Tolerant Values and Practices in India: Amartya Sen’s ‘Positional Observation’ and Parameterization of Ethical Rules

  • Santosh Saha University of Mount Union

Abstract

In explaining the reasons for sustained existence of tolerance in Indian philosophical mind and continuation of tolerant practices in socio-political life, Amartya Sen argues that tolerance is inherently a social enterprise, which may appear as contingent, but for all intents and purposes is persistent. Basing his thesis that is opposed to Cartesian dualism, which makes a distinction between mind and body, Sen submits that Indian system of universalizing perception finds a subtle form of connection between mind and body. He expands the ancient core worldview, Vasundhara kutumbakam (entire world as one family) as a secular tolerant civil code,1which makes a connection between the transcendental and the pragmatic planes of consciousness, and reconstructs a thesis about tolerance around human consciousness, which is collectivized and anchored in an acknowledged public space in society that is joined together psychologically as well as philosophically. Tolerance as consciousness can be regarded a necessary condition for playing the role of intentionality as stipulated by classical philosophy (Advaita Vedanta; buddhi, or intelligence as in Samkhya and Yoga). Aware of this ancient wisdom that accepts relativism as an impasse over some evaluative matter, Sen avoids the pitfalls of cultural relativism in tolerance by offering an argument that is based on the metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta and other religious and secular literature, and epitomizes an internationalizing virtue in tolerant traditions. I would examine some interconnected issues, such as the ethical “perimeter” of Sen’s philosophical observation of totalized value system and Indian tolerant attitudes in real life, etc., raising the broader question about the location of cultural identity in relation to supranational state organization. My chief argument is that Sen has been able to observe a connection between the Advaita Vedantic moral philosophy that informs that viewed from the Brahmanic perspective of absolute knowledge in unity, the apparent subject of duality is not the ultimate subject. My conclusion is that valuing of tolerance, individual liberty as well as civil rights is a particular contribution of Western thinking and philosophy; the Western advocates of these rights often provide ammunition to the non-Western critics of tolerance and human rights.

Published
2015-01-01