Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ethics in classical Indian Philosophy

In light of Stephen Harris' review of Christopher Framarin's book, Hinduism and Environmental Ethics and Elisa Freschi's discussion of Amod Lele's article about Śāntideva's metaphysical and ethical thought, I'd like to pose a question. This question has been posed on the Indian Philosophy Blog in the context of political philosophy but not, as far as I can tell, for ethics. The question is, in two parts:
(1) Is there Indian ethical philosophy (normative ethics and/or meta-ethics) and (2) which primary texts would you use to introduce it to students?

As most readers of this blog will know, the first part of the question is answered in the negative by B.K. Matilal (among others). Matilal argues that while Indian texts are concerned with moral issues in a practical sense, "...morality as such was never discussed in these texts." (See his "Moral Dilemmas: Insights from Indian Ethics.") Now, plenty of secondary literature like the aforementioned Hinduism and Environmental Ethics has taken up the challenge to elucidate the ethical arguments more or less implicit in Indian philosophy. However, what primary texts (in good translation) does one set alongside of the usual figures--Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Foot--in philosophy courses? Does selecting texts like the Mahābhārata and Bhagavad Gītā send the message that Indian philosophy has no systematic ethical reflection? Or does it put pressure on the notion that ethical philosophy must look a certain way? And how do you think about "ethics" in classical Indian philosophy?
Finally, another solicitation for syllabi. If you are teaching a course which addresses (even in part) ethical inquiry in Indian philosophy and you'd like to share your syllabus, send it to mdasti (AT) bridgew (DOT) edu so we can put it on the Indian Philosophy blog.
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