Mahatma Gandhi

Recognising Gandhi the philosopher: KP Shankaran

(KP Shankaran taught philosophy at St Stephen’s College, Delhi University. This column first appeared in Indian Express on October 1, 2021.)

  • It is not often that Gandhi is portrayed as a philosopher. To me, Gandhi is as significant as the Buddha of the Nikayas and the Socrates of Plato’s early dialogues. These three men are unique because, like Confucius of China, they can be credited with inventing philosophical ways of life that were led by ethics as opposed to others led by metaphysics. The Buddha’s philosophical way of life, within a few centuries, got morphed into two different “religious” forms of life — Theravada and Mahayana. Socrates’ philosophy, however, did not suffer the same fate. Hellenistic philosophy, like Stoicism, is still capable of inspiring people the way Confucianism does in China. Unfortunately for Gandhi, the understanding that he was a philosopher is only slowly getting recognised. The credit for recognising Gandhi as a philosopher goes to two philosophers belonging to the Analytic tradition of philosophy — Akeel Bilgrami and Richard Sorabjee. The latter is a historian of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy.

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