Accepted paper:

Ethical debate in development discourse in guidelines India: the impossibilities and possibilities of universal ethics


Soumendra Patnaik (University of Delhi)

Paper short abstract:

The paper seeks to explore the contradictory tensions emerging out of the search for universal ethics by development practitioners and the denial of it by academic professionals.

Paper long abstract:

Although in the formative years of anthropology, some practitioners had envisioned its goal as the discovery of universal principles that could explain human behaviour through comparisons across the globe, such exercises were rarely undertaken after 1950s. With the rise of post-modernism and cultural deconstructionism, the search for 'general' or 'universal' has become a difficult proposition. Immanuel Kant's idea of an interiorised universal altruistic ethic (1964; originally 1785) highlights the moral imperative of freely choosing what is right solely because it is right. The act would not remain truly moral if it is extrinsically motivated and not intrinsically free. This remains a formalistic ethic and for many anthropologists and social scientists its content remains problematic in the absence of a specific cultural context in which human interaction takes place. In this paper, I propose to deal with this issue in three sections. Firstly, I situate ethical discourses within the discipline of anthropology in general before moving to examine central issues of the ethical debate in India. Secondly, I examine the nature of development discourse in India as reflected in its constitutional provisions, legislative measures and civil society voices to make ethical concerns in India more meaningful. Finally, I attempt to elucidate what insight the Indian subcontinent has to offer in developing a universal ethical guideline(or denying it) for the stakeholders in the field of development cooperation.The paper seeks to examine the dialectics of values between local and universal which articulate with development concerns that are truly humanistic.

panel P75
Postcolonial perspectives on the Enlightenment and ethics (World Council of Anthropological Associations Ethics Taskforce)