Vedānta – Rāmānuja and Madhva: Moral Realism and Freedom vs. Determinism (Ethics 1, M11)

In A. Raghuramaraju (ed.), Philosophy, E-Pg Pathshala. Delhi: India, Department of Higher Education (NMEICT) (2016)
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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. In the previous module, I review the ethics of the End of the Vedas and explicate the Moral Irrealism of Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta, which is articulated as a commentary on the Vedānta Sūtra. In this module, I compare Rāmānuja (Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta) and Madhva's (Dvaita Vedānta) account of the Vedānta Sūtra. Both are moral realists. They differ on the room for freedom given the necessity of moral considerations. One value of the Vedānta approach to ethics is that it provides a non-speciesist framework to think about ethics. It allows us to understand ourselves (ātmā) and our interest in Development (Brahman) as conceptually distinct, though identical in some manner. The Advaita view is that this identity is strict. The Dvaita approach is that Development realises the results of choices of individuals, but only some, owing to their good character, are capable of taking advantage of this for their betterment. The Viśiṣṭādvaita approach of Rāmānuja suggests in contrast that each self is a microcosm of reality. Reality is Development – the genus of individual selves. Each self has Development as an essential trait, but owing to past choices (karma), this is poorly understood. Things change when the individual self understands Brahman to be its true self, for then an individual can re-direct their efforts from procuring results to self-governance by treating the personal essence of the Development (the Lord) as the explanation for improvement.

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Shyam Ranganathan
York University


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