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Political philosophy, Indian

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F083-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

While Western political theory has been framed as the struggle between the state and the individual, Indian political philosophy has been more concerned with issues of self-liberation, morality and leadership. Until recently, with the advent of institutionalized or syndicated Hinduism, Indian society made a softer distinction between state and religion. Classical Indian political theory, as with Kauṭilya, centred on axioms on how to maintain and expand power. Kauṭilya argued that reason, the edicts of the king, and his own rules of governance, the Arthaśāstra, were as important for decision-making as the ancient religious treatises, which defined social structure and one’s duty to family, caste and God. With the exception of the Arthaśāstra, politics was expressed through the ability not so much to govern as to define social and moral responsibility, what one could or could not do and who could oversee these rules.

Like all civilizations, India had periods of rule by accumulators of capital and traders, warriors and kings, and Brahmans and monks; there were also revolts by peasants. Still, philosophy was in the hands of the Brahmans, the priestly class. This philosophy was primarily not about artha (economic gain) or kāma (pleasure), but about dharma (virtue) and mokṣa (liberation from the material world). The attainment of salvation, of release from the bonds of karma, was far more important than the relationship between the individual and the sovereign, as was the case in Western political philosophy.

Citing this article:
Inayatullah, Sohail. Political philosophy, Indian, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F083-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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