The Virtue of Non-Violence: from Gautama to Gandhi

State University of New York Press
Series on Constructive Postmodern Thought, 2004

here for earlier
versions of chapters published elsewhere (with permission from the journal

Click here for
the paper "Was Gandhi a Tantric?"

Cover Art by Brij Kul Deepak (figure on far left is
Abduhl Ghaffar Khan, sometimes known as the "Frontier Gandhi")

Summary of Book

Since the publication of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After
, virtue ethics has become a major focus in contemporary moral
philosophy. This book is a study in comparative virtue ethics, following the
lead of Lee H. Yearly�s ground breaking Mencius and Aquinas: Theories
of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage
(SUNY, 1990). Gier argues that virtue
ethics is the best option for constructive postmodern philosophy and that
Gandhi�s own thought is best viewed in light of this tradition.

The book begins with an analysis of the concept of nonviolence
in India as it originated in Jainism, spread to Buddhism, and was gradually
taken up by Hinduism. Gandhi was the greatest 20th Century proponent
of this Indian tradition, and Gier�s principal thesis is that Gandhi shares a
contextual pragmatism with Buddhism, especially in its more socially engaged

Gandhi not only spoke of nonviolence as a virtue, but he also
wrote about the unity of goodness and beauty in persons of high moral character.
This is an inner moral beauty that comes from the courage of being true to one’s
self and being true to others. Evidence for an aesthetics of virtue is not
strong in the Buddhist texts, so Gier turns to Confucian philosophy to draw
comparative points with Gandhi. The book concludes with an assessment of the
saints of nonviolence�Buddha, Christ, King, and Gandhi�and offers a charismatic
theory of the nature of saints.

Pre-Publication Reviews:

"Professor Gier’s The Virtue of Nonviolence is a tour de
force of scholarship.  He develops his main themes through argumentation that
refers to the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, scholarly secondary sources on
Gandhi (e.g., Raghaven Iyer, Ronald Terchek, Bhikhu Parekh, Ramashray Roy),
Vedantic texts and secondary sources on these texts (e.g., Karl Potter),
Buddhist texts, secondary sources on Buddhism (e.g., David Kalupahana, Damien
Keown), the literature of post-modernism, contemporary ethical theory (e.g.,
Martha Nussbaum, Annette Baier, Susan Wolf, Robert Adams), and literary
commentators on Gandhi (e.g., George Orwell).   I do not know of another book
with this weave of scholarship and argumentation.  In addition, and what is
perhaps more amazing, Professor Gier has written a book that is both clear and
engaging."–Bart Gruzalski, author of On Gandhi and On the Buddha,
both published by Wadsworth Publishers.

"Gier advances
a strong case for a moral and political nonperfectionism by giving a close,
careful, and informed reading of Aristotle, Confucius, Buddha, and Gandhi. 
Stimulating and well-argued, this book offers convincing arguments that
stretch conventional ideas and labels."  Ronald J. Terchek, Gandhi:
Struggling for Autonomy
(Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).

"Gier’s contributions to the SUNY Series on Constructive
Postmodern Thought are significant for at least four reasons: (1) He offers a
perspective fully informed by the Asian tradition, which is an important
complement to the distinctively American focus of most process philosophy; (2)
he challenges other constructive postmodern ethicists to reassess virtue
theory as a worthy alternative to more standard approaches; (3) with his
insightful chapters on ethics and aesthetics in the Gandhi book, he brings out
some of the profound implications of Whitehead’s aesthetic cosmology; and (4)
he is able to explain [first chapter of the Gandhi book] the nuances of
premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism in ways that a wider audience can
understand."–David Ray Griffin, School of Theology at Claremont





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