Indian Ethics: Gandhian Ethics, Introduction and Practical Idealism

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Modern Indian Thinkers Indian Ethics: Gandhian Ethics (Philosophy)


  • Gandhi has written extensively on a number of subjects ranging from politics, ethics, economics, to religion.
  • In the domain of socio-political writings and writings on economics, he was highly influenced by the works of Tolstoy, Carlyle, Thoreau, etc.
  • On the other hand, in the domain of ethics, he was influenced by the ethical principles embedded in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and especially, Jainism.
  • Gandhian ethical theory or Gandhian ethics is a double-edged weapon theory.
  • Gandhi used the principles of truth and non-violence to reform both, the individual and the society/nation, simultaneously.
Indian Ethics Gandhian Ethics
  • The two cardinal principles of Gandhian Ethics are Gandhi՚s thought on truth and non-violence.
  • These two principles took place within a matrix of violent mass political struggles for independence.
  • Gandhi was not an academic thinker; he was a barrister by profession and became a mass leader.
  • Therefore, his emphasis is not on idealism; rather, his emphasis is on practical idealism.
  • The term practical idealism was first used by John Dewey and subsequently it was adopted by Gandhi.

Practical Idealism

  • Practical Idealism is a philosophical thinking according to which it is an ethical imperative or ethical duty of each and every one to implement or cultivate the ideals of virtue in one՚s life.
  • Gandhi՚s philosophy is considered timeless and universal philosophy because the ideals of truth and non-violence are two such ideals which are as relevant to the humankind today as they were almost eighty-years ago.

On Moral Act & Behaviour

  • According to Gandhi, being a practical idealist, he believed that an action is moral if it is volitional, intentional, universal, practical, selfless and free from the fear and compulsion.
  • His views come really close to the nature of moral action defined in Bhagavad Gita as Nishkama-karma.
  • The concept of Nishkamkarma means self-less or desire-less action.
  • It also means performing an action without keeping into mind the results or the fruits of that action. It is the central tenant of Karma Yoga and is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita.
  • Hence, such actions alone are called “pure actions” for they do not carry any involvement or interest.
  • Accordingly, Gandhi believed that a moral act is necessarily associated with a moral behaviour.
  • So, cultivation of calmness, curbing of wildness, foreseeing of good habits, observances of chastity, altruism, righteousness, tranquility of personality, etc. are some of the elements of moral life and behaviour in Gandhian ethics.
  • Similarly, the moral law, according to Gandhian ethics is pious, universal, eternal, and immutable, beyond space and time and dwells in the very heart of the human being.
  • He also avers that the moral law is the inner being of one՚s personality.
  • He was also a strict practitioner of the yamas and advocated the same to all his followers.

The Concept of Seven Deadly Sins

  • Gandhi mentions the concept of seven deadly sins by saying that these seven things can destroy any human being. All these seven sins represent the political and social conditions. They are;
    • Wealth without Work (importance of Bread-labour concept)
    • Pleasure without Conscience
    • Knowledge without Character
    • Business without Morality (importance of the concept of trusteeship)
    • Science without Humanity
    • Religion without Sacrifice
    • Politics without Principle


1. The double edged theory of Gandhian ethics deals with two virtues

A. truth and non-violence

B. truth and fasting

C. fasting and Satyagraha

D. All of these

Answer: A

2. Gandhi was a ________ thinker

A. Realist

B. Idealist

C. Practical Idealist

D. Practical Realist

Answer: C

3. Gandhi mentions ________ deadly sins

A. Five

B. Six

C. Seven

D. Ten

Answer: C

4. Nishkamkarma concept originally belongs to

A. Gandhi՚s books

B. Upanishads

C. Gita

D. All of these

Answer: C





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