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Ethics

Materialism

  • 25 Nov 2023
  • 4 min read

Source: TH

For Prelims: Materialism, Lokāyata, Chárváka, Bhautikvad, and Jadavāda, Material nature of existence, Atomism of Democritus and Epicurus

For Mains: Materialism, Contributions of Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India and World

Why in News?

Materialism, traced back to ancient origins, provides a coherent framework that centers on matter as the basis of existence.

What is Materialism?

  • About:
    • Materialism asserts that all existence originates from and is fundamentally composed of matter.
    • It refutes the existence of non-material entities, considering all other phenomena, even intelligence, as transformations or products of matter following inherent natural laws.
  • Historical Context:
    • Materialism has roots in ancient philosophies worldwide. In India, it found expression in Lokāyata, Chárváka, Bhautikvad, and Jadavāda, among other names.
      • Lokāyata, meaning the philosophy of the people, emphasizes worldliness and instinctive materialism. Lokāyata was pioneered by philosophers like Brhaspati, Ajita, and Jābāli.
      • Chárváka highlights hedonism, the belief that pleasure is the most important thing in life.
      • Bhautikvad focuses on the physical or material nature of existence.
      • Jadavāda reflects the materialists' inclination to seek the material roots of existence.
    • Early Greek philosophers also pursued materialistic explanations for the cosmos, notably through the atomism of Democritus and Epicurus.
    • Various names in different cultures signify materialist philosophies.
  • Evolution of Thought:
    • Ancient materialists pondered the four classical elements (Mahābhūtas) and explained reality's diversity through 'svabhāva' or self-becoming.
      • The four fundamental elements were considered to be agni (fire), apa (water), vāyu (wind) and prthvī (earth).
    • They rejected divine providence and denied the existence of any world beyond the singular, observable reality, meaning they didn't believe in a higher power guiding events or the universe's destiny.
    • They also denied the existence of any world beyond what could be directly observed or experienced, emphasizing the importance of empirical reality as the sole reality.
  • Ethics of Materialism:
    • The ethics of materialism did face criticism for allegedly promoting a hedonistic lifestyle, as reflected in the Sanskrit dictum “yāvat jīvēt sukham jīvēt,” which means “as long as you live, live happily”.
    • Materialism did not accept any moral or ethical principles that were derived from religious or metaphysical doctrines.
    • Materialism did not deny the existence of ethics, but rather argued that ethics should be based on human reason and experience, and that the goal of ethics should be the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain for oneself and others.

What is the Philosophical Significance of Materialism?

  • Materialism offers a comprehensive worldview that emphasizes empirical observation and natural laws governing existence.
  • It challenges religious dogma and encourages a critical examination of reality based on tangible, observable phenomena.
  • It advocated for freedom of thought, challenging societal norms and conventions.
  • Despite shifts in dominant philosophies over time, materialist ideas persist and continue to shape contemporary scientific inquiry, particularly in understanding the fundamental nature of reality.
  • Its influence spans cultures and epochs, encouraging a rational exploration of the universe and rejecting supernatural explanations in favor of empirical observation and understanding.
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