chapter  2
17 Pages

In Search of Genuine Agency

A Review of Action, Freedom and Karma in the Mahābhārata
ByAmita Chatterjee

This chapter focusses onthe philosophical debate between determinism and freedom, or adŗṣta and puruṣakāra in connection with the concept of agency. Chatterjee, however, first introduces the work of Donald Davidson on the metaphysics of action – its criterion, identity conditions, and explanation – before moving on to questions of agency. Davidson’s influential view that reasons are also causes of action becomes the backdrop to reinforce how the Mahābhārata emphasizes accountability. Chatterjee does not read Yudhiṣţhira’s incontinence during the dice game as a consequence of him being blinded by passion. Rather, she deploys the Davidsonian apparatus to explain Yudhiṣţhira’s behaviour as an intentional (and hence culpable) action in which his ‘reasons’ not to play dice fail to resist an overpowering desire to do so. Chatterjee then re-instates free will (and hence accountability) within the causal framework of karma by deploying Davidsonian distinctions. Once reasons are seen to be causes, actions are both ‘free’ (because reasons are what the self intends) as well as ‘determined’ (because they are caused). This is compatibilism as self-determination, which Chatterjee finds echoed in the story of Gautamī (a lesser-known tale from the Anuśāsana Parva).