Philosophical Contributions of Gandhi’s Ideas

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Philosophical Contributions of Gandhi’s Ideas

Introduction

A lack of an interdisciplinary approach to peace and non-violence that fails to include philosophy and education exists in part because the issue of non-violence considered as a philosophical and educational concept is under-explored. Ideas of non-violence often emerge from action, and therefore it is often thought that non-violence demands a need for action- a demand that many believe is not met by philosophy. These explanations are insufficient when applied to philosophy of education. They fail to acknowledge the educational and philosophical importance of the praxis of non-violence. Philosophers of education, like Suzanne Rice, have shown that a study of the praxis of non-violence can indeed be discussed in philosophical contexts. In her paper Rice problematizes philosophy’s lack of recognition of King’s work in character development and moral education programs. Rice argues that although King did not express character development and moral education in traditional philosophical forms, i.e. academic texts, he was indeed concerned “with questions about how one should act (conduct) and the kind of person one should strive to be (character)”. In much the same way King “never himself claimed to articulate an ethic”, M.K. Gandhi never wrote a succinct, complete work of his own ethics. He did not sit in private and create a philosophy that was later to be distributed to the world. Rather, Gandhi used mass media, such as newspaper and radio, to appeal to his audience. His philosophy was created out of his actions in South Africa and subsequent actions in India, drawing on existing philosophies and religions to shape his expression of non-violence. He did not separate ideas of theory from practice; for him, theory and practice emerged out of one another. Hence, viewing Gandhi as solely a philosopher or a political actor creates an unnecessary tension and dichotomy. For example, when Gandhi is represented by large-scale movies like Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi, or by quick catch phrases like “there is more to life than increasing its speed,” Gandhi is easily interpreted as either a political actor, or a philosopher. Attenborough’s film depicts Gandhi’s lifelong struggle in a way only a major motion picture can - big sound, big events, and big drama. Gandhi’s political actions shine throughout the film, yet what the film is unable to capture is the essence of Gandhi’s theory of non-violence as an overall way of life, and the pedagogical dynamic behind non-violent action. Similarly, Gandhi cannot be summed up in a catch phrase. While useful in the way they present Gandhi as philosophical, quick catch phrases can present him as overly proverbial. As Dewey has noted, “…when [a social arrangement] becomes cast in a mould and runs in a routine way… it lose its educative power” For example, when Apple Computers uses his image to encourage us to “Think Different”, Gandhi enters into the realm of popular culture and it becomes easy to forget what he has contributed to educational and philosophical discourse. Instead, summed up in a short quote, Gandhi’s words can sell computers. I will argue in this paper that Gandhi’s philosophy, like King’s, when understood holistically can contribute to character development and moral education in the same way as philosophy presented more traditionally. I will do this by examining the way Gandhi speaks about ahimsa, loosely translated as non-violence, through a discussion of Absolute Truth, relative truth, and truth as means and ends. The ideas of Mahatma Gandhi have had a lasting impact on the left, from the civil rights movement of the 1960s right through to the movements against corporate greed and racism that are developing today. Many see Gandhi as the embodiment of politically-effective pacifism. The success of his nonviolent strategy, however, is largely a myth. The most common version of the Gandhi myth is the simple...
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