It is argued that the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle articulated their moral viewpoint within, and not outside, of Greece, where they lived right from their childhood. Yet, what is remarkable is their worldly intellectual perception. They sculpted a wide-ranging moral epitome, never before incarnate — in Greece, or elsewhere — notwithstanding certain limitations that they were subject to, especially of not knowing what-was-as-it-was in faraway lands. Agreed that they did not express the sublime doctrine of calling themselves “citizens of the world,” a modern concept in the borderless world that we live in today, although we are far too divided in terms of religion, politics, and so on. It is a paradox of sorts, yes, although the whole idea embraces all humanity — as Jawaharlal Nehru, the architect of modern India, who is as much despised, just as much as he was once admired, espoused.

This concept of one world is the extension of the best feeling and sentiment of our time. It is not merely the conception of some towering intellectual, or individual thinker, who arrived at the quintessence of its framework through reflection — one that also contextualised the essential nature of ethics, or morality. While philosopher Immanuel Kant took the idea to its crescendo and established its rational foundation on the moral fabric through his own environment, and not necessarily from a broader and magnanimous moral idyllic, there was more to its expanse than what met his own “mindful” compass, or radar.

The history of philosophy is replete with weighty sequences of contemplation, reflection, brainwave, and meditation, among others. The Stoics, or the likes of Epictetus, for one, prized a moral concept as being far superior to other Greek philosophers, although they were not as piercing thinkers. Also, when we distil the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza and Kant, with some of our great thinkers, philosophers, and sages, this side of the Suez, we would reach a heightened state of awareness, not just analyses — with or without any allusion to the latter’s moralistic beliefs.

To paraphrase Kant, our moral philosophy, any which way one may look at it, is a work that provides rational sustenance for our intuition — which isn’t, of course, the child of reason. What does this connote? That all of us, no matter our depth of intellect, or learning, endeavour to build upon a foundation above, and beneath, a certain image that is present, or apparent — even when such an appearance is moving nebulously through our minds. This brings us to a profound expression that there is really no all-encompassing, or superficial, ethical theory that does not lend credence to the idea of a good, happy life, irrespective of whether it is reasoned, rationalised, or simply accepted by a vast majority of people in any given society, or community. 

For philosophers, such as Socrates, happiness and ethics, or virtue, went hand-in-hand. He argued that we are happy when our souls are in the best state — which he believed as having the virtue of character, especially impartiality. When we want to be happy, as he observed, we will predictably do what is moral — if we know what it is. He concluded that happiness, in effect, is achieved by eradicating ignorance and immorality from our souls and replacing them with knowledge and uprightness. Plato, likewise, related each part of our soul with goals — the quest for knowledge, understanding, feeling and enthusiasm through emotional and physical fulfilment. He argued that our souls would be in a relatively exalted state when our lives are structured and our everyday activities are driven by goals associated with a purpose — not just emotion, or desire.

(The writer is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author)

Columnist: 
Rajgopal Nidamboor