Maximizing Dharma: Krsna’s Consequentialism in the Mahabharata

Praxis 3 (1) (2011)
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The Mahabharata, an Indian epic poem, describes a legendary war between two sides of a royal family. The epic’s plot involves numerous moral dilemmas that have intrigued and perplexed scholars of Indian literature. Many of these dilemmas revolve around a character named Krsna. Krsna is a divine incarnation and a self-proclaimed upholder of dharma, a system of social and religious duties central to Hindu ethics. Yet, during the war, Krsna repeatedly encourages his allies to use tactics that violate dharma. In this paper, I try to make sense of Krsna’s actions by analyzing them in terms of categories from Western moral philosophy. I show that Krsna seems to embrace an ethical approach called consequentialism, but that his version of consequentialism differs from Western theories of consequentialism by seeing adherence to dharma as an intrinsic good.
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