A Chariot Between Two Armies: A Perfectionist Reading of the Bhagavadgītā

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Interpretations of the ethical significance of the Bhagavadgītā typically understand the debate between Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa in terms of a struggle between consequentialist and deontological doctrines. In this paper, I provide instead a reading of the Gītā which draws on a conception of moral thinking that can be understood to cut across those positions – that developed by Stanley Cavell, which he calls ‘Emersonian Moral Perfectionism’. In so doing, I emphasise how Kṛṣṇa’s consolation of Arjuna can centrally and fruitfully be viewed as concerned with resuscitating the latter’s individuality, thereby allowing Arjuna to overcome an unthinking conformity to the current degenerate state of his society. This leads me to explore the relation between this perfectionist understanding of spiritual reorientation and the Gītā’s religious account of human redemption; and to conclude by suggesting how the text of the Gītā itself might have similar therapeutic designs upon its readers.
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First archival date: 2020-09-09
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