
Madhumita Chattopadhyay is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is also the Co-ordinator, ICPR Center for Buddhist
Studies, at the same university. She has been the recipient of many international Fellowships such as the JSPS and the Fulbright. Her area of research includes
Buddhist Philosophy, Indian ethics and logic. Some of her works are What to Do with the Liar (1998), Ratnakirti on Apoha (2002), and Walking along the paths
of Buddhist Epistemology (2007).
Tirthanath Bandyopadhyay, PhD, is former Professor, Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has specialized is moral philosophy,
theoretical and practical. Some of his works are Man and Morality (1991), In Search of a Moral Criterion (1994), Morality and Practice (2002), Moral
Normativeness (2006), Kantian Ethics (2010), Three Essays on Morality: Kant, Mill and Rawls (2013). He contributes regularly to journals and anthologies,
both in Bengali and in English.
The Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, decided in 1998 to organize a refresher course on the topic-'Ethics: Indian and Western' and selected both of
us as the co-ordinators of that course. The course was attended by participants from West Bengal as well as North-east India, and was marked by active
interaction on part of the participants with the resource persons. At the end of the course, the participants requested us to provide them with a volume of readings
on the topics discussed in the class. In keeping with their request we decided to publish a volume on ethics which would cover the different aspects of moral
philosophy. This is the background to this volume.
This volume contains sixteen articles written by experts in the field. Though there were lectures on a range of topics in the course, not all the resource persons
who were approached could send their papers. We had to remain content only with those which ultimately reached us and had to somewhat curtail the scope of
Ethics nowadays is thought to be more a practical discipline than a theoretical field. Unfortunately, we could not fit ourselves within this paradigm. We received
a few articles on practical problems. As such we had to confine our task to the presentation of discussions on theoretical issues in moral philosophy. In Indian
philosophy, we do not find any separate study of moral issues. Discussions of morality came generally as a preparation for attaining the highest goal, viz. the
attainment of liberation. As the means of the attainment of liberation were different from system to system, the notion of morality became different. We have
tried to present here some of the systems of Indian philosophy, to provide a glimpse into the different ways in which the question of morality has been addressed.
Here too, we could not cover all the systems; for instance the Carvaka and the Vedanta systems have been left out. We regret this unintended omission.
We take this occasion to express our thanks and gratitude to all the contributors who have made the publication of this volume possible. We are also extremely
grateful to the university authorities for sanctioning funds for the publication of this volume. We would like to thank Sri Susanta Bhattacharjee who rendered all
sorts of help regarding the entire production. Last but not the least thanks are due to all the members of the department without whose active help and co-
operation the publication of this volume would not have been possible. We are dedicating this book to them as a mark of our respect and regard.
Ethics, one of the important branches of philosophy, is a science which deals with morality as its subject. For classical thinking, nothing in human experience is
without moral meaning. Each individual in his or her entirety constitutes the moral situation. Accordingly, morality becomes co-terminous with human life and
unrestrictedly pervasive within it. Individuals cannot have any non-moral aspect of life and no human institution, practice or discipline can be outside the
purview of morality's ultimate concern. Thus ethics is conceived of as an extremely broad-ranging concern, encompassing the multiple aspects of practical,
prudential, and what most moderns call moral choices under the general query of how one ought to live. As Plato puts it in the mouth of Socrates, 'The argument
concerns no casual topic, but how one must live.' (Republic,352d). In such classical ethics persons, rather than acts, are at the centre of moral concern, and so it
becomes much harder to compartmentalize moral assessment.
This concept of morality has changed in the modern era. Now, in making moral judgments we are more interested in acts--more specifically voluntary acts--than
the person as a whole. Broadly speaking, all activities of a person over which at least some individual control is exercisable have now become at least indirectly
relevant to the moral project of choosing a way of life. Different theories have cropped up considering the different points of view from which an action can be
The concept of morality takes on a different dimension when looked at from the perspectives of Indian philosophy. In India, since the days of the Rg-vede moral
concepts have occupied a fundamental position in the philosophical framework of each school. In the Rg-veda we first come across the idea of Rta, a universal
moral principle guiding the entire world. It stands for the basic virtue of life, viz. truth. As philosophy gradually developed through different stages in India, the
idea of morality (termed dharma) also underwent changes. For each system, dharma is the primary stage for the preparation towards the attainment of liberation.
