Contribution of Moral Thinkers to Ethics UPSC Notes | EduRev

Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude for UPSC CSE

UPSC : Contribution of Moral Thinkers to Ethics UPSC Notes | EduRev

The document Contribution of Moral Thinkers to Ethics UPSC Notes | EduRev is a part of the UPSC Course Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude for UPSC CSE.
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Mahatma Gandhi

The ideals and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi emanated partly from four significant sources as follows:

  • His inner religious convictions including ethical principles embedded in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity
  • The difficulties of his struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the mass political movements during India's freedom struggle.
  • Influence of Tolstoy, Carlyle, and Thoreau etc.

Ethics underpins Gandhian Thought and is so deep-rooted in it that it is almost impossible to segregate the two. The key aspects of Gandhian Ethics are discussed here:

Gandhi's Religion

  • Gandhi was born in a Hindu family and was a devout Hindu throughout his life. However, he was strongly influenced by other religions' ideas and had a deep interest in comparative religion. He was raised in a Hindu family deeply influenced by Jain religious ideas (particularly Ahimsa).
  • When he visited England to study law, he was inspired by Theosophists to learn more about our ancient texts such as Bhagavad Gita. He spent 20 years in South Africa working for civil rights over there and devoted himself to studying various religious literature. 
  • On returning to India, he established Ashram for his family and followers. Despite having religious fervour, the Ashrams did not follow any particular orthodoxy. His religious virtues can be discussed summarily as follows:
  • Although Gandhi was a font of Lord Rama, his concept of Rama and Krishna was not that of historical/epic Gods Rama & Krishna. He said: "My Krishna is not the historical Krishna. I believe in the Krishna of my imagination as a perfect incarnation, spotless in every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Gita, and the inspirer of the lives of millions of human beings." Further, he believed in the oneness of God. He said: "one God is the cornerstone of all religions. But I do not foresee a time when there would be only one religion on earth in practice. In theory, there can be only one religion." 
  • His view on Hinduism is also clear, as he said: Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own Faith or Dharma and so it lives at peace with all the religions. 
  • He considered Buddha and Jesus Christ as great moral teachers of humanity. About Bible, he said: 'Make this world the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and everything will be added unto you. On Islam, he said: "Islam's distinctive contribution to India's National Culture is its unadulterated belief in the Oneness of God and a practical application of the truth of the Brotherhood of Man for those who are nominally within its fold."

As per Gandhi, religion is not sectarianism. It is a belief in the moral government of the universe. Religion harmonises religions and gives them a reality.

Regarding Bhagwadgita, Gandhi said that it has been his light and hope. He said that: "…when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me and when I see no one ray of light on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagawad Gita and find a verse to comfort me and immediately begin to smile amid overwhelming sorrow."

➤ Ethical Conduct

Gandhi believed that men can never reach the perfection of divine virtues as human beings. Still, they should strive with all their strength to follow the virtues of truth, love, nonviolence, tolerance, fearlessness, charity and service to mankind. Men have to uphold the right, regardless of the personal consequences they may face. He urged Satyagrahis to adopt to these Virtues.

➤ Truth

Gandhi equated God with truth and designated his religion as religion of truth. He used to say God is Truth, which he later changed to "Truth is God". However, his idea of truth was not taken from the epistemology or knowledge theory. Rather, he viewed truth in the form of an ideal of human conduct. He regarded that Indian struggle for freedom stands for truth and represents a just struggle for national and individual autonomy.

Service to Society

  • Service to the Society was another way in which Gandhi's concept underpins his practical actions. He believed that "only way to see God is to see him through his creations and identify oneself with it". This is possible through service to humanity. He maintained that there is no escape from social service to those searching for God.
  • He believed that as a part of God's creation, all men share the same life and there is no real difference between them. This unity of life explains the concepts of secularism, religious toleration, and human equality. It also underpins his long battle against untouchability and social backwardness.

➤ Cleanliness

Gandhi emphasised on internal (mental) and external (physical) cleanliness. There was no litter or dirt or filth in his Ashrams and surroundings. He said: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness ". He advocated moral self-purification.

➤ Ends and Means

Gandhi believed that Men should adopt only good means to attain noble objectives. As per him: "No good can follow from bad deeds, even if they are well-intentioned." He believed that the path to hell is paved with good intentions; thus leading to so called "ends and means" debate. It is contrary to the view that bad means can be used to achieve good ends, and what matters is the end.

