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Indian Theory of Materialism

GS Paper 4

 Syllabus: Ethical Philosophy

 Source: TH

 Context: The article explores Indian Materialism, highlighting its historical roots and key philosophical tenets.


What is Philosophy (‘Darshan’ in Sanskrit)?

Philosophy seeks to explain the universe and guide human actions with a comprehensive worldview


What is Materialism (Bhautikvad)?

Materialism is a philosophical concept asserting that the fundamental substance of reality is “matter.” It posits that everything that exists, including thoughts and consciousness, can be explained in terms of physical entities. In essence, it contends that the origin of all that exists is rooted in tangible, physical substances rather than abstract or spiritual elements.


Origin of Materialism?

  • In ancient India, the Lokāyata school, also known as Carvaka, was one of the earliest materialist traditions, asserting that reality is composed solely of physical elements and rejecting metaphysical or supernatural entities.
  • In ancient Greece, philosophers like Democritus and Epicurus embraced materialistic ideas, proposing that the basic constituents of the universe are material particles.


Various Schools of Indian Materialism:

Schools Key Tenets Figures
Lokāyata Rejects the existence of a soul or afterlife. – Emphasizes perception as the only valid source of knowledge. Advocates hedonism and the pursuit of pleasure. Brhaspati, Ajita Kesakambali, Jābāli
Charvaka Asserts that only the perceptible world is real. – Denies the validity of inference and metaphysical concepts. – Advocates a naturalistic and pleasure-oriented life philosophy. Brihaspati (attributed to the founder of Charvaka philosophy)
Bhautikavad Stresses the material nature of reality (Bhautika). Considers physical elements as the fundamental constituents of the world.
Jadavada Focuses on investigating the material or inert (jada) aspect of existence. Emphasizes understanding the root or origin of things.
Dehatmavada Identifies the self (atman) with the body (deha). Rejects the duality of self and body, considering them as one entity.


Various applications of Materialism:

Materialist Views Key Points
Perception as Knowledge Basis Materialists consider perception as the foundational source of knowledge. Direct sensory experiences form the basis for understanding the world.
Use of Inference Contrary to some misconceptions, materialists employed logical inference based on perceptual evidence.
Disregarding Divine Agency Materialists rejected the notion of divine providence and supernatural realms.
Emphasis on Pleasure The pursuit of happiness and pleasurable experiences is considered a valid and important aspect of human existence.
Living in the Present The principle “yāvat jīvēt sukham jīvēt” advocates for living a fulfilling present life. Materialists valued the importance of enjoying life in the here and now without being overly concerned about an afterlife.
Human-Created Values Materialists view values as human constructs, independent of divine morality. Ethics and values are seen as products of human experience and societal development, rather than imposed by a divine authority.
Action and Responsibility Materialists stress the impact of one’s actions on themselves and the world. Ethical conduct and responsibility for one’s actions are emphasized as essential aspects of a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Earthly Heaven and Hell Materialists redefined heaven and hell in earthly terms. Heaven is perceived as enjoying life’s luxuries, akin to the gods’ enjoyment in mythological heavens. Hell is seen as earthly suffering, such as diseases and hunger.

Critics of Materialist theory

It oversimplifies the complexity of human experience by reducing everything to material phenomena. They contend that it neglects the spiritual or transcendent aspects of life, undermines moral and ethical considerations, and may lead to a hedonistic worldview. Additionally, opponents argue that materialism struggles to account for consciousness, subjective experiences, and aspects of reality beyond the physical realm.


Despite criticism, Materialism is important in present times:

The materialist theory remains relevant in present times for its emphasis on empirical evidence, rationality, and a focus on improving the human condition without reliance on supernatural explanations. It provides a framework for understanding the world, promoting ethical conduct, and valuing the present life, aligning with modern principles of science, secularism, and humanism.


Insta Links:

Lokayata / Charvaka