Individual In Modern Indian Thought (A quest for integrated and authentic individual)

Individual In Modern Indian Thought (A quest for integrated and authentic individual)

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Item Code: IDH401
Author: Dr. Kanak Dwivedi
Publisher: Annapurna Bhawan
Language: English
Edition: 1985
Pages: 182
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9" X 5.5
Weight 400 gm


The fortunes of the individual have varied in different societies, ages and cultures depending on several factors: type of state and religious authority, metaphysical world-views, economic arrangements, etc. with which he happens to be associated as a member f society. Thus, while republican and democratic forms of Government have, in general, been Favourable to the growth of individualism and individualistic thought as in ancient Greece and modern Western Europe, monarchic and absolutistic regimes have tended to suppress individual liberty and to encourage collectivistic approach to the individual's relation to society. A similar approach to the individual's relation to society. A similar approach is countenanced by religions claiming to have infalliable revealed scriptures. Thus Christianity, particularly in its Catholic form, put obnoxious curbs on the individual's freedom to thought and speech and hampered the progress of scientific investigations. On the other hand Protestant Christianity came to attach greater importance to the individual and his conscience. In ancient India while social relations were largely controlled by the ruling princes who enforced the codes of conduct laid down by the Dharmasastras, metaphysicians and thinker propounding philosophies of liberation felt free to propogate even materialistic and atheistic worldviews. The growth of individualism in modern thought was directly correlated with the rise of science and industrialism on the one hand and democratic institutions and laissez-faire economy on the other. These developments had far-reaching repercussions on Indian socio-political thinkers and religious teachers and reformers. In modern shable until the advent of independence. The founding fathers of the Indian Republic nevertheless succeeded in giving to the country a most modern and progressive secular-to all citizens.

However, while our constitution derives largely from British and American models of Government, our leaders have also been responsive to Socialist-Marxist ideologies stressing the need of economic justice for the poorer sections of society. This ideal of a Welfare State has led to widespread planning in different spheres of the people's life, which amounts in practice to putting restraints on the individual's propensity to self-aggran disement.

As a first venture in authorship the present work has some obvious limitations. But it is rich in content and will be found useful by students and by researchers in the field of modern thought both religion-philosophic and socio-political. The work also offers a comparative review of modern European and Indian developments in the philosophy of the individual. In this connection the reader may ponder over the dilemma of all welfare states posed by the more or less irreconcilable claims of the democratic ideal of liberty of the one side and the socialistic ideal of equality on the other side. The two ideals have been declared to be antithetical by such important writers as lord Action and Will Durant.


This brief work intends to study the concept of human individual as formulated by the Indian thinkers during modern times. To understand the individual is to get an insight into these thinker's metaphysical convictions, and moral commitments, as well as their fundamental socio- political beliefs and economic programmes. The individual as the subject matter of this work reflects aspirations, ideals. and goals as operating in the lives of the Indian people. But such an understanding also unveils the intellectual dilemmas and emotional crises caused by the high-tide of transition in the modern era. The over-arching significance of the human individual in the midst of ever-abounding challenges, both as a thinking subject and as an active agent, suggests the need of sharpening of our view of him at the conceptual level. It is with this intent that the present study seeks to put forward the ideational format within which the Indian concept of the individual has grown during the last two centuries.

Another reason, why getting acquainted with the modern Indian view of the individual seems to be more than a mere intellectual querry has to be sought in man's moral nature. He is essentially a value-seeking creature. But the pres en t state of anomie and valuelessness that pervades the social scene ill India appears to contravene this innate urge in him. The growing conflicts of ideas and theories and the deepening of cleavages between the ideals preached and the actual practi- ces has bred either obfuscation or indifference towards popu- larly prescribed sets of morals and norms during the present times. But co-existing with this attitude of indifference or escape is also the hightened desire for self-searching among morally conscious and sensitive people. A clearer notion of the individual, who bears the responsibility of realizing or not-realizing the chosen sets of values and convictions, enables us, therefore, to get an insight into the nature of crisis that the modern societies are facing.

