(Spoken on February 11th, 1973)
How do we know what action is justifiable and what is not? There are some people who have laid down a principle. If a particular character, attitude or conduct of ours can be imitated by everybody else in the world with impunity, well, we can regard it as a justifiable action. Suppose you tell a lie. Would you like everybody in the world to tell lies? If you yourself would not like it, then it is not justifiable.
Suppose everybody in the world is a thief, without exception. Would it be all right? We will naturally say it is not all right; therefore, theft is not justifiable. Incontinence universally practised is not justifiable. So anything that is universally applicable with impunity to everyone is often regarded as a test of dharma or justifiable action. The principle, however, ultimately is that it should be universally applicable and the law operating in the cosmos should determine action.
There is also a principle of dharma laid down by certain other moralists that things should be regarded as ends rather than as means because the universe does not contain only means. It contains ends. Every part of our body is an end in itself and not a means to some other; it has a justifiable existence of its own. Therefore, every individual in the universe should be regarded as justifiably existing on his own or her own status. Every person has a status of his own or her own. We do not exist because of somebody else.
Now, the attitude of connecting one person with another person is not samanya dharma, or an ultimately justifiable attitude. I am not an instrument of your pleasure in any manner whatsoever; therefore, you cannot regard yourself as a purpose, and myself as an instrument towards the fulfilment of that purpose.
So the moralist’s canon is that an attitude which can be regarded as justifiable, good and moral or ethical regards a thing as an end in itself, and not as a means to something else. It is true that we use things as a means, but towards a higher end. When you use a particular person or a thing as a means to a certain fulfilment, even that is towards the fulfilment of an end which is in view, and not merely for the fulfilment of the character of one’s being the means.
The third principle of morality is that the urge for doing good is a categorical imperative. A categorical imperative is a philosophical jargon which simply means a ‘must’ or an ‘ought’ that urges itself forward from within ourselves without anyone telling us. We need not be told what is good. Our conscience will tell us what is good. That inward urge towards the rectitude of a particular action, the pricking of the conscience, as they generally say, is a good test of morality and ethical conduct.
To be continued ..