Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Prof. Cromwell Crawford : A Gandhian Analysis Of Peace Through Ethical Dialogue

Published: 24.10.2007
Updated: 23.03.2017

JAINA Convention 2007
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

A Gandhian Analysis Of Peace Through Ethical Dialogue

Prof. Cromwell Crawford
Crmwllcrwf[at] Prof. Cromwell Crawford is a professor of Religion at the University of Hawaii at Manona. He specializes in Hindu Ethics. He serves on the Advisory Boards of Ahimsa Times and is the Director of International Summer School of Jain Studies in North America.

I propose to discuss our convention theme 'Peace through Dialogue' under two main headings:

  • first, responsibility and freedom of choice;
  • secondly, the agents to whom responsibility is due.



What is responsible dialogue, or more broadly, what is responsible action? Gandhi distinguishes between heteronomous and autonomous morality. The former type is dictated from outside the agent and is governed by a hedonistic ethic. It is made up of activities that follow from blind adherence to custom or convention, and are reinforced by the pleasure/pain principle.

Autonomous morality is made up of actions. The element that makes an action moral is its voluntaristic status. Only free action is responsible. No action that is not voluntary may be called moral, "even if an action is good in itself, and prompted by good motives, it cannot be called moral unless it is wholly voluntary" Responsible actions are virtuous because they are fearless in their formation and expression, and are in accord with dictates of conscience" The great heroes of the world have always been those who went against convention, or established precedent, for the sake of doing good to the world."

How does the idea of free will fit in with the notion that God governs our actions and that Providence rules humanity. Gandhi believed in the overarching will of God, and debated atheists who denied that the will of God precedes human will. At the same time, though the will of God precedes human will, it is not some external law arbitrarily imposed upon us, but it is the innermost law of our being. Therefore, submission to the divine command is an autonomous act. The command is intrinsic to our being, but since human nature is a split between essential being and empirical being, divided consciousness senses the command vis-a -vis ourselves. Besides, the moral constitution of humans, being an act of creation, has priority over the will, and to that extent, freedom is compliant with nature. Nature limits us to be what we potentially are, and that is all we really need.

Motives. Responsible action proceeds from free choice; it is also a matter of motive. Responsibility resides not in the act, but in the motive that prompts it. He says: Suppose two men are in the habit of feeding the poor, one moved by pity, the other with a view to earning a name for some selfish end. Though the action is the same in the two cases, it is moral in the one and clearly immoral in the other. Hence, no action can be called moral unless it is prompted by moral intention. The end cannot justify the means.

Means and motives were inextricably connected in Gandhi's ethics. The end was organically connected with the beginning. This does not imply that results are inconsequential. Results are important, and in every responsible act there is the guiding element of consequences. But often results of our action are unforeseen to us. In such circumstances, we simply have to assure ourselves that our motive is pure, that the action itself is good, and leave the rest to God.


Gandhiji believed in a three-fold order of responsibility: to ourselves, others, and to God.

Responsibility to Ourselves.

Our first responsibility is to establish dialogue with ourselves, for the creation of inner peace. This is an unconditional duty. It is dialogue of the self with the Self, for it is God who speaks to us through us. Thus there is a vital connection between religion and morality, because the inner dialogue is unconditional. If the basis of responsible decisionality is unconditional, it is a matter of some wonder whether this is defensible when the concrete decision proves morally incorrect. Can a decision be deemed responsible, and yet turn out to be unfair, unjust, and incorrect? Gandhi's answer is that responsibility first belongs to the form of the moral decision. We are obligated to make an honest response to the inner voice by which we are addressed in dialogue, but the validity of will depend on many conditions. Every responsible decision is therefore fraught with the risk that we could be acting incorrectly; but risk does not justify passivity. Action is its own teacher. We are always under the responsibility to act

Thus the primary responsibility we have in life is to achieve personhood - to become persons. This above all, to thine own self be true is the personal dimension of responsibility.

Responsibility to others.

In life personal and social dimensions are integrally connected. We become persons only through communitarian dialogue. Humans are social animals. Deprived of others we experience self-deprivation. Social integration calls for a dialogical ethic of ahimsa, that is: non-violence toward those of different gender, class and color, different economic and social status, different religion, culture and species.

Responsibility to God.

Who is God? Truth is God, nothing else, nothing less. The nearest Sanskrit word for Truth is Sat. Sat means 'being' God alone is Sat. He alone is. As the ground of all being, Truth is the summum bonum (highest good) of all ethics; it is the essence of dharma. I reside in each individual as divine potential; therefore it is man's foremost obligation to discover Truth in himself, and to begin dialogue with it. Gandhi states Devotion to Truth is the sole justification of our existence. Once Truth is internally naturalized, and becomes the breath of our life, moral conduct becomes spontaneous, instinctive, joyous, and effortless. But without Truth, it is impossible to observe any principles or rules in life

How do we attain Truth? As rational beings we must make full use of our minds, yet, reason cannot take us far. Reason is a poor thing in the midst of temptations and easily succumbs to passion and instinct, Reason must therefore be reinforced by faith. Faith takes us beyond, but it is not unreasonable. Faith only begins where reason stops. What then is faith? True faith is the appropriation of the reasoned experience of people whom we believe to have penance. The act of appropriation takes place through intuition. The insights of ancient rishis can be immediately apprehended because we share a common humanity that transcends place and time.

Intuitively understood, Truth is a discovery, but that discovery to be complete must be actualized in deeds. Truth is mystical and motor - the product of grace and works. Dialogue without deed is therefore meaningless.

Finally, a dialogue has nothing to do with patriotism. Gandhi agrees with the British literary critic Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." George Bernard Shaw concurs: "You'll never have a peaceful world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race." For Gandhi, "patriotism is the same as love of humanity."

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  1. Ahimsa
  2. Ahimsa Times
  3. Consciousness
  4. Cromwell Crawford
  5. Dharma
  6. Federation of Jain Associations in North America
  7. Gandhiji
  8. JAINA
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  10. JAINA Convention 2007
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  12. Non-violence
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