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Kautilya on Ethics and Economics

Balbir S. Sihag (Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Mass 01854)


ISSN: 0828-8666

Article publication date: 1 March 2005



Sages and seers in ancient India specified dharma, artha, kama and moksha as the four ends of a moral and productive life and emphasised the attainment of a proper balance between the spiritual health and the material health. However, most of their intellectual energy was directed towards the attainment of moksha, the salvation from birth‐death‐rebirth cycle. Kautilya, on the other hand considered poverty as a living death and concentrated on devising economic policies to achieve salvation from poverty but without compromising with ethical values unless survival of the state was threatened. Kautilya's Arthashastra is unique in emphasising the imperative of economic growth and welfare of all. According to him, if there is no dharma, there is no society. He believed that ethical values pave the way to heaven as well as to prosperity on the earth, that is, have an intrinsic value as well as an instrumental value. He referred the reader to the Vedas and Philosophy for learning moral theory, which sheds light on the distinction between good and bad and moral and immoral actions. He extended the conceptual framework to deal with conflict of interest situations arising from the emerging capitalism. He dedicated his work to Om (symbol of spirituality, God) and Brihaspati and Sukra (political thinkers) implying, perhaps, that his goal was to integrate ethics and economics. It is argued that the level of integration between economics and ethics is significantly higher in Kautilya's Arthashastra than that in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations or for that matter in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.


Sihag, B.S. (2005), "Kautilya on Ethics and Economics", Humanomics, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 1-28.



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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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