Ahimsa

Gandhi's Ahimsa was refraining from killing and showing love for the whole mankind and all living beings. He believed that Man can only realize God by pursuing Ahimsa. He also maintained that truth and non-violence are inseperable and truthfulness and fearlessness is prerequisite for a pursuit of Ahimsa.

➤ Satyagraha

Gandhi's later work rested largely on a spiritual principle of satyagraha that he developed while working in South Africa. For Gandhi, Satyagrahi was the foot soldier of Passive Resistance Movement. One has to adopt the virtues of truth and violence to be a Satyagrahi. He/ She should be honest and eschew material possessions and sexual desires. Gandhi prescribed a severe code for the, Satyagrahi which includes harsh moral discipline, control of Senses and ascetic self-denial.

Doctrine of Trusteeship

Gandhi regarded Rich as trustees of wealth. He said that ultimately all property belongs to God, the excess or superfluous wealth that the rich possess belongs to society and should support the poor. Wealthy people have no moral right to what is more than their proportionate share in national wealth. They become trustees for the disproportionate share of God's property they hold. They have to use it for helping the poor.

The “Seven social sins”, as per Mahatma Gandhi are

  1. Wealth without work:
    • Getting something for doing nothing is a sin as per Gandhiji is one of the Seven Social sins as per Mahatma Gandhi.
    • Examples: Gambling, accepting a bribe and manipulating markets.
  2. Politics without principles:
    • As per Gandhiji, ‘politics without principles’ means ‘politics without truth’.
    • Examples: Getting political office by unethical means and misuse of powers.
  3. Commerce without morality:
    • Gandjhiji believed in ‘trusteeship philosophy,’ i.e. business should act as a trustee for the society. It should adopt ethical business practices
    • Examples: Cheating customers, misleading advertisements and exploiting labour.
  4. Knowledge without character:
    • Gandhiji believed that an educational system should emphasize on character-building rather than career-building.
    • If somebody has true knowledge, it gets reflected in his character.
  5. Pleasure without conscience:
    • Seeking fun, excitement or pleasure by being insensitive to others’ feelings and emotions or humanity is a sin.
    • Example:- Hunting animals as a sports activity.
  6. Science without humanity:
    • Gandhiji believed in applying science for the welfare of humanity.
    • Using science without an element of humanity is a sin.
    • Example: Making weapons to destroy humanity.
  7. Worship without sacrifice:
    • As per Gandhiji, whatever religion we follow, ultimately, we worship truth because the truth is God.
    • True worship demands sacrifice towards society.
DR B.R. Ambedkar
  • According to B. R. Ambedkar, "Society is always composed of Classes. Their basis may differ. They may be economic or intellectual or social, but an individual in a society is always a class member. 
  • This is a universal fact and early Hindu Society could not have been an exception to this rule, and, as know it was not. So what was the class that first to make itself into the caste, for class and caste, so to say, are next door neighbors, and it is only the span that separates the two. 
  • Regarding the origin of Caste, B. R. Ambedkar said that, "The study of the origin of caste must furnish us with an answer to the question-What is the class that raised this "enclosure" around itself? The customs in question were current in the Hindu society. 
  • These customs in on their strictness are obtainable only in one caste, namely the Brahmins, who occupy the highest place in the Hindu society's social hierarchy; and as their prevalence in non-Brahmin castes is derivative of their observance are neither strict nor complete. 
  • If the prevalence of these customs in the non-Brahmin castes is derivative, it needs no argument to prove which class is the fat, ithe institution of caste. The strict observance of these customs an caste institutionrity arrogated by the priestly class in all ancient civilization are sufficient to prove that they were the originators of this "unnatural institution" founded and maintained through these unnatural means."
  • This feature of class is shared with other societies also. About the classes present in Hindu Society Ambedkar said that, "the Hindu society, in common with other societies was composed of classes and the earliest known are the {1} Brahmins or the priestly class; {2} The Kshatriya, or the military class and {3} The Vaishya, or the merchant class and {4} The Shudra, or the artisan menial class. 
  • Particular attention has to be paid to the fact that this was essentially a class system. Individuals, when qualified, could change their class, and therefore classes did change their personnel. 
  • At some times in the history of the Hindus, the priestly class socially detached itself from the rest of the body of people and through a closed door policy became a caste by itself. The people's bodying subject to the law of social division of labour underwent differentiation, some into large, other into very minute groups. 
  • The Vaishya and Shudra classes were the original inchoate plasm, which formed the sources of the numerous castes of today. As the military occupation does not very easily lend itself to very minute sub–division, the Kshatriya class could have differentiated into soldiers and administrators."
