Montesano Mark
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50(2014)1 - Heidegger and the Ethics

Mark Montesano

Heidegger, Gandhi, and the paradoxical search for a metaphysics of nonviolence

  • Language: English


Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of nonviolence was undergirded by his own interpretation of Hinduism. As the interest in his work has moved to the West, certain questions have arisen about its applicability to Western culture and thought. Martin Luther King, Jr. used his version of Christianity, for instance, to import Gandhi into a powerful movement in mid-20th century America. American philosopher, Gene Sharp, has written about Gandhi’s influence in terms of methods that work, with or without a metaphysical or religious foundation. This paper contends that some sort of metaphysical foundation is necessary for nonviolent movements to be effective with large groups of people over time. In service of finding a Western metaphysics that would support nonviolence, the writings of Martin Heidegger are employed. First, Gandhi’s metaphysics is discussed. In light of this discussion, Heidegger’s insights into the relationship of beings to Being are compared to some of Gandhi’s interpretations of Hinduism, especially with regard to nonviolence (ahimsa), Sat (truth) and the active confrontation of violence (satyagraha). In the work of both these thinkers there lies an apparent paradox of boldly confronting the truth that violence and injustice exists while holding to a belief in the impossibility of possessing truth totally. At the heart of this paradox is the danger that a self-righteous “holding to truth” (satyagraha) itself may be a source of much violence, both physical and structural and therefore is the antithesis of nonviolence. It is precisely at this point of contradiction that Gandhi’s and Heidegger’s metaphysical insights converge and transcend this paradox and can be employed as a metaphysical foundation for nonviolence as an ongoing, active struggle with violence.