On the universality of ethics (Rahul Peter Das 2012 and Hindu bioethics)

In a previous post I had discussed the importance of making the discussions on global ethics more inclusive. Now, while reading Rahul Peter Das’ On “Hindu” Bioethics (in Saṁskṛta-sādhutā, the Festschrift for Ashok Aklujkar) I found however a possible objection to this claim. In fact, as Das, shows, not all cultures have elaborated a distinct system of, e.g., bioethics, so that what is presented as “Hindu” or “Buddhist bioethics” is often an arbitrary construction.

For instance, Swasti Bhattacharyya (2006), according to Das

attempts to formulate a “Hindu” bioethics of assisted reproductive technology mainly by exploring birth narratives in the Mahābhārata–taken to represent “Hindu” thought per se. (p. 121)

This brings one to the more general question of whether each culture of the world must have developed a distinct bioethics. Das quotes Iwersen 2008 on this topic:

From a philosophical point of view, the problem with this is not so much the impossibility of an ethics having appeared in some non-European people [with God’s help, Iwersen is willing to concede this, EF], but, rather, that what are being presented as non-European ethics are mostly more in the nature of compilations of that which is, in the opinion of each particular author, regarded as proper in the respective ethnic groups, regions, or, as in the case of African philosophy, even whole continents. However, in cases which concern the convictions of humans, we do not for no reason still speak of ethos. Ethics, on the other hand, always implies the setting up of certain criteria for judging the rightness of moral action. (p. 122, emphasis added)

One can easily claim that ethics does not need to be systematic, and that this element is only typical of the particular historical instantiation of ethics we are more familiar with —yet Das is most probably right in warning against too arbitrary summaries of “Hindu ethics” or the like, especially when they are uncritically recommended to, e.g., physicians in their daily practice.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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