The idea of a univocal property of ‘goodness’ is not clearly found in classical Sanskrit sources; instead, a common ethical strategy was to clarify the ontological nature of the self or world in such a way that ethical implications naturally flow from the adjustment in our thinking. This article gives a synoptic reading of sources that treat features of ethics—dispositions, agents, causal systems of effect, and even values
themselves—as emergent phenomena grounded in complex, shifting, porous configurations. One conclusion of this was that what ‘goodness’ entails varies according to the scope and context of our concern. Firstly, we examine how the Bhagavad Gītā
fashions a utilitarianism that assumes no universal intrinsically valuable goal or Good, but aims only to sustain the world as a prerequisite for choice. Recognising that this pushes problems of identifying the Good onto the individual; secondly, we look at accounts of malleable personhood in the Caraka Saṃhitā
and Book 12 of the Mahābhārata.
Finally, the aesthetic theory of the Nāṭya Śāstra
hints at a context-constituted conception of value itself, reminding us that evaluative emotions are themselves complex, curate-able, and can expand beyond egoism to encompass interpersonal concerns. Together these sources show aspects of an ethical worldview for which each case is a nexus in a larger ethical fabric. Each tries to pry us away from our most personal concerns, so we can reach beyond the ego to do what is of value for a wider province of which we are a part.