shabda (was Re: [Advaita-l] 'End' not 'Means')

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at
Tue May 2 13:02:48 CDT 2006


I read with great interest the discussion between Aditya and Kartik on
the issue of ethics.

On 28/04/06, Aditya Varun Chadha <adichad at> wrote:

> Do a thought experiment. You reward the murderer with money. Put
> yourself in the murderer's situation. A large sum of money would do
> you good. so you extrapolate that the large sum of money would do the
> murderer good, and so the murderer would be motivated to commit the
> crime again. But letting and encouraging a murderer to commit murder
> isn't really good because he could in principle some day kill you. so
> you decide on option B instead, which through a similar thought
> experiment is shown to discourages the crime. So through thought
> experiment you have reduced the problem of what should be done in the
> above case to what should be done to ensure basic self-preservation
> for yourself and others. Self preservation is something ingrained
> through evolution, not through scriptures alone (although they do
> encode this pratyakSa knowledge).

The thought experiment works very easily in the above case because the
interests of all individuals (except the murderer) as well as the
community coincide. However, IMO, the real problems of ethics occur
when the interests of the individual in isolation are different from
those of the collective.

A classic example is taxation. No individual would want to pay tax on
his own. But for the community it is essential. Even so there are
debates about what should the rate be, how to balance the interests of
various segments of society and so forth. But ultimately, there has to
be an externally imposed rule to make people pay up.

There is this story (possibly Puranic) that I heard during my
childhood, which goes something like this - there was a kingdom that
was plagued by some disease. The king sees a dream in which he is told
that the problem would be solved if every household in the kingdom
contributes a bowl of milk for abhisheka in the temple. However, the
king is told that he can only request his people to this effect. He
may not punish any disobedience. So he makes a request.  However, some
families think - "everyone else is bringing milk. One bowl less will
make no difference. So let us not bother". In the end, very few
families turn up. And soon the disease wipes out the kingdom.

There are other areas where similar tradeoffs may be needed. One area
that is the concern of all societies is the family. The institution of
the family demands substantial sacrifice from the individual, with the
promise that it will benefit everyone in the long run.

In these cases, plain pratyakSa-anumAna will give conflicting signals
depending on the perspective of the perceiver, i.e. whether the
perspective is that of the individual in isolation or that of the
community as a whole. Even when the individual understands the
interest of the community and his own interest therein, there might
remain substantial incentive to go against the community's interests.

Therefore, some other "means of knowledge" is probably essential to
override the conflicting signals inherent in pratyakSa-anumAna. This
is where something like Sabda pramAna may be useful. In other words,
pratyakSa-anumAna tells us that something apart from it is needed!

Kartik, kindly clarify whether my thought process is headed in the
right direction.


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