“Violence” and “nonviolence” are, increasingly, misleading translations for the Sanskrit words hiṃsā and ahiṃsā—used by Gandhi as the basis for his philosophy of satyāgraha. I argue for rereading hiṃsā as “maleficence” and ahiṃsā as “beneficence.” These two more mind-referring English words capture the primacy of intention implied by Gandhi’s core principles. Reflecting a political turn in moral accountability detectable through linguistic data, both the scope and the usage of the word “violence” have expanded dramatically, making it harder to convincingly characterize people and actions as “nonviolent.” New terminology could clarify the distinction between hiṃsā and ahiṃsā, and, thereby, prevent misunderstandings of Gandhi. Training in beneficence would reflect Gandhi’s psychological path to reducing avoidable harm: ego-detachment, universal love, and seeking truth by experiment.
NOTE: An extended, unpublished version, with additional arguments and evidence, is also available on PhilPapers as "The Primacy of Intention and the Duty to Truth: A Gandhi-Inspired Argument for Retranslating Hiṃsā and Ahiṃsā, with Connections to History, Ethics, and Civil Resistance".