A scanning of the modern Indian view of the individual against the background of the Western Liberal individualistic ethical and socio-political attiudes demarcates the direction that it has taken at the attitudinal level. The main drift of the Indian thinking ever-since yore has been towards the search of an integrated, harmonious and authentic existence of the individual both in his personal as well as social life. This preoccupation has lasted to this date. The Indian thin- kers-ancient and modern alike-have sought to evolve man's personal rights and liberties and his ethico-social obligations not from any extraneous raison-ditat but from his spiritual nature that has universality and infinity innate in it. These two innate principles of spiritual nature of man find -expre- ssion in his social existence as well as his personal achievements and accomplishments. Man's initial freedom on the one hand and his interpersonal relations and obligations on the other, present no paradox for the Indian thinkers. To these .thinkers an expansion of the spiritual content or its universalization in the world outside composes the basis of social and collective realities. Similarly a turning within or assertion of the infinite aspect of the spiritual nature of man in the subjective experiences opens up new horizons of freedom and perfection in him. Rights and liberties, therefore, entailed from spiritual freedom and dignity have not been viewed by the modern thinkers as standing in opposition to social obligations and personal commitment. On the contrary a clearer reflection of the spiritual content requires a deep moral and creative involvement with certain values and ideals that are implicit in human nature itself. Such an involvement or commitment culminates into man's experience of beauty, joy and harmony within a social or interpersonal framework.

An accent on certain universal and pan-humanistic moral laws and obligations, consequently for the Indian thinkers in the modern times, do not delimit the area of individual's existence his freedom and dignity. A voluntary dedication and commitment to some ideals, mostly trans- ethenic and trans-personal in nature has been rather an asser- tion of their native yearning for freedom and perfection. An expression of the spiritual dimension in man's life, therefore, promises an opening or an expansion of the individuality beyond the narrow limits of immediecy. It may, therefore, be submitted that in the modern Indian thinking a conscious endeavour has been made to save the individual from isolation. abstraction and narrowness that at times overshadows him in the Western Liberal tradition when viewed only as an empi- Tical subject or agent of materialist ends and objects.

While undertaking a study of this complex subject the author was acutely aware of the problem of the vastness of the canvass. But the Ph.D. dissertation of the author, which forms the basis of the present work, was somewhat ambitious attempt to include all the major thinkers of different times with a view to formulating a theory of the Indian concept of the human individual.

The author owes much gratitude to Prof. N.K. Devaraja for his supervision and guidance of the Ph. D. dissertation and for writing a foreword to this book. The author also thanks Prof. N.S.S. Raman & Prof. R.N. Mukherjee for their advice and suggestions. Towards the end author wishes to express a deep sense of gratitude to all those who have been helpful in the publication of this work.


In an era of self-consciousness, as is being witne- ssed during the present times in India, a study of nature and role of the individual becomes a reflective understanding of 'ends' and 'morals' operating in a civil and political organization. Although the concept of individual may be approached either from the stand point of political science or from the angle of sociolo- gical analysis, yet we have chosen to understand the individual as the bearer of all those values and norms that a society or culture stands for. He is the agent who is always consciously or unconsciously engaged in making those values actual. Individual thus viewed unambigously falls within the category of normative concepts. In this sense any attempt to understand the individual in a given society, becomes an evaluative and reflective activity and thereby forms a part of the conceptual generalization or philosophization.

But, it has become a common practice among the contemporary philosophers to restrict philosophy to the analysis of concepts alone. While analyzing they have avoided making value judgments and thereby retaining a value free and non-commital attitude. But, despite this trend, there had been theorists and ideo- logists who have derived their theories of society and state, the place of individual in them, from general sets of principles. They have also developed practical philosophies, i.e. a "coherent system of principles" aptly put by John Plamenatz, "to establish what needs to be done to enable men to live in conformity with them. They have not only carried out successfully their intellectual activity but have also persuaded many to believe in their theories with some con- viction.

The rapidly changing and extremely fluid socio- political living conditions such as ours makes it incum- bent upon us to understand and evaluate and either to accept or reject these sets of principles and values that may be at work in our lives, aspirations and ideals. The conscious engagement in such intellectual activity entails possibility and acceptance of practical philoso- phy that includes man's life in its entirety.


