I would like to share some of what I’m working on with the readers of the Indian Philosophy Blog. Recently made available on the web-site of The Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (and uploaded on academia.edu) is my article “Gandhi’s synthesis of liberal and communitarian values: Its basis and insights” (http://link.springer.com/journal/40961/onlineFirst/page/1). In this piece, which I expect to appear in the journal’s June print issue (vol. 33 issue 2), I argue that an underlying harmony can be found in Gandhi’s philosophy among seemingly contradictory liberal and communitarian values (e.g. the right of conscience, and honoring one’s inherited social place) given his overall views on Self-realization. Ultimately, I aim to show that if we interpret Gandhi’s thoughts on the Self in a way that is in line with the Advaita Vedānta tradition (an interpretation textually justified) we can better understand his basis for thinking seemingly disparate liberal and communitarian concepts make up a coherent whole. Additionally, I argue that Gandhi’s synthesis of such concepts has relevance for present day conflicts which consume the “real world” (such as those relating to secular and religious understandings of the right kind of society). It is my belief that Gandhi shows there exist little noticed resources within classical Hindu philosophy which are useful for a world coping with sectarian conflicts and that are much more profound than the standard pluralistic interpretations of Hinduism suggest.
My article places a special focus on Gandhi’s thoughts regarding both religious conversions and caste distinctions. I note that his views on these matters show significant agreement with and sensitivity toward central liberal as well as communitarian concerns. To summarize my main argument:
- 1. For Gandhi, realization of the Self is the aim of all legitimate communities (and indeed it is what all of us seek however conscious we may be of this goal).
- 2. To realize the Self we must first becoming worthy of exercising the individual rights and freedoms important to political liberals. These rights and freedoms can be properly understood only when they are anchored to a system of religious thought.
- 3. To become so worthy we must first learn the partial truths specific communities (e.g. the religious ones we are born into) emphasize; keeping in my mind that such truths can be seen as more or less viable given the specific places in which they have strived.
- 4. Thus, the primary role of the state for Gandhi should not be to indiscriminately preserve and promote liberal rights and freedoms but to develop citizens who can first become worthy of such rights and freedoms—a project that requires the state to advance the well-being and flourishing of particular communities (including religious ones but in a way that does not favor any one group and which facilitates mutually beneficial interaction among diverse communities).
My argument implies at least two interrelated areas of additional research:
- 1. Does it make sense to think of the realization of the Self (as understood in the Advaita Vedānta tradition) as a universal goal shared by all legitimate communities? (Indeed one can even ask if the values of diverse religious groups—as well as secular proponents of liberalism—are indeed commensurate in the way Gandhi assumes.)
- 2. Is such a view in line with the Advaita Vedānta school itself?
In regard to the first question, we can also wonder whether understanding Self-realization as the universal goal of diverse religious communities does justice to how these communities see themselves. Perhaps a comparative study of the philosophically minded exponents of different religious communities (e.g. Śaṅkara, Augustine, Rumi, etc.) that are at the center of so much present day polarization does indeed lend itself to such an interpretation. Of course, it would also be necessary to show that such exponents both accurately represent their respective traditions and that the ideas they put forth for living in a diverse world are philosophically acceptable. I welcome any comments readers of this blog may have.