Table of Contents
Chapter in a Nutshell
In this chapter, M.K. Gandhi tells us what moral action is, and also shows us what kind of men live up to morality. He gives us a series of examples of both common people and great figures to explain his views on morality.
Moral Action comes from Free Will
Gandhi asks when it can be said that a particular action is moral. He does not wish to contrast moral and immoral actions, but to explain that most of our everyday actions are a result of societal conventions, and thus, non-moral.
A moral act must come from our own will. There is a difference between acting mechanically and intentionally. A king pardoning a culprit is moral, but the messenger carrying the king’s order is only acting mechanically. Mechanical action is only moral when we think it proper ourselves.
A man who lets himself be swept up by convention cannot understand morality. The great hero Wendell Phillips once said that unless people learnt to form their own opinions and express them, he did not care about what they thought of him. We become moral when we only care about what our conscience says. To reach this stage, we must believe that God is witness to everything we do.
Intentions Define Actions
It is not enough for an act to just be good- it must have been done with good intentions. The morality of an act depends on the intention of the doer. For example, it is moral if a man feeds the poor out of pity, but it is non-moral if he does so to win prestige. We must remember the difference between non-moral and immoral.
Good results do not always come from moral acts done with good intention. We are not in control of the results of our actions, God alone is. Historians call Emperor Alexander “great” because he took Greek culture and language wherever we went and thus we enjoy the benefits of Greek civilization even today. But his actual intentions were conquest and renown, so we cannot call his actions moral.
Morality does not come from Fear, Compulsion or Self-Interest
Moral acts should also be done without compulsion. They cannot arise from fear or necessity. If an employer increases the salaries of his workers because he is afraid that they will leave him, it is selfish, not moral. For the action to be moral, he must do it out of kindness at the realization that he owes his own success to them.
When peasants revolted against Richard II of England demanding their rights, the king granted rights to them out of fear and then forcibly took them away when the danger was over. His second act was clearly immoral, and the first one, done out of fear, was not moral either.
Moral action must also be free from self-interest. Actions coming from self-interest are not always worthless but they are not moral either. Honestly practiced with the belief that it is the best quality cannot last long. Shakespeare has said that love born from the expectation of profit is not love.
Action done only for the sake of doing good is moral. St. Francis Xavier, a great Christian, prayed not for a happy afterlife, but because he believed it was his duty to pray. The great Saint Theresa wanted to erase the glories of heaven and put an end to the fires of hell. She wanted to do this so that men might learn to serve God only from love and without any fear of hell or temptation of heavenly bliss.
Those who do good out of fear have no moral virtue. Henry Clay, known for his kindness, gave up his convictions for ambition. Daniel Webster, a great intellect, sold his intellectual integrity for money, wiping out all his good deeds. It is difficult to judge the morality of a man because we cannot read his mind.
Moral action must come from our own will with good intentions behind it. It must also be free from fear, compulsion and self-interest.