Moral Standing and Yoga

To have moral standing is to be the kind of thing that should be taken into account in ethical deliberation. Asking the question of moral standing raises the prospects of there being many kinds of things that count, and in different ways.

One standard account that we find from Hedonic Utilitarians like Peter Singer and Bentham is the idea that someone counts, ethically, if they can suffer (Singer 2012). Animals count because they can suffer. I like the hedonic account, but it has problems. On this account, if I overcome suffering, I would no longer be in the category of things who should be taken seriously. This disincentivises me from overcoming suffering. That’s strange.

Another ubiquitous account of moral standing is unabashedly anthropocentric. The silly version of this theory says that anything that is human is important or should be respected. This is silly because tumors, acne and dandruff can be human: we should not respect them (cf. Marquis 2007, 441). Perhaps to avoid these problems, refined anthropocentrists argue that to ethically count one must be able to reason, and this requires the kinds of representative abilities humans have (Gauthier 2007, 623; cf. Korsgaard 1996, 93; cf. 2007). Tumors wouldn’t count on this account, but adult humans would. Historically, one finds this account in Kant, who not only identified moral standing with the ability to be like him (think in the manner of the categorical imperative) but correlatively argued that we have no obligations to nonhuman animals, but we should be nice to them so we don’t developed dispositions of cruelty towards humans (Kant 1996, 6:443; 1974, 5:298-303). The reason we have no obligations to nonhuman animals on Kant’s account is that they do not reason like Kant (in accordance with the categorical imperative). Of course, this puts babies and the senile at a disadvantage too. On Kant’s account, if I can spare humans my cruelty while I torture puppies for fun, I would be doing nothing wrong (Wood 1998, 194-5). By parity of reasoning, the same would apparently hold true for babies and the senile.

Kant is correct for identifying moral standing with reason, for this does indeed separate tumors from people: tumors are not reasonable, but people should be. But Kant gets reason wrong. Here I note one problem.

There are at least two approaches that one can take to reason. One can treat it as a norm or a standard to judge cognitive behavior, or one can treat it as the facts of how we reason. If reason is a norm and if reason defines persons, then we could identify a person as the kind of entity that has an interest in being reasonable—whether they are able to be reasonable or not. Dogs, small babies and the senile have an interest in being reasonable, hence they would be persons, whether they are reasonable or not. If reason is the same as how we (adult humans) think and if to be a person is to be reasonable, then anything that deviates from our psychology would not be a person.

Which account of reason is correct: the normative account or the account that identifies reason with our psychology? If it is possible for us to be irrational, then reason cannot be identical with the laws of our psychology for the laws of our psychology are compatible with irrationality. This is old news in the history of philosophy (Frege 1894, 1980; Husserl 2001, vol.1, p.41). What is often not noticed is that if this criticism of psychologistic accounts of reason is correct, naturalistic, descriptive and speciesist accounts of logic are in trouble. Accounts of personhood based on these accounts of reason are also in trouble.

Enter the Yoga Sūtra

The Yoga Sūtra account of moral standing starts the book off, finishes it, and peppers the intercessions. To get to it, we need a bit of sūtra sleuthing.

At the start, Patañjali tells us that:

• Yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ (I.2)
• Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam (I.3)
• Vṛttisārūpyamitaratra (1.4)

In my translation (Patañjali 2008) I translated this as:

• Yoga is the control of the (moral) character of thought.

• Then, the seer can abide in its essence.
• Otherwise, there is identification with the character of thought.

At the end of the YS, Patañjali tells us,

Puruṣārthaśūnyānāṁ guṇānāṁ pratiprasavaḥ kaivalyaṁ svarūpapratiṣṭhā vā citiśaktiriti (IV.34)

I translated this as:

• With no other goal of the person remaining (for they have all been fulfilled), the qualities (of Nature) resolve themselves back into the flow (of Nature). Then (the person) stands only on its own form, or on (pure) power of knowing. This is Isolation. That is all.

I think now that this final reference to standing on one’s own form (IV.34), and the earlier reference to abiding in one’s essence (I.3) are referring to the same state. And the connection is the idea of abstraction: kaivalya. I used to believe that kaivalya is the Yoga Sūtra term for “autonomy.” But I’m starting to believe that it really is abstraction (and that autonomy is to be understood in terms of abstraction). What’s the connection between abstraction and abiding in one’s own essence?

The first three lines explain it. When we control our relationship to thought (I.2), we live a life that is authentic (I.3). Failing this control, we identify with how things seem to us. Or, put another way, when we live a life that reflects who we are (I.3), we abstract (kaivalya) from the things we contemplate (I.2), and when we fail to abstract, we identify with what we contemplate (I.4).

If I were to provide a gloss (something like a paraphrase), it would look like this:

• When we put critical distance between ourselves and thought-content (I.2)
• We live a life that reflects our rational essence (I.3, and IV.34)
• Otherwise, we identify with our thoughts (I.4)

What is a Person

This account of the authentic life implies something about what people are. A person is something that has an interest in being abstract, which is to say, not identifying with thoughts and feelings. Put another way, a person is something with an interest in abstracting from contexts and content. If logic is the abstraction from all content, then the Yoga Sūtra position is that people are ideally logical, and have an interest in being logical.

In real terms, what is a person? Tumors wouldn’t be a person: there is no obvious sense in which they have an interest in abstracting. From a tumor-y point of view: they have an interest in not abstracting from their host. But persons, in contrast, have an interest in abstracting, and when they can abstract from tumors, they are free from cancer! The kinds of entities that have an interest in abstracting from contexts and content are critters like us: animals! Indeed, it is difficult to identify health for a person (animal) except to note that an animal is healthy when they can control their relationship to content in their environment. Illness for animals (persons) just is the impeding of the ability to abstract from content.

Plants would apparently be special cases: they have interests, but it is difficult to understand these interests in terms of being able to abstract from contexts and contents. They need a to stay put in a convenient environment. They are more like tumors. Indeed, perhaps tumors are just special kinds of plants (or perhaps plants are relatively manageable tumors)!

For similar reasons, a good case could be made that Planets too would be people… I will leave that for another post.


Frege, Gottlob. 1894. “Rezension von: E.G. Husserl, Philosophie der Arithmetik I.” Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik:313-32.

———. 1980. The Foundations of Arithmetic: a Logico-Mathematical Enquiry into the Concept of Number. Translated by J.L. Austin. 2nd rev. ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Reprint, Breslau: W. Koebner.

Gauthier, David. 2007. “Why Contractarianism?” In Ethical Theory, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau, 620-630. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Logical Investigations. Translated by J.N. Findlay. 2 ed. 2 vols, International Library of Philosophy. London; New York: Routledge.

Kant, Immanuel. 1974. Critique of Judgment. Translated by J.H. Bernard, Hafner Library of Classics. New York; London: Hafner Press, Collier Macmillan.

———. 1996. The Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Korsgaard, Christine M. 1996. The Sources of Normativity. Edited by Onora O’Neill, 1992 Tanner Lectures. New York: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2007. “Facing the Animal You See in the Mirror.” Harvard Review of Philosophy no. 16:2-7.

Marquis, Don. 2007. An Argument that Abortion is Wrong. In Ethical Theory: An Anthology, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Patañjali. 2008. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra. Translation, Commentary and Introduction by Shyam Ranganathan. Delhi: Penguin Black Classics.

Singer, Peter. 2012. “All Animals are Equal.” In Ethical Theory: An Anthology, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau, 361-371. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wood, Allen. 1998. “Kant on Duties Regarding Nonrational Nature.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement no. LXXII:189-210.

About Shyam Ranganathan

Shyam Ranganathan is a philosopher in the Department of Philosophy in York University, Toronto. His research interests cover ethics/political philosophy, the philosophy of thought, philosophy of language, and South Asian philosophy.

20 Replies to “Moral Standing and Yoga”

  1. Thanks for this rich post, Shyam. One small question for starters: Why insert “moral” within a your translation of citta-vrtti in YS 2, when none of the actual vrttis discussed in the sutras or commentarial tradition are moral in tone? They seem to be cognitive, so to speak: veridical awareness, mistaken awareness, counterfactual awareness, etc. It would be nice if they were wider in scope (I wish they were), but in fact they aren’t, or am I missing something?

  2. Well… the (moral) is in parentheses. However if you look at the full range of possible meanings for “vrtti”, one of them is moral conduct — or at least, this is what I learned from the MMW:

    When reading sutras, I work with the assumption that ambiguity is a device of expedience: lots of ideas for one word. So I wouldn’t want to discount the practical-rationality aspects of this term.

    Plus, if it is the case that the end of the YS, Patanjali identifies Kaivalya as something that comes after dharmamegasamadhi, then the moral connotations of “vrtti” are relevant to treating the text as a whole. Indeed, this is how book IV closes.

    Plus, given all of the importance Patanjali gives to practice, discounting this connotation is strange.

    As for the vrittis not being moral, there are two senses in which they could be moral: (a) they are the things we ought to do, or (b) they are the proper subject of criticism and control. I take it that Patanjali has the latter in mind.

    • Thanks for this, Shyam.

      I have always found the apparently radical dualism of Samkhya/Yoga to be problematic when we try to make sense of the meaningfulness of our ordinary moral duties. It always seems that for them, at best, ordinary morality is instrumentally valuable: it helps us become liberated, and therefore, they never get beyond what seems to me, to speak loosely, a hedonic and egoistic calculator model of morality.

      To take up the issue of authenticity, for example, it would seem like prakrtic entanglement of any kind would entail non-authenticity, since we are largely entangled with what is not really us. The dualism seems too unremitting to make sense of the value of personal authenticity and other features of personhood, like agency and autonomy (e.g., the Samkhya-karika’s explicit denial of agency for the self).

      Given these qualms, I really appreciate that you (and Chris) are trying to argue that there is a basis for other-centered morality within the text, and as a sort of enthusiast for these traditions, I frankly *want* you to be right.

      Maybe my concern is more something like this: we often face the tension in our work when there are ambiguous areas in the texts and we must argue in one of two ways for some thesis x which is not explicitly stated: (i) the original authors or traditions actually hold x, or (ii) they may not have held x, but I will argue that x is consistent with their other holdings, and therefore creatively argue that it may be added to their view to strengthen it.

      If I may ask: which of the two would you say you are you doing? If (i), I guess I still have scruples about it, but if (ii), I get it, and it makes sense.

      Or maybe these options don’t adequately account for your methodology.

      • Hi Matthew

        Thank you for your reply and for the question.

        I wrote my dissertation on translation, and it is morphing into a project on propositional attitude ascription. My views on these are not standard—though they were born from my efforts to make sense of Indian ethics.. I might write something about this as it pertains to South Asian philosophy in a post on methodology.

        But for now, I want to say that I have some concerns about the way (i) and (ii) are framed. I seem to have to choose one or the other but not both. But I wonder if they really are exclusive disjuncts or just inclusive ones.. I want to say that when authors write something, what it means is a matter of public record, to be determined by non subjective criteria. In so far as they sign their names to it, they are responsible for the content, but over time authors can often wonder if they really understood what they wrote, or if they even agree with it. Even when writing it, they may not fully understand it. I not only see this with my students who often don’t understand what they submitted in their essay assignments, but with famous authors who over time drift from their famous works. This is why the disjunction is not obviously mutually exclusive. People are committed to what they say or write. This means that if they say/write x, they hold it (i). Whether on further consideration they believe it is another story and hence we may have to hold them to x, even if they didn’t understand (believe) what they were committing themselves to when they wrote x (ii). If this is true: (i) and (ii).

        Maybe it would help me if I knew what your scruples are if I say (i) but not (ii).

        • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Shyam.

          I think you are right: (i) and (ii) are not mutually exclusive, and if I expressed them as such, that wasn’t my intention. I do think, though, that when we engage in (ii), we need to be explicit about it. I think that we sometimes fall into a trap of projecting what’s there in the ancient thinkers according to our own concerns (there is a bit of a discussion of this in Elisa’s thread on free will and methodology). And I think those of us whose interests are more philosophical than philological are especially prone to this (I count myself in this category).

          The reason I said that I have scruples about option (i) as it pertained to your argument was not that I have any problem with it in general, since indeed, that is what we usually do as historians of philosophy. Bur rather, that given the fairly severe dualism of Samkhya/Yoga, I found it harder to accept that they would take at face value an interpretation such as you are providing, which gives primacy to categories like “person” (not purusha as a self shorn of prakrti). The concern with ahimsa, etc. in the sutras seem blunted by their other-worldliness and maybe not so suitable to be the basis of a rich world-involving ethic.

          But if you were arguing more creatively that such an interpretation was consistent with their basic holdings and available to them, even if it was not really proffered in the sutras or major commentaries, that seemed more fitting to me.

          These are just musings, and not meant to be criticisms. And again, I really appreciate your project and the sophistication that you’ve brought to your reading of the sutras. I am just more troubled by what seems to be the entailments of Samkhya/Yoga dualism and subordination of everything to soteriology such that I wonder how much they (or their authors, etc.) really care about morality as such.

          I’d love to see a future post on your ideas on interpretation and attitude ascription.

          • Hi Matthew

            First, sorry for the delay in response. You gave me a lot to think about so I wanted to craft a proper response.

            Second, thanks for your attention to this post and for your probing comments and questions. I didn’t think your comment was a criticism, but if it was, that would be ok too!

            I want to focus in on one of your comments that seems to be central to your concern.

            You wrote:

            “I am just more troubled by what seems to be the entailments of Samkhya /Yoga dualism and subordination of everything to soteriology such that I wonder how much they (or their authors, etc.) really care about morality as such.”

            Let’s take the conjuncts separately.

            Claim 1: Subordination of everything to Sorteriology is inconsistent with morality

            I think that the trouble is not so much with the subordination of everything to sorteriology, but the assumption that an interest in freedom (sorteriology) is not a basic moral principle that identifies people with standing. If it is true that we have an interest in abstraction (the Yoga account of freedom), then we have a logical grounds for rights and duties—these are what protect our interest in abstraction. The Yama rules in book II of the Yoga Sūtra are examples of such rights. The Yoga view is a variant of an approach to ethics we find in the works of many famous Western moralists (Plato, Kant) who identify moral obligation (dharma) as what brings about freedom (mokṣa) maintained by self-governance (svasvāmi) (cf., YS II.23).

            Claim 2: Dualism: prakṛti and puruṣa-s dualism is inconsistent with morality.

            If the dualism is between nature understood as causality, and persons understood as responsibility, then the distinction between nature and persons is wholly consistent with morality. To distinguish between puruṣa and prakṛti is to distinguish between the ethical and what has standing, and the non-ethical and what does not have standing.

            Putting the two together : So, if the conjuncts on their own are supportive of morality, then their conjunction is fine.

            I think the issue of this-worldly and other worldly really drops out of the picture in moral philosophy. We find moralists thinking about ideal contexts as a way to frame our work in an imperfect context (this worldly). Yoga is doing the same thing. The only difference is that Yoga is optimistic: there is nothing essential about the imperfection of our life. So we ought to be keen to change it into the ideal context.

            Does Sāṅkhya and Yoga agree on these questions ?

            The main difference is between their accounts of freedom. The Sāṅkhya Kārikā appears to state that it is nature that brings about freedom, while Patañjali’s view seems to be that it is persons that are the explanation of freedom (I write about this in my introduction to my translation). The relevant points of comparison are the Sāṅkhya Kārikā 17, 44–45, 62–64, where the person is described as irrelevant to the process of liberation, and Yoga Sūtra I.21, IV.18, and IV.29 where persons and their self improvement are treated as instrumental to liberation, So I agree with you that the “tradition” does not agree with everything I attribute to Patañjali for I don’t think there is a unified Sāṅkhya Yoga tradition that agrees on these matters.

            Incidentally, the Sāṅkhya view may fit the kind of skepticism that you were articulating.

  3. Thank you, Shyam, for this very interesting post. The problem with abstraction is that it seems to high a criterion. Not only plants, but also many animals would not fulfill it. By applying it, one runs the risk to refute any right to entities which are not able to (attempt to) abstract.

    More technically, thanks for your perspective on kaivalya/svarupadhisthana.

    • Hi Elisa
      Thank you so much your comment. In response, I would like to say that we may not be disagreeing.

      There are at least two ways that one can think of reason, logic, abstraction. One is to understand it as an ability, which Kant does. The other is to view it as a norm or ideal, which I believe Patañjali does. If abstraction is an ability that defines persons, then indeed it would seem that very few entities have the rights that persons deserve because they are not able to (attempt to) abstract. You are correct on this score. However, if abstraction is an ideal or a norm, and if people are defined as those entities with an interest in living according to this ideal, then lots of entities have the rights and duties appropriate to persons even if they cannot (attempt to) abstract. The gravely injured human on the able-ist (e.g. Kantian) approach, does not count as a person for the gravely injured cannot reason. But on the normative approach that I believe Patañjali supports, a gravely injured entity is a person for it has an interest in abstracting from its contexts and contents, such as its injuries. Hence I think animals on the whole are persons on Patañjali’s account for they have an interest in abstracting, whether they can or not. The rights and duties they should be accorded are those that protect their ability to abstract.

      The issue of plants, I believe, is a bit different. They have interests, but it is difficult to say that a plant has an interest in abstraction: they rather seem to have an interest in being rooted.

      • Thanks Shyam, now I get that you mean “interest in abstracting” rather than “ability to abstract”.

        Still, and only for conversation’s sake, what about the fact that people or animals may aim at fully identify with their thoughts and bodies rather than abstract from them? One might say that even these ones have an interest in abstracting (although they act against their own interest), but would not be these patronizing?

        Further, the plants’ case seem to me to support Peter Singer’s point regarding suffering, as long as it is understood as a liability to suffer, rather than as actual suffering (in the same way as you handled the problem inherent in abstracting if understood as “actual abstracting”).

        • Hi Elisa

          I think Patanjali actually answers the first concern: that there are people who choose to identify with experience instead of working on being critical. On my reading, his response is that we have to understand such people as acting under the sway of injury, and that the appropriate response is to protect one’s own critical vantage (YS II.34). This has the result of helping others renounce their pathologies (YS II.35). I take it that this means in part that we should attempt to engage people, even those who identify with their experiences, critically. This is the opposite of being patronizing (isn’t it?).

          As for the second point, I think I might be in agreement. I think one of the problems of a hedonic utilitarian account of standing is that it sets the bar very low: anything that can be disturbed or harassed might count as suffering (a placid tub of water for instance). Utilitarians usually don’t take plants seriously as the kinds of things that can suffer, but this may be a case of speciesism, which they criticize. I’ve often thought that because pain serves no evolutionary advantage for plants as they cannot escape a threat, endowing plants with the ability to feel pain would create an organism that is constantly tortured: it is difficult to imagine how it could survive long enough to produce seeds and pass along its genes. Such plants would die out. But this understanding of suffering in terms of pain receptors may be a very biased understanding of suffering. Indian thinkers who thought that plants were sentient and hence could suffer (Jains I think for instance held/hold this view, and many Hindu sources on Chris’s account too) may be right. But I’m not sure that tells us about what kind of rights plants deserve or require.

          Further, if the Earth is a person (as I think the yoga account entails) and if the rights of persons (agents) have an explanatory priority over the rights of patients (non agents), then there may be reasons to compromise the interests of plants in service of the interests of Bhumi. Agriculture could be justified.

  4. I also don’t see how you can insert moral in YS 1.2., with all due respect to MMW. Yoga is the nirodha of ALL vṛttis, including the kliṣṭa and akliṣta vṛttis. Aren’t the akliṣṭa vṛttis in some sense amoral, i.e. against morality, since they prevent yoga, and don’t they too need to be nirodha. And since nidrā is also a vṛtti, it is hard to see how it is moral (or amoral, or non-moral).

    • Hi Jonathan,

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      Your criticism centers around my translation of I.2: Yoga is the constraint of the moral character of thought. Call this claim, as it is, P.

      Your argument seems to be:

      (1) If P is true (Yoga is the constraint of the moral character of thought), then Q: vrittis are all of them moral.
      (2) But Q is false (Not Q): there are amoral and immoral vrittis.
      (3) Therefore Not P (Shyam’s translation of YS I.2 is incorrect).

      Ok. Modus Tollens. I think that Q does not follow from P: (1) is false. The reason that I think (1) is false is that to use the term “moral” in philosophy is not to endorse when used as a modifier. Consider for instance “moral philosophy.” The idea of moral philosophy does not entail that all the tokens of moral philosophy are actually moral. Indeed, they may be immoral or amoral. Similarly, I can speak of someone’s moral character as deficient. To speak of the moral character of thought is to similarly bring citta into critical view.

      My point in the translation was rather to highlight that Yoga is about being critical about the moral significance of our thoughts. This in no way entails that all vrittis are good things.

      I also think that the characterization of Yoga as the nirodha of all vrittis is not accurate. Yoga is the nirodha of citta-vrittis (I.2). Any adequate translation of YS I.2 has to show that yoga is the nirodha of the complex idea of a citta-vritti. My “moral character of thought” rendering is a linguistically acceptable, forward looking attempt, as this theme of treating cognitive confusion as a problem for practical rationality runs throughout the YS.

      • Dear Shyam,

        Thank you for the reply.

        I think you’ve misrepresented my argument above, but let me first say something about the differences between citta-vṛtti and vṛtti. I totally agree, the YS is about citta-vṛtti nirodha, which doesn’t mean all vṛttis are to be nirodha. In fact, I’m very open to the idea of there being other types of vṛttis (what would you call them – are you thinking citi-vṛtti?). I can also see how the project of interpreting the YS as a deep reflection on moral philosophy (as you’ve defined it) has merit, and I will give your translation a closer read.

        I haven’t read the rest of your YS translations and interpretations, so I apologize for critiquing before having a full understanding of your project. I think I misunderstood your project. I took your translation as saying only the moral vṛttis are to be nirodha, but you’re taking a different approach, one which I appreciate.

        • Hi Jonathan

          A mutual misunderstanding then! Thanks so much for the comments and the considerate reply.

  5. Hi Shyam,

    Thank you for the interesting post. I’m very surprised this topic doesn’t get more attention. I’ve been working on it for a while. My book Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature and Philosophy (Routledge 2014) just came out last month. It contains extensive arguments for the claim that the Yogasutra attributes direct moral standing to animals and plants (1) because they are sentient, (2) because they are alive, and (3) because they have a range of other attributes and abilities. It might be of some help – if nothing else, to have a significantly different position to criticize!


  6. Hi Chris

    Thanks so much for this reply and for your work on Hindu Environmental Ethics: .

    My reading list just got bigger.

    Thanks also for sharing a preview of your argument with respect to moral standing and the Yoga Sūtra.

    I think that the general lack of attention given to the Yoga Sūtra and the issue of moral standing is symptomatic of a greater deficit in educated interest in Indian moral philosophy. (I am happy to note that this is changing rapidly for the better.) I also think that there is a strange tradition of treating the Yoga Sūtra as a kind of side kick to the Sāṅkhya tradition. The Sāṅkhya Kārikā is quite dim about ethical issues and even the possibility of our own agency. To read the Yoga Sūtra with the gloss of the Sāṅkhya tradition is to interpret it as amoral.

    If, as I have suggested in my response to Jonathan’s recent interesting post, that commentary was really just an opportunity for Indian thinkers to do philosophy in a context where it was thought to be rude to claim to have an original idea, reading the Yoga Sūtra in terms of (Sāṅkhya dominated) commentaries is an exercise in confusion. We really ought to treat each text as unique contributions to philosophical debate, and not read them all as symphonic contributions of some Borg-like Indian-mind. Untying the Yoga Sūtra from the tradition is hence the first step in the right direction. Anyway, I think this is the way we do it in philosophy: we take a text on its own, and attempt to understand it as a contribution to relevant philosophical debates. If one takes this approach to the YS, it screams moral philosophy and a lot about moral standing.

  7. Hi Shyam,

    I think we should be more open to the possibility that the Yogasūtra (and other seminal Hindu texts) attribute direct moral standing to entities in virtue of their capacity for pleasure and pain (among other reasons). Your argument against this view reads:

    One standard account that we find from Hedonic Utilitarians like Peter Singer and Bentham is the idea that someone counts, ethically, if they can suffer (Singer 2012). Animals count because they can suffer. I like the hedonic account, but it has problems. On this account, if I overcome suffering, I would no longer be in the category of things who should be taken seriously. This disincentivises me from overcoming suffering. That’s strange.

    Two things here. First, it’s not obvious to me that any entity that is capable of pleasure and pain can become immune to pleasure and pain while living. Even a liberated person might feel pain when struck. (Perhaps you take suffering to be something like attitudinal pain. If so, this might help. It does seem implausible that the liberated person takes attitudinal pain in things, even if it still hurts when she stubs her toe.)

    Second, your conclusion only follows if the capacity for pleasure and pain experiences is the only criterion of direct moral standing. If there are others, then we still might have direct moral obligations to such an entity, even if the entity became incapable of pleasure and pain – just not obligations to avoid causing her pleasure or pain!

    Here is a brief overview of the argument that I offer in my paper “The Moral Standing of Plants and Animals in the Manusmrti” in the most recent volume of Philosophy East and West. In my book, I adapt the argument to the Yogasutra as well. Needless to say, each claim in the argument requires defense (which I offer in the paper).

    The Manusmṛti claims that certain actions produce merit and demerit, and that this merit and demerit often cause pleasure and pain, respectively. Pleasure and pain are suitable consequences of merit and demerit only if they have value and disvalue, respectively. The value and disvalue of pleasure and pain are not derived entirely from the value of the further ends to which they are a means. (Pleasure is not a means to mokṣa, for example. Indeed, its more counter-productive to this end than pain is. Nor is it a means to knowledge, and so on.) Hence the value and disvalue of pleasure and pain are at least partly intrinsic. If the value and disvalue of pleasure and pain are at least partly intrinsic, then human agents morally ought to count the fact that some action of theirs might cause an entity pleasure or pain as a direct, prima facie reason for or against performing the action, respectively. If human agents morally ought to count the fact that some action of theirs might cause an entity pleasure or pain as a direct, prima facie reason for or against performing the action, respectively, then any entity capable of pleasure and pain has direct moral standing (by definition). The Manusmṛti claims that animals and plants are capable of pleasure and pain. Hence the Manusmṛti attributes direct moral standing to animals and plants, at least in part because they are capable of pleasure and pain.

    Like I said, this argument runs for the Yogasūtra as well. The final claim, though, about both animals and plants being capable of pleasure and pain, is harder to support. I draw from various Sāṃkhya texts here – perhaps a questionable strategy (although I don’t think so).

    Thanks for the discussion Shyam,

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your attention to this post, your comments and for sharing your research with us.

      I agree that those kinds of hedonic considerations that you allude to can be found in the Yoga Sūtra . I also agree that I was levelling a criticism against a hedonic account of standing assuming it was the sole account. I take it that Patañjali’s svarūpe’ vasthānam is an alternative.

      What does seem inconsistent with Patañjali’s to me at least is the idea your insight that “The value and disvalue of pleasure and pain are not derived entirely from the value of the further ends to which they are a means.” If it were true that pleasure and pain have intrinsic value, then we would be well advised to pursue pleasure for its intrinsic value, and to avoid pain for its intrinsic (dis)value. But Patañjali recommends something different: the pursuit of autonomy in contrast to an enjoyment of the self, and he moreover appears to recommend that we pursue painful practices to overcome diseases: tapas. In other words, he seems to reject the idea that pleasure has an intrinsic value, and he also appears to reject the idea that pains have an intrinsic disvalue. Especially in the case of pain, he seems to view it as something dis-valuable for instrumental reasons only (to keep us from hurting ourselves or others): when the instrumental utility of pain to help us avoid injury outweighs its benefits, we ought to cause pain: tapas.

      The evidence for this reading consists in his rather explicit formulations of Yoga at the start of books 1 and 2, (that do not describe or talk about pain or pleasure but rather tapas), and ideas such as abstraction, abiding in one’s essence, and standing on one’s own form at the beginning and end of the Yoga Sūtra.

      I want to thank you for bringing these issues of pain, pleasure and their value to light, Chris. These are really central issues in moral philosophy that often get brushed aside.
      I promise to make a careful study of your chapter on the YS. I think you bring important issues to the front.

  8. Thanks for the time you put into your response to my questions above, Shyam. I will think about your response for a while, too. I appreciate that you are reminding us that despite their overlap, we may have to be careful when speaking of Samkhya/Yoga as a single entity without clarifying those texts or thinkers to which we refer.

    Incidentally, I could have been clearer. When I said “I wonder how much they (or their authors, etc.) really care about morality as such.” I meant care about *theorizing about morality.* This doesn’t, in any case, make your follow up irrelevant. Thanks again.

  9. Pingback: BVH Prasad give an explanation for Moral Standing and Yoga – BVH Prasad

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