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Sunday, April 4, 2010


To answer this question one can look within and, as Nietzsche famously suggested, ask “what does my conscience tell me?” Or such a one can look at the greatest thinkers and their body of work in respect to the philosophical problematic of “means and ends.” In my view, one towering figure stands alone in this regard. And that is Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhi there were no boundary demarcations between ends and means. Where some dialectical materialists steadfastly cling to the thesis of ends justifying the means, thereby excusing violent methods via which they and their followers sometimes achieve their goals, Gandhi always stood in a moral space diametrically opposed to such a view, never accepting it.

It suffices to say that Gandhi—correctly, I shall argue –believed in a direct moral connection between means and ends. Given the commitment he had to truth and nonviolence and their interdependence, it follows that one ought not employ immoral acts to gain social justice, as these acts will transform one from a moral agent to an immoral agent. In one of his early writings in Young India journal he wrote, “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.”  

To follow Gandhi’s duty-ethics of truth and nonviolence is to pursue what Rousseau called “civilization.” No civilization can be achieved by violent means. Dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima may have led to an early surrender of Japanese imperial forces (one that many historians argue was inevitable without the bomb), but it destroyed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and led to the nuclear proliferation, which is a major planetary concern. The means transformed the world in this case into a more violent place where smaller wars in tandem with potential nuclear annihilation are not farfetched realities. To be ethical human beings we must think in holographic ways and see the means as part of any end. In other words, ends do not justify the means. We must commit to the morally correct philosophy of truth and nonviolence if we seek planetary peace.

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