Dharma and other principles of life

Why doesn’t philosophy take into account non-western theories of justice?

There are two notions that are intimately involved and interconnected on this topic (justice) as seen from the Eastern perspective: 1) Dharma (Law), and 2) Ishvara or the creating and controlling aspect of God or the absolute reality. I will not cover here Confucianism or the far East – only India.

The notion of DHARMA is paramount in the Eastern philosophical-religious traditions alluded to above and is used in many combinations of words. The main meaning is ‘law’ or ‘order’ as it exists in the universe. Rather than man-made, it is a divine ordinance or, alternately, a cosmological law that maintains all things in equilibrium; as such, it cannot be far distant from the Western idea of justice (‘law and order’ and all its derivations and conditionings). It is a universal law from which nothing can deviate (literally, ‘what holds together’), whether it is in the social, the individual, or the moral realms. 

Four important divisions or goals of life in the Indian tradition are artha (re material possessions), kāma (pleasure and love), dharma (religious and moral duties), and mokṣa (spiritual release or delivery). Some of the Dharmaśāstra-s – Books on the Law – are attributed to mythological personages, such as Manu, ‘forefather of man’, and are filled with religious, social, and ritual prescriptions. An important treatise, encyclopedic in its coverage, is the ‘Kautiliya Arthaśāstra’, from the 4th Cent. BC.

As far as the individual is concerned, the particular application of the law (dharma) is called ‘sva-dharma’, for sh/e cannot escape it – in this or in another life (reincarnation). There are different ways to look at it: merits and demerits, intimately tied up with (the law of) karma; duties pertaining to one’s station in life: student, householder, retiree, and, finally, renunciant or liberated one (Mukti) – released from all duties and tasks and dedicated exclusively to the contemplation of the divine or ultímate reality (traditionally referred to as ‘forest-dweller).

The Indian tradition is prodigious in its elaboration and codification of all the branches of the sciences and the arts: music, dance, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, geography, rituals, types of meditation, moral laws, etc.