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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Virtue, Dharma and Moral Relativism

 I came across several items under the term Virtue in Western philosophy. In the Classical teachings, there are seven cardinal virtues. Four of them are general and include Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. Three are theological: Faith, Hope and Charity and I have read somewhere that Charity is the only essential virtue in this category. In Christian theological literature, charity stands for Divine mercy or grace.

Modern-day psychologists have a modified version of virtue (s), which they say is practical. That list includes Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Transcendence and Humanity.

It is too bad that Western philosophy has become too academic and not grounded adequately on living this life in this complex world. In addition, in this era of scientific approach to problem-solving, the emphasis is on how to modify these qualities into measurable items, as if they become scientific and acceptable once a number is given. Look at the multitudes of scale to measure psychological traits just as empathy and compassion.

In addition, western ideas suffer also with the need for “yes” or “no” answers. Shades and nuances make people uncomfortable.

Why not the western world incorporate the Indian idea of Dharma in its vocabulary with a full understanding of what that word means? It has already accepted words such as karma, avatar and guru! Thinking about the word Dharma, it is clear that in the English language there is no one all-encompassing word to capture all the components of that concept as expressed in that Sanskrit word. Some close approximation may be found in words such as virtue, meta-ethics, and moral relativism. 

Dharma allows for a range of options depending on the circumstances. It even says that when there are competing “good” answers, choose the one which will cause the least harm. That becomes moral relativism in the western school of philosophy and therefore suspect. Is it not possible to develop rules of conduct but with exceptions built in based on strict definitions arrived at by consensus and developed with input from the members of the society?

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