Cardinal Human Principles

From P2P Foundation
Jump to: navigation, search


Concept proposed by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (Prout, i.e. the Progressive Utilization Theory), explained by Michael Towsey:

"Sarkar places much importance on a high standard of morality in individual and collective life. Cooperative businesses require not just honest directors and managers but also a state administration that is run by honest public servants and politicians.[xvi] In other words, morality is the sine qua non of a cooperative society. A commonly accepted set of moral principles is required but here we come up against an obstacle. Conservatives are inclined to seek moral guidance from religious scripture and, in the worst case, impose dogmas which repel the rational mind. Traditional socialists, not wishing to submit to religious dogma, tend to reject all moral principles as relative. So what kind of moral code is required to sustain a cooperative society and how can one promote it? Sarkar argues for the concept of cardinal human values, values that go beyond any one culture or religion.

It is interesting to note the emergence of various international courts of law, driven by a gradual recognition that cardinal human values must take priority over local culture and custom. True, only the worst violations, such as crimes against humanity, reach the international courts today and admittedly often for political reasons, but nevertheless the gradual emergence of an internationally accepted set of moral values is of tremendous importance. Acts of violence, deception and theft perpetrated on innocent people cannot be justified in the national interest. By logical extension to individuals, acts of violence, deception and theft for personal gain are also morally reprehensible. Most cultures around the world accept these as moral principles - indeed it is hard to imagine a sustainable society without them.

Sarkar promotes a set of ten principles that encapsulate cardinal human values.[xvii] The first three are concerned with the avoidance of violence, deceitfulness and theft as described above. To act according to cardinal principles of morality, says Sarkar, is virtue and to act against them is sin. The central idea in virtue is "to serve the collective interest, to accelerate the speed of the collective body..." To retard the speed of the collective body is sin.[xviii] Note that the ‘speed of the collective body' to which Sarkar refers is the collective movement from crude to subtle encapsulated in his definition of progress. Virtue and sin, good and bad, are therefore defined by reference to collective social progress and not in terms of prevailing religious ideas.

The cardinal human principles have five important characteristics: 1) they are a natural system of morality in the sense that, without them, the natural developmental sequence of expansion and subtlification of mind cannot occur; 2) they are not ends in themselves but the means to individual and collective progress; 3) in particular they provide the necessary foundation for spiritual development; 4) their practice builds trust and therefore the quality of cooperation in society; 5) they are egalitarian because they are of benefit to all - their practice, by definition, excludes group or class interest.

Of the ten principles, one is of particular importance because it encapsulates the others: non-objectification.[xix] Objectification is the use of people (or indeed anything animate and inanimate) as objects for one's own purposes without regard for their well-being. Exploitation is defined in a similar way.[xx] This principle appears in Neohumanism as the distinction between utility value and existential value. To recognize the existential value of a person is to recognize that their joys and sorrows are as important to them as my joys and sorrows are to me. We may therefore describe non-objectification as the empathic principle. It requires an ability to put oneself into the mind of another - to expand one's consciousness beyond its limited ego boundary.[xxi]

Environmentalism infused with the empathic principle becomes deep ecology,[xxii] whose significant feature is to acknowledge the existential value of the natural world in addition to its utility value for humans. Social capital is defined in terms of the trust and empathy inherent in social relationships. It is now clear that the building of social capital acquires a moral imperative.[xxiii]

The practical translation of ethical principles into good social outcomes is performed by a society's legal system.[xxiv] The law defines crime and the corresponding punishments. The larger the gap between crime and sin (the latter defined as that which impedes social progress), the more problems a society will face. Put another way, social progress depends on reducing the gap between morality and legality. Of course differences in climate and local circumstances will require minor differences in the application of the law from place to place, but the intention of the law should always be to give expression to cardinal human principles.

Contemporary capitalist society offers many examples of a gap between morality and legality. Consider CEO salaries, concerning which the word ‘obscene' appears time and again. It was used to describe the £10.9m payouts received by Scottish Power's former chief executive and colleagues just three months after they warned customers about inflation-busting bill hikes.[xxv] And in Scotland again, Sir Goodwin, former boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, had to have police protection after public anger over the announcement that he would receive a £650,000 annual pension entitlement on leaving the bank which collapsed under his stewardship. CEOs defend their astronomical incomes as not breaking any law and as justified by ‘market forces'.

