Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

John Nolt

Committee Members

David Reidy, Kathleen Bohstedt, Miriam Levering


Mahatma Gandhi intended for the concepts of universal love and identification with all living beings to be seen as compatible with the traditional Hindu ideal of detachment (sannyasi). This is problematic given that love and identification entail very real degrees of psychological attachment.

After showing the significance my project has for the attempt to implement Gandhian principles in everyday, social, and political life, I give an overview of Gandhian thought in my first chapter. This overview demonstrates the plausibility of Gandhi’s ideas to philosophical Western readers. Then, in chapter 2, I explore the basis Gandhi saw for conjointly advocating love, identification, and detachment given his overall philosophical and religious background. Again, I endeavor to illuminate Gandhi’s thought through careful comparisons to familiar Western thinkers and traditions. In chapter 3, I explore the tensions among the three concepts that are explored and how they might be resolved. I aim to reveal, using the dominant methods of Western philosophy, logical consistency in Gandhi’s thought regarding love, identification, and detachment. In chapter 4, I defend my favored resolution of these tensions, namely that atman, the Universal Self is the only proper object of attachment.

In particular, I defend the resolution against feminist concerns regarding the place of particularity in genuine moral concern (love) and show that Gandhi is capable of overcoming such concerns in spite of his advocacy of universality, impartiality, and detachment in moral judgments. By drawing parallels between Gandhi’s religious universalism and his call for universal moral concern, I show that he is quite capable of valuing particularity while emphasizing universal moral concern.

In chapter 5, I summarize the major conclusions I reached about love, identification, and detachment in Gandhi’s thought. I conclude my dissertation by laying out areas, in Gandhi’s thought, that merit further research. In particular, I show the importance of exploring whether Gandhi’s defining of love as an objective concern (not subjective emotion) does justice to love’s moral and psychological appeal, whether genuine love must include power (as Gandhi implies), and whether Gandhian identification entails an unflattering presumptiveness.

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