Vedānta, Śaṅkara and Moral Irrealism (Ethics-1, M10)

In A. Raghuramaraju (ed.), Philosophy, E-Pg Pathshala. Delhi: India, Department of Higher Education (NMEICT) (2016)
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Abstract

This and the following lessons cover the topic of Vedānta and ethics. Vedānta has two meanings. The first is the literal sense – “End of Vedas” – and refers to the Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads—the latter part of the Vedas. The second sense of “Vedanta” is a scholastic one, and refers to a philosophical orientation that attempts to explain the cryptic Vedānta Sūtra (Brahma Sūtra) of Bādarāyaṇa, which aims at being a summary of the End of the Vedas. We shall pursue the question of ethics in both senses of Vedānta. In this module we shall examine the ethical theory of Deontology found in the Upaniṣads. Having explored the implications of this model for moral philosophy, we can reflect upon the three commentarial approaches. In this lesson, we will examine Śaṅkara’s Advaita approach. Advaita Vedānta, especially in Śaṅkara's form, presents a version of moral scepticism, or more strongly, moral irrealism. In this account, there is nothing objective about ethics: it mediates our desires-oriented psychology, and should be dispensed with along with the desire-oriented psychology. Śaṅkara seems to come close to doing the impossible: saying insightful things about what he takes to be a fiction, which is the individual self, for which ethics is essential.

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Shyam Ranganathan
York University

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