Thus there is a fundamental difference between the oriental conception and the occidental conception of morality. In the East, unlike in the West, morality is
goal-oriented-the goal being liberation. Here no intrinsic importance is given either on the act or on the person himself but on the goal to be attained.
Ethics in all the countries deal with values, with good or bad, with right or wrong. We cannot avoid involvement in ethics, for what we do and what we do not do
is always a possible subject of ethical evaluation. Anyone who thinks about what he or she ought to do is consciously or unconsciously involved in ethics. When
we begin to reflect more seriously on this issue, we may begin by exploring our underlying values, but we will also be travelling over roads that have been
trodden by many other thinkers in different cultures. For such a journey, it is helpful to have a guide with information about the path we shall travel, how it can
be laid out, the major forks where people have taken alternative routes, and who has been there before us. In this anthology, within a very limited scope, we have
taken this task of showing some of the alternative theories concerning the evaluative dimension of human existence.
Here we have tried to concentrate on both Indian and Western theories of morality. The first seven essays are concerned with the Indian concept of dharma, which
is the Indian counterpart of morality, and also with some of the problems that may arise in connection with such concepts. In the second part, we have discussed
the Western view of moral evaluation of voluntary action and also some related issues. We are well aware of the fact that nowadays ethics is not merely
concerned with formulation of theories, but is extended to other aspects of human life. Sex, environment, health, business, management, etc., all fall within the
purview of ethics. Unfortunately we could not discuss any of these practical issues in this anthology, and have confined mainly to theoretical discussions.
In the paper 'Analysis of Dharma in Indian Perspective', Raghunath Ghosh tries to critically unfold the concept of 'dharma' in Indian tradition with special
reference to Vaisesika and Purva-Mimamsa schools and then goes on to evaluate the concept from the standpoint of Dharmasastras and the Puranas. Generally,
dharma is understood as one from which prosperity and highest good follow. The activities, by which we are associated with our welfare in the true sense of the
term, is called dharma. In the Upaskara commentary the two words 'abhyudaya' and 'nihsreyasa' have been taken in the sense of the realization of the right
cognition of the reality and the absolute cessation of suffering respectively. So the two aspects viz., the positive aspect of well-being and the negative aspect as
the cessation of suffering are highlighted here. In the Mimamsa-sastra the word 'codana' is used in connection with the definition of dharma. The Vedic
injunction, which inspires us in action, is called 'codana'. That which is indicated by the Vedic injunction leading to the highest good is called dharma. Codana is
capable of informing that which is past, present or future and also which is subtle, hidden or remote, etc. We cannot judge the truth-value of Vedic injunctions, as
we can do in the case of ordinary empirical sentences. What is expressed through the Vedic injunction cannot at all be sublated by the knowledge of any person in
a different situation or time. Ordinary sentences can be verified with the help of other pramanas, but in the case of Vedic sentences this verifiable principle cannot
be applied, as the meaning of the Vedic sentence is beyond our experience (apurva). Any type of action sanctioned by the Vedic injunctions, is not dharma. This
has been indicated by the incorporation of the term 'artha' in the Sutra. If an action, though sanctioned by the Vedas, leads to some undesired situation, it cannot
be called dharma at all. Hence, Dharma is that which is always associated with the good. The extended meaning of the term dharma in the sense of vidhi or moral
codes as given by the Mimamsakas can somehow be accepted if it is sanctioned not only by the Vedic statement but by non-Vedic ones as well. It is not always
accepted that only Vedas will determine what one should do. There are many vidhis or moral codes prescribed in the non-Vedic sastras. Both in the Mimamsa and
Vaisesika systems, one thing is common. Dharma may be taken as something, which is connected with our prosperity (abhyudayas), highest good (nihsreyas), and
artha in the sense of kalyana and priti or satisfaction. If something is not connected with the welfare of an individual in society it cannot be taken as dharma or
morality. Such a view is subscribed by the non-Vedas like the Mahabharata, Manusamhita, etc. In the Mahabharata it is said that to think about the welfare of all
beings is dharma. The main objective of dharma is to think about the welfare of the whole world and become maliceless towards all beings. It directs us to
uphold all creatures and restricts us from injuring anyone. Dharma is an ideal, which helps us to regulate our ends after enjoyment and acquisition, and makes it
consistent with social progress.
