Saturday, June 15, 2013

Contrasting Western and Indian ethics

My wife and I have enjoyed dipping into India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking by Anand Giridharadas.

The author grew up in the US with parents who were immigrants from India. He returned to India a decade ago to "re-invent" himself,  discover his roots, and chronicle the radical social transformation that India is undergoing due to economic reforms.

He contrasts the morality of East and West by asking readers to consider which of the following actions they consider wrong (page 112):

1. To cut ahead of someone in line when you're in a hurry.

2. To let you your parents spend their last years in a nursing home.

3. To use your influence to help your nephew get a job in your company.

4. To let relatives visit your home without serving them a meal.

What do you think?

The author claims most Westerner's [or Indians trained/indoctrinated by Western colonialists (Anglophiles)] would claim that 1. and 3. are morally wrong, but not 2. and 4. In contrast, Indian's [such as industrial magnate Mukesh Ambani] would claim that 2. and 4. are wrong, but 1. and 3. are not.

Western morality, rooted in Judeo-Christian thought, is "concerned with a universal fairness, no matter who the person, no matter what the context." An Indian perspective has an "emphasis on applying ... norms in a family situations more than in the public square; it is the ethics of dharma, duty, not of abstract rules."

The author says these contrasts are explored in an essay "Is there an Indian Way of Thinking?" by A.K. Ramanujan.

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