Shyam Ranganathan
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The moral semantics I defend in my dissertation has its roots in an account I provide in this book (2007),  in response to perplexities Indologists have had in studying moral thought from ancient Sanskrit texts. This was originally my MA Thesis in South Asian Studies (2002). The second edition, (2017), contains additional analysis about theoretical and methodological biases in the Study of Indian Ethics. MLBD is the leading Indology publisher.

One aspect of this book that is right, I think, is my contention that moral concepts have to be understood in terms of their philosophical function. Moreover, I argue that “dharma” and “ethics” serve the same philosophical function in their respective traditions, and that Indian philosophy is saturated with ethics.  

But much of this was written before I did any serious research into moral semantics and translation at the doctoral level.  The second edition contains a postscript that fills in some details of my newer thought on the matter. Specifically I bring attention to the obviously political dimensions of standard accounts of Indian thought.


In Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, I translate, comment on and introduce the Yoga Sūtra (circa 200 CE) by the theory of translation and moral semantics I defend in my dissertation. The Yoga Sūtra is thus shown to be a classic text of moral philosophy and moral psychology. It has formed the basis for my further research into the philosophy of propositions, and moral theory, and has served as a foundation for further research by other scholars (e.g. Puri, The Tagore-Gandhi Debate on Matters of Truth and Untruth, Springer 2014), and was the subject of one MA Thesis  (Taylor-Rugman, Dharmamegha Samadhi in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. MA Thesis, Religion. University of Wales Trinity Saint David).


While I had not worked out the details yet, looking back I see that my approach to this as to all moral texts was to explicate  as opposed to interpret. To explicate is to follow standard practice in philosophy where we read each perspective as entailing a theoretical explanation of its own controversial claims about a topic, such as “dharma” or “ethics,” and we further understand the concept of dharma or ethics in terms of what competing theories of dharma and ethics converge on while they disagree. It turns out that the concept behind both terms, explicated, is the Right or the Good. My account of the Yoga Sūtra follows an explication where the text is treated as entailing a theory that entails its own usage of moral terms such as “dharma.”  


At the time I translated the text, I thought of rendering the text in accordance with standard philosophical practices in reading texts, which assume explication.


I originally decided to translate this text because all the translations I could find were interpretations. An interpretation explains a text or perspective in terms of what the interpreter takes to be true, reasonable, or believable.  This, unlike explication, is subjective: the outcome of an interpretation depends entirely on the background beliefs of the interpreter.

The purpose of this edited volume is twofold.


First, it brings together articles by scholars working on specific sources of Indian ethics, and is arranged topically in three parts: ethical theory, applied ethics, and morality and politics. I am thrilled with the contributions, which show that Indian philosophy is drawn along moral theoretical lines: different darśanas (perspectives) are differing views on the foundational concept of ethics: the Right or the Good.  Findings presented here for the first time show that not only are the three common ethical theories of the Western tradition present as major options in the Indian tradition—Virtue Ethics (Jainism), Consequentialism (Buddhism, Nyāya), Deontology (Pūrva Mīmāsā, Vedānta, and the epics)— but Bhakti/Yoga (especially as we find in the Epics and in the Yoga Sūtra) constitutes a distinct ethical theory.  Surveying these moral theories constitutes the theoretical section. The section on Applied Ethics includes not only an excellent article on the Deontological Particularism of Mīmāsā, but also a wonderful article on Indian medical ethics. Finally, the section on politics and morality includes a broad survey of the topic from the Epics, to popular figures, such as Gandhi  and Vivekananda.


Second, it contains within it an extended introduction, where I explore the philosophical problems in studying Indian ethics. On first blush, these are a function of the widespread adaptation of interpretation instead of explication.  Explication is what philosophers employ in studying philosophy. Interpretation is what philosophers spend all of their time trying to discourage.

Interpretation seems appropriate in part because it is the theoretical answer to the challenge of understanding in the Western tradition, which in turn is based on a guiding idea of Western theory: thought is the meaning of what we say in our language. This account ignores the political history of language formation. I argue that this seemingly innocent thesis in the philosophy of thought is responsible not only for the West’s history of imperialism, but also the botched study of alien moral philosophy, which comes to the same thing. In both cases, the only way that aliens can be countenanced as having views on ethics is if they agree with the imperialist/interpreter.  I defend an alternative account of thought, that makes sense of our basic practice in philosophy: explication. Whereas interpretation treats truth as primary, explication treats objectivity (what we can converge on while we disagree) as primary. The section addresses a confluence of topics in metaethics, politics, the philosophy language, epistemology and metaphsyics, as they bear on questions of cross cultural scholarship.

The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Ethics

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra

Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy