Volume 19, Issue 2, Fall 2019
Gandhi 150, Part II
Simple Living and the Eradication of Poverty in Gandhi’s Philosophy of Nonviolence
Among those who have worked for uplifting the poor, Mahatma Gandhi occupies a unique place. Although his reform efforts received ample financial support from well-off benefactors, Gandhi’s personal life exemplified ideals of voluntary poverty and renouncement. On Martha Nussbaum’s account of stoicism, Gandhi’s voluntary renouncement may imply morally unacceptable reasoning regarding nonviolence and the plight of the poor. Nussbaum argues that the stoic disparagement of external things of fortune implies that they cannot coherently oppose external harms such as torture or rape as unjust. Furthermore, on Nussbaum’s account, stoic flexibility regarding the duty to render material aid provides insufficient ethical grounds for relieving the injustice of poverty. Applying Nussbaum’s critique of stoicism to Gandhi, I ask if Gandhi’s personal-life renouncement of external things exposes his philosophy to vulnerabilities that Nussbaum finds in the stoics. I then respond to the critique. With the stoics, Gandhi does deny that states of simple living are genuinely bad; therefore, pursuing ethical life means seeking some states of poverty. Nevertheless, based on Gandhian values of freedom, equality, sustainability, service, and character, there are coherent ethical grounds in Gandhian thought for pursuing nonviolence (with its proscription of external harms) while fighting global poverty (with attention to material needs). I explicate a Gandhian view of social uplift that vitally connects individual character to social well-being. I also illuminate a Gandhian model of poverty eradication that reveals deficiencies in a model of poverty eradication that depends solely on the value of external things of fortune.