Saturday, March 24, 2012

Are some religious practices "immoral"?

Can a religious practice prescribing intercourse with one's closest relatives or slaughtering of lives be described as immoral? Which moral does it violate?

While discussing the validity of other religious systems, Jayanta proposes an interesting argument against the claim that forbidden (niṣiddha) practices are enough to condemn a religious system: One cannot claim that these practices are forbidden, he explains, because they are not condemned in the texts of their practitioners. Hence, the reader is lead to think, one can only judge the moral value of a practice through the value-system in which it has a role. This statement has two consequences, not explicit in Jayanta:

  1. 1. Morality can only be judged within a certain system, it has therefore no absolute value.
  2. 2. Morality is not based on sense-perception and the other instruments of knowledge which could lead to a system of values shared by all human beings. The source of moral injunctions can only be an authority.

For the problem of the validity of other religious systems, see this post. For disgust in regard to some religious practices, see this one. On the thesis that sense-perception cannot tell us anything about dharma, see this post, plus an interesting comment by Aśvamitra on this one.


Phillip said...

Sure wish you people would start discussing this. Very interesting issue.

elisa freschi said...

Why don't you start? What's your feeling about it?

Phillip said...

It sounds like Jayanta may be thinking of a world of closed religious systems that take no interest in one another. Evidently he does not consider the adherents of other religions to be damned, or even in error, since error can only be internal to a system. But what about a religion whose adherents hold that Jayanta and his co-religionists are in error, and are damned unless they are dissuaded from their error? Likewise, I wonder what he would think of positive feeling about an alien system, as oposed to disgust? Would he think it legitimate if a person is drawn towards another system, thinking it not disgusting, but beautiful? The question of truth seems not to enter. I wonder what the basis of the legitimacy of authority is, in his view? Must one accept as authoritative the traditional authirities of one's birth group?

elisa freschi said...

Jayanta surely presupposes a world where the Brahminical religion is the ruling one and can be tolerant towards the others. However, his attitude is much different in his Āgamaḍabara, where he faces the problem of religious pluralism from the point of view of its social impact (see this post:

As for the positive emotions, I think he would deal with them under the heading of the consensus of the best people, i.e., if a good person
has positive emotions towards X, this is an indirect evidence of X's validity. The emotions of śūdras, etc., are no evidence in any case (sorry!). As for the relativism you seem to foresee in your last lines, it is avoided due to the adherence to the Veda (I will post on it in the next days in order to answer more fully to this interesting imput).

Phillip said...

"The emotions of śūdras, etc., are no evidence in any case (sorry!)."

Hihi! Well, of course, my emotions matter even less than those of shudras (I'm etcetera all right, two steps down).

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