There are at least two moral principles relevant to CEO salaries, contentment[xxvi] and non-acquisitiveness.[xxvii] To maintain contentment, one must struggle against greed. It requires, says Sarkar, "being contented with the earnings of normal labour". How might we give these two moral principles legal expression? Sarkar's proposal is to provide a guaranteed minimum income (GMI), sufficient to cover the basic requirements of life, and then to set the maximum remuneration as a fixed ratio to the GMI. This policy is already part of cooperative ethics and is practised by cooperative businesses around the world.

Another gap between morality and legality in contemporary capitalist society concerns the waste of material resources. The relevant cardinal principle is non-acquisitiveness or the avoidance of superfluous consumption. Material goods should be acquired only to the extent required for a fruitful life. Note that this definition implies a legitimacy to consume something beyond basic needs, in contrast to Marx's ‘needs slogan' that limits individual consumption to the basic requirements.

The justification for placing a moral constraint on material consumption is that material resources are finite. One person's inconsiderate use of finite resources disturbs the welfare of others and upsets environmental balance. From a social perspective, therefore, this principle offers the moral justification to pursue economic efficiency. As we have mentioned earlier, those who argue for productive efficiency do have a valid moral argument. But that same argument must also extend to efficiency of consumption, the issue which so worries environmentalists. Profligate consumption of fossil fuels (because capitalism considers Nature to be free for the taking) has brought planet earth to a dire situation. The green slogan, reduce, reuse and recycle has a moral imperative." (


[xvi] Sarkar, P.R. Human Society Part 2, Last chapter: Shúdra Revolution and Sadvipra Society, Op. Cit., 1st edition 1967.

[xvii] The ten principles are known as yama and niyama. The terminology is Sanskrit because they have their origins in the ancient practice of yoga. See Sarkar, P. R. (1957) A Guide to Human Conduct, Electronic Edition, v7. Sarkar appears to use the terms cardinal human values and cardinal human principles interchangeably.

[xviii] Sarkar, P. R. Talks on Prout: Section Pa'pa and Pun'ya [Sin and Virtue], in Prout in a Nutshell, v15. It should be noted that the English word ‘sin' is a translation of the Sanskrit ‘papa'. It does not have a religious connotation.

[xix] In the original Sanskrit, this principle is known as brahmacarya.

[xx] See the Wikipedia entry on exploitation,

[xxi] A moral person refrains from hurting another, not for fear of punishment but because he/she experiences disquiet about the pain inflicted on the victim. Empathy stops what anger, greed or passion might like to pursue. In other words empathy, not punishment, guides the moral person in good conduct.

[xxii] Deep ecology was developed by Aerne Naess and shows the influence of Mahatma Ghandi's brand of Hindu philosophy.

[xxiii] The role of empathy in traditional socialist philosophy is filled by solidarity, but only appears to manifest when one follows the correct political line.

[xxiv] Fitzgerald, Jennifer. Rekindling the Wisdom Tradition, in Transcending Boundaries, Gurukula Press, Australia, 1999.

[xxv] The word obscene was used by Scottish National Party energy spokesman Richard Lochhead.

[xxvi] In the original Sanskrit, this principle is known as santosa. Human desires know no limit and if some effort is not made to control them, much social harm results. Sarkar would consider the excessive salaries pursued by CEOs in contemporary times to be a moral malady. "Millionaires want to become multimillionaires, because they are not satisfied with their million. Ask the millionaires if they are happy with their money. They will say, ‘Where is the money? I am somehow pulling on.' This answer indicates their ignorance of aparigraha [non-acquisitiveness]. But such feelings have another adverse effect on body and mind. Out of excessive fondness for physical or mental pleasures people become mad to earn money and amass wealth. As money becomes the be-all and end-all of life, the mind gets crudified." To maintain contentment, says Sarkar, "one has to make a special type of mental effort to keep aloof from external allurements" and to avoid coming "under the sway of excessive greed".

[xxvii] In the original Sanskrit, this principle is known as aparigraha. It concerns the avoidance of superfluous consumption.

More Information

Related concept from Prout: