Friday, September 28, 2018

Indian/Indic darśana(s) and hedonistic egoism

There’s a provocative yet plausible argument to be made, and Pradeep P. Gokhale has made it (in his 2015 book, Lokāyata/Cārvāka: A Philosophical Inquiry), that orthodox and heterodox Indic philosophical systems or schools* (save, perhaps, Mahāyāna Buddhism) can be aptly characterized in the main (thus in the form of a generalization) as minor variations on the ethical theme of “hedonistic egoism.” Of course I am not claiming that altruism or ethical views and practices beyond hedonistic egoism don’t exist in Indian philosophy (or here or there in canonical sacred texts). Rather, the philosophical systems, qua systems, can be ethically characterized this way insofar as the paramount value or emphasis is on moka/mukti “liberation” (from pain, suffering) or, as in the case of Mīmāsā, heaven (and enjoyment of life therein) and the consequent mental and/or spiritual states such liberation is said to bring: (eternal) peace, pure happiness, the highest bliss, unadulterated and enduring pleasure, what have you. As one of my professors from university, Raghavan Iyer, has written, “In the course of time moksha became in India a largely negative notion of escape [or withdrawal from the world, as it were], a rejection of this irredeemable world, an intoxicating flight from reality” (one of the indirect or unintended consequences of Mughal rule and especially British colonialism is that they combined to compel Indians to recover and renew their appreciation of the conditions of worldly life and the value of social, cultural and political self-determination).
Not surprisingly, there are various philosophical conceptions of hedonistic egoism so in a forthcoming guest post at the Indian Philosophy blog I will attempt to clarify what those are (as part of this endeavor I will use, in part, notions of psychological hedonism and egoism as Freud appears to have understood and used them). I believe it’s possible to ethically reconfigure or reconstruct these philosophical systems (as Gandhi did in his inimitable way, for example, with a stress on karma yoga and a more or less universalized conception of dharma as lokasangraha, as well as his understanding of moka as absolute ‘truth,’ in effect giving ‘traditional values a new meaning and a fresh relevance to politics and to society’) so as to change this fundamental ethical orientation.
Much of this discussion hinges on how one understands the ideal-typical normative categories enshrined in the puruārtha(s). Religiously motivated philosophical opponents of Cārvāka/Lokāyata (which is predominantly empiricist, sceptical, materialist, rationalist, and thus secular) have often characterized the latter’s ethical views along the lines of hedonism or egoism or hedonistic egoism (or even as amoral or immoral) although, as Gokhale has argued, the “this-worldly” hedonistic egoism of Cārvāka/Lokāyata is more realistic and in some respects (at least potentially) more profoundly ethical than that found in the regnant religio-philosophical worldviews on the Indian sub-continent.
* The six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indic philosophy: Navya-Nyāya, Vaiśeika, Sākhya, Yoga, Pūrva Mīmāsā, and Vedānta. The schools are often grouped in pairs, thus: Nyāya and Vaiśeika (Logic and Atomism); (Classical) Yoga and Sākhya (Yoga and Discrimination or Distinctionism); Pūrva Mīmāsā and Uttara Mīmāsā or Vedānta (Prior Exegesis [of the Veda] and Later Exegesis or End of the Vedas Metaphysics). There are sub-schools within several of these main philosophical systems. The heterodox (nāstika) schools are Jainism, Buddhism and Cārvāka/Lokāyata (this last is the only one of the darśana(s) that is not religious).
Should you not be familiar with these philosophical traditions, a nice introduction is provided in a series of podcasts available here (on that same page you will also find a short list of recommended reading as well as a couple of links to sites with material on Indian philosophy).
Relevant bibliographies:


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