Mahatma Gandhi’s Philosophy of Nonviolence and Truth

The Acorn 19 (1):5-18 (2019)
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Abstract

In commemoration of the 150th birthday of M. K. ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, Douglas Allen, author of Gandhi After 9/11, presents an overview of Gandhi’s philosophy focused on two key values or concepts: Truth and Nonviolence. The presentation is offered as an alternative to non-Gandhians, anti-Gandhians, or reactionary Gandhians who often over-idealized the man and his philosophy. With respect to Ahimsa or Nonviolence, it may be easy to see how the value works against overt, physical violence. However, for Gandhi such examples are only a small part of violence overall. For Gandhi, violence and nonviolence are multidimensional, encompassing our personal ego-driven desires and our widespread economic exploitations. Each dimension of violence or nonviolence is both causal and conditioning, beginning with the experiences of children. Ahimsa should therefore be approached as relational and interconnected. Gandhi approaches the structural violence of the status quo by insisting upon transformative structural nonviolence. Gandhi’s approach to Truth or Satya requires a distinction between Absolute Truth and relative truth. Although Gandhi works with an experiential knowledge of Absolute Truth, he was not an absolutist. Gandhi’s primary focus was upon relative truth, which yields temporary and imperfect ‘glimpses’ of the absolute. In relations with others, we seek kinship with bearers of relative truth. This is the significance of Gandhi’s claim that means and ends are intertwined. With others we seek mutual discovery of relative truths generating greater relative truth. Gandhi’s well known Absolute Nonviolence may prevent us from apprehending its relationship to relative transformations in contextual situations.

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