Gandhi, Mahatma

Start Free Trial

What were Mohandas Gandhi's moral values?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One key element of Gandhi's moral philosophy had to do with political legitimacy. In fact, his notions of moral philosophy are intrinsically tied to his feelings about political philosophy—two fields that are often thought of as separate. Many moral philosophers see power as antithetical to altruism. To them, power feeds selfishness. Gandhi disagreed. He felt and advocated for political legitimacy based on popular will and self-determination.

To that end, according to Gandhi, political power can not be established through force. Even in the name of the popular will, violent means cannot be used to gain power. Rather, political legitimacy must be earned through trust, transparency, and the fulfillment of justice.

Much of Gandhi's moral values derived from the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain notion of ahimsa. In a religious context, this concept involves seeking truth in order to attain spiritual liberation. Gandhi preached ahimsa should also apply in a worldly context. By seeking truth in political, social, and economic matters, ahimsa will guide people to altruism, justice, and ultimately to legitimate forms of rule through non-violence.

Gandhi felt that this should be part of each and every aspect of a person's life; they should always seek truth at all times and live in a way that is in accordance with this notion. By doing so, not only will spiritual liberation be achieved, but so will goodness and justice on earth.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gandhi was a deeply moral person and it is difficult to separate his politics from his moral values. He helped popularize the notion of "be the change you want to see," which is another way of saying one should not be afraid to live from a moral center. Gandhi  did strongly believe, however, that moral formation needed to precede political action, and based his morals on three principles: the inherent dignity of all people regardless of caste, nonviolence, and speaking truth to power. The concept of Satyagraha or standing firmly in the truth encapsulates these ideas. Gandhi believed that Satyagraha was more powerful than any kind of violence, and he is most remembered for his utter rejection of violence, stating that an eye for an eye leaves both men blind.

Moral formation was so important to Gandhi's vision that when he embarked on his Salt march, an embodiment of his moral principles of standing firmly and nonviolently against injustice, in this case against a tax the British imposed on salt, he initially would only take with him people fully trained in Satyagraha. The black civil rights movement in this country was strongly influenced by Gandhi and its members also spent time in moral formation to overcome natural responses such as hitting back when you are struck. In a world saturated with violence and lies, Gandhi's morals based in nonviolence and truth continue to stand as a challenge to humanity to find its better self.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would argue that Gandhi had two major moral values.  First, he believed that all people should be equal to one another and should live together in peace.  Second, he believed that violence was not the correct way to bring about justice in the world.

Although these may not seem like moral values, I would argue that they are.  The idea of universal human "brotherhood" is certainly a moral value.  The way we treat other people is a major reflection of our morality.  For example, choosing to treat people of other races or religions as our inferiors is certainly something that shows that we are not really good people.

Gandhi built his life's work around these two moral values.  He felt that it was important to recognize the humanity of all people.  He felt that it was important to fight against injustice but to always do so in a way (non-violence) that protected everyone's human dignity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial