Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion

Volume 24, December 2019

Tommi Lehtonen
Pages 3-30

Niṣkāmakarma: A Philosophical Analysis in Light of the Prisoner's Dilemma and the Concept of Degrowth

The prisoner’s dilemma is a fictional story that shows why individuals who seek only their personal benefit meet worse outcomes than those possible by cooperating with others. The dilemma provides an effective, albeit often overlooked, method for studying the Hindu principle of “desireless action” (niṣkāmakarma). In the context of the prisoner’s dilemma, a prisoner who wants to uphold the principle of “desireless action” may choose one of two decision-making strategies: to be indifferent and leave the decision to chance or to either pursue the common good or the other person’s benefit instead of his or her own. Assuming that followers of niṣkāmakarma can be goal-oriented, the second strategy is more appropriate than the first, as long as one pursues unselfish goals and remains both indifferent and uncommitted to personal benefit. This interpretation is tested and further discussed in this article in light of the values of the modern environmental and anti-consumerist degrowth movement.