The modern concept of individual with its various corollaries symbolizes an aggregate or sum total of cer- tain beliefs, norms and values which modern liberal- democratic societies have inherited. To undertake a study with a view to evaluating the extent and limits to which the modern theory of human individual's free- dom and dignity have shaped and inspired the present day thought and life in India is therefore, more than a mere conceptual analysis or historical account of the growth of a certain idea.

The themes regarding human dignity and freedom his rights to equal opportunity and treatment, his primacy over society and state are no longer certain theories developed in a given time and place for any particular group of people. These theories with their various corollaries in the realm of socio-political and economical practices have come to signify certain values and norms of man's life that guide him in his intellectual as well as practical activities. It could quite justifiably be affirmed that philosophic individualism has come to underlie the mental attitudes and appro- ach of people towards their surroundings in the liberal democratic world. Broadly speaking, these at titudes may be summed up as a faith in man's rationality, desire for self-sufficiency, a lack of respect for coercive agencies like government etc. and finally a deep rooted faith in the moral goodness of man. During the mod- ern age a commitment to these ideas has served as a yardstic to measure a person's or group's acceptance of liberal and democratic outlook. In the longer run the individualist values and norms have come to serve as some kind of 'cultural universals's to use a phrase of Yogendra Singh, for various societies. The accepta- nce of these values as cultural universals, forms a com- mon universe of discourse that makes differences, particularities and peculiarities of various cultures intelligible.


Enough attention has, although, been devoted to the problems of the individuals relation to the socio- political authority in the West and the problem has been studied elaborately, there had been, however, a conspicuous lack of evaluative study of this problem in the Indian context. Despite the fact that European individualistic concepts played a constructive role in the Indian Renaissance, not many efforts have been made to examine this problem in a philosophical and comparative manner. A possibility of viewing Indian philosophy from this unnoticed angle, therefore, represents a stimulating area of conceptualization in the realms of norms and values.

With this objective in mind, the fundamental pos- tulates of the individualist theory of the Western origin and of those ideals and values that dominated the tra- ditional Indian thought have been outlined in this work. We have tried to understand individualism as a cultural universal of the Western liberal democratic societies. We have also tried to concentrate only on those aspects of traditional Indian thought which may be said to be the 'cultural constants' as Louis Dumont! would put it. These cultural constants form a part of the 'great traditions' that helps conceptualization in this kind of normative analysis.

  Foreword V-VI
  Preface VII-IX
  Contents XI-XII
  Introduction 1-6
  Chapter One-The Conceptual Prelude 7-27
1 Understanding the Individual  
2 The Individualistic Attitudes  
3 Philosophical Foundations  
4 Epistemological Implications  
5 Enlightened Self-interest  
6 Utilitarian Ethical approach  
7 Individual Freedom and dignity as Key-concepts of Socio-political Organisation  
8 Laissez-faire: The Economic Individualism  
  Chapter Two-The Indian Scene
The Traditional Setting
1 A Life of Commitment  
2 Liberation from the limited and ephemeral  
3 The Regeneration of the Human Individual:  
  (a) Sadharana dharmas (b) Varnasramadharma  
4 A Shift in the Emphasis : religious theism  
  Chapter Three-The Interactions 45-72
1 The Dawn of Modern Consciousness  
2 Raja Ram Mohan Roy: The morning star of the Renaissance  
3 Swami Dayananda: the apostle of Revivalism  
4 Swami Vivekananda : The New Vedantic Gospel of Freedom and Dignity  
5 Tilak: Freedom through Detached Karma  
  Chapter Four: The Social Individual 73-116
  Section-A 78-100
  Tagore : The Aesthetic Integration of Man  
  Iqbal : The Romantic Cult of Ego  
  Gandhi : Human Individual As a Free Moral Agent  
  Section-B: Secularization of the  
  Social Individual 100-116
1 M. N. Roy  
2 J. L. Nehru  
3 Vinoba Bhave  
  The Summing Up 117-160
1 Recapitulations  
2 The Search for the Authentic Individual  
  I. Sri Aurobindo  
  II. S. Radhakrishnan  
  III. J. Krishnamurty  
3 Observations  
  References 161-176
  Bibliography 177-182
  Name Index 183
  Errata 184

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