A Chariot Between Two Armies: A Perfectionist Reading of the Bhagavadgītā

Philosophy East and West 71 (4):851-871 (2021)
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Interpretations of the ethical significance of the Bhagavadgītā typically understand the debate between Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa in terms of a struggle between consequentialist and deontological doctrines. In this paper, I provide instead a reading of the Gītā which draws on a conception of moral thinking that can be understood to cut across those positions – that developed by Stanley Cavell, which he calls ‘Emersonian Moral Perfectionism’. In so doing, I emphasise how Kṛṣṇa’s consolation of Arjuna can centrally and fruitfully be viewed as concerned with resuscitating the latter’s individuality, thereby allowing Arjuna to overcome an unthinking conformity to the current degenerate state of his society. This leads me to explore the relation between this perfectionist understanding of spiritual reorientation and the Gītā’s religious account of human redemption; and to conclude by suggesting how the text of the Gītā itself might have similar therapeutic designs upon its readers.

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Paul Deb
New College, Oxford

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References found in this work

After virtue: a study in moral theory.Alasdair C. MacIntyre - 1984 - Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
The idea of justice.Amartya Sen - 2009 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Cities of words: pedagogical letters on a register of the moral life.Stanley Cavell - 2004 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life.Stanley Cavell - 2005 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (2):202-203.

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