The main objective of the essay entitled 'The Just War or the Dharmayuddha' by Indrani Sanyal is to explicate the notion of the dharmayuddha as found in the Gita
to provide an answer to the phenomena of moral dilemma as encountered by Arjuna. Two conflicting courses of action are before him: for Arjuna as a Ksatriya,
it is obligatory to perform his ksatravarnadharma and it is also his dharma to avoid injury to all living creatures (ahimsa). But how could it be permissible for
him to do both the acts, viz., killing his enemies and avoiding injury to life? It has long been recognized in the Western ethics that the acceptance of moral
dilemma is inconsistent with the acceptance of de-ontic logic. This essay is an attempt to reconstruct the Gita model as one of the possible answers to solve or
dissolve moral dilemma. With that objective in view various sub- issues as to whether gurudroha can be justified, whether himsa is an adharma or who can be
considered to be a fit person for bhaiksyam, etc., have been touched upon. The Bhagavadgita model leaves room for conditional duties, which may be
comparable with Ross's prima facie duties. But finally claiming that there is a single supreme value, to which all other values are subordinated, leaves no room
for incommensurable values. Hence no genuine moral conflicts may ensue.
In the paper 'Buddhist Ethics: Its Relevance in Present Day', Madhumita Chattopadhyay presents a short appraisal of Buddhist morality. Buddhist ethics is
primarily a religious ethics, being based on the basic set of religious ideas and opinions preached by Lord Goutama, with the basic aim to show ordinary people
the way of liberation from the world of suffering. Buddha himself had discovered the path by his own unaided effort and his mission was to show the 'way' to
others. His purpose was altogether a practical one. He is thus not a saviour of men, but is a guide to point the way by which men could save themselves. Man has
to try his own, Buddha will only help him. Abandon the false and base conduct of common men and adopt the methods of Buddha-that is the cardinal maxim of
Buddhist morality. For the realization of this ultimate end, emphasis is given on middle path, which means avoidance of extreme self- indulgence on the one
hand and the avoidance of extreme self- mortification on the other. From the Buddhist perspective no action by itself can be regarded as good or bad, right or
wrong. That action is regarded as good for which no one has to repent and whose results one can enjoy with a delighted spirit. On the other hand that action is
regarded as bad for which man has to repent and whose fruits one has to bear with tears in eyes. Accordingly they lay stress on the purity of action. An
unintentional act, whatever productive it may be, cannot lead to rightness or wrongness. Like the Intuitionists of the West, the Buddhists believe in the purity of
the intention, and not the consequence. They also speak of another practical criterion, viz., one should act likening others to oneself. Acting on the analogy of
one's own self, one would naturally refrain from indulging in such acts as might give rise to pain to others. Thus Buddhism is a kind of ethics giving emphasis on
consequences as well as the inner motive of a human being. It embodies the ideal of ultimate happiness of the individual. But at the same time it is also a social
ethics with a utilitarian stance concerned with material and spiritual well-being of mankind. Keeping this in mind, Buddhism has a strong altruistic component,
specially in the virtues of love, kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Thus while concepts of duty and obligation as well as of justice and
righteousness play part in Buddhist ethics, they are integrated within the broader humanistic and consequential list ideal.
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