  • About sub-division of Society he further added that, "This sub-division of a society is quite natural. But the unnatural thing about these sub-divisions is that they have lost the class system's open-door character and have become self-enclosed units called castes. 
  • The question is: were they compelled to close their doors and become endogamous, or did they close them of their own accord? I submit that there is a double line of answer: Some closed the door: Other found it closed against them. The one is a psychological interpretation and the other is mechanistic, but they are complementary and both are necessary to explain the phenomena of caste-formation in its entirety."
  • So this is the brief history of castes in India. But were there any harms of this caste system? It is very important to find out the answer of this question. As above mentioned there were mainly four classes present in India. 
  • Over time, one new class, the fifth class, emerged from the shudra class, that was Ati-shudra or Dalits, which was lower in status than the fourth Varna. The people under the fourth Varna, known as Shudras, were sufficiently degraded in the religious books; one can imagine the situation of the people who were another step below the Shudras. That is why the Dalits have another name called, "Outcaste or Untouchables." 
  • Dalits were deprived of the basic human rights, the right to education, and the religious law books sanctified their degraded position. 
  • Here are two verses from the Hindu religion texts: Now if a Sudra listens intentionally to (a recitation of) the Veda, his ears shall be filled with (molten) tin or lac. (Gautam Dharma Sutra 12.4). Vedas were the first religious books of the Hindus. Hindus, or Brahmins to be precise, declared Vedas as divine and hence infallible. Another verse is: If a Sudra recites (Vedic text), his tongue shall be cut out.
Bhodisatva Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
  • On the pathetic condition of untouchables Ambedkar had given lot of facts. He writes that , "Under the rule of the Peshwas in the Maratha country the untouchables was not allowed to use the public street if a Hindu was coming along lest he should pollute the Hindu by his shadow. 
  • The untouchable was required to have a black thread either on his wrist or on in his neck as a sign or a mark to prevent the Hindus from getting them polluted by his touch through mistake. In Poona, the capital of the Peshwa, the untouchables was required to carry, strung from his waist, a broom to sweep away from behind the dust Peshwa's capital indu walking on the same should be polluted. 
  • In Poona the untouchable was required to carry an earthen pot, hung in his neck wherever he went, for holding his spit falling on earth should pollute a Hindu who might unknowingly happen to tread on it."
  • The children of untouchables were not allowed to study in public school. Untouchables were not allowed to use public wells, wear apparel or ornaments they like, and eat any food they like. The list of atrocities is even longer than this. In post-independent India, this list is lessen but not completely exhausted.
  • Very few social reformers fought against this unnatural institutions and atrocities. Mahatma Jyoti rao Phule, Savitribai Phule, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy and B. R. Ambedkar were main of them. Ambedkar asserts that caste is not based on division of labour. 
  • It is division of labourers. As an economic organization also, caste is a harmful institution. He calls upon the Hindus to annihilate the caste, which is a great hindrance to social solidarity and set up a new social order based on the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity in consonance principles of Democracy. He advocates inter-caste marriage as one of the solutions to the problem. But he stresses that the belief in the 'shastras' is the root cause of maintaining castes. He therefore suggests, "make every man and woman free from the thralldom of the 'shastras', cleanse their mind of the pernicious notions founded on the 'shastras' and he or she will interdine and intermarry". According to him, the Society must be based on reason and not on atrocious traditions of caste system.
  • From the above deliberation, the Caste is a close system and Class is an open system. Education can lead an individual to move from Caste to Class, i.e; from close system to open system. 
  • In Caste system, an individual is confined only to his or her traditional occupation. So, there is a little scope to grow. But in Class, as it is open, an individual can grow as per his or her capability. 
  • And only education can bring this change. Ambedkar had also given lot of emphasis on getting education. He said that, "Educate, Organize and Agitate". Here he had given prime importance to education. He further added that, "The backward classes have come to realize that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight.
  • We may forego material benefits of civilization but we cannot forego our rights and opportunities to reap the benefits of the highest education to the fullest extent. That the importance of this question from the point of view of the backward classes who have just realized the highest education benefits is not safe." He suffered a lot due to this caste system. Still in that system of discrimination, he succeeded to educate himself well.
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