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The Gathas and Contemporary Moral Philosophy


Natalie Vania, Ph.D.

A Gathic Moral Vision

Meta-ethics and Morality

Normative and Moral...

Applied Ethics

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A Gathic Moral Vision (Version 1)

Sketching Moral Thought

Understanding substantial positions in moral philosophy and ways in which the Gathas resonate on these positions can deepen discussion of morality and the Gathas.[i] Opportunity exists to connect, or deepen, people's understanding of morality amenably with their acceptance of the Gathas as a source of moral vision.

If Zoroastrian Youths happen to study a course in moral philosophy or ethics as taught in North American universities, this discussion helps them consider the Gathas in relation to contemporary understanding. Our discussion explains itself on the subject of Contemporary Moral Philosophy, so any interested party, reading from a Gathic orientation, can develop lines of thought on its puzzles. Thereby, a thinker who would like to reflect more upon the Gathas can be guided by useful points of departure for reflection.

In this overview, we sketch an outline of Contemporary Moral Philosophy as a useful tool for approaching moral philosophy and we place Contemporary Moral Philosophy into position for more sustained learning: Contemporary Moral Philosophy is vast and this sketch provides a simple framework of its rich resources.

What is Contemporary Moral Philosophy?

Contemporary Moral Philosophy is both a field of study and an understanding offered by such study. As a formal field of study, it is commonly available in many places of the world. One can readily find an undergraduate university course for which it, or some part of it, is the subject matter. Departments of Philosophy will generally offer courses in Moral Philosophy. It assists us to take some departures on the matter of what Philosophy itself is.


Philosophy again is both a field of study and such understanding as offered by the study, or understanding that is "philosophical". Its most basic definitions explain it as "the love of Wisdom, Knowledge; Truth". "Philosophy" itself is a word tracing back to Ancient Greece, whereby "philos" is Love and "sophia", Wisdom. In its widest sense, it is the capacity to reflect and think abstractly, generally, with depth, and profoundly on all aspects of the human condition and the World.

Zarathushtra as with many prophets, serves philosophically, as original and profound thinkers are exemplars of Wisdom and sources of learning. Zarathushtra is especially a Philosopher in that A) he advocates that life be directed towards the very Wisdom encouraged by Philosophy and B) is the most vociferous advocate for Truth.[ii]

Subject matter in the formal study of Philosophy is often divided into such categories as,

  • Metaphysics and ontology (the study of what there is and its nature, the nature of existence, God, Time),

  • Epistemology (the study of what knowledge is and how it is acquired),

  • Philosophy of language,

  • Philosophy of history,

  • Logic, and

  • Normative inquiry (inquiry dealing with values and the topics of art, morality, law, politics, society, religion).

Innovation occurs inside the Academy and one also finds formalized studies in areas such as Women Studies and Cultural Studies inside Philosophy Departments.

Zoroastrianism offers distinctive metaphysical and epistemological positions. Its professed “worldview” conceives the universe as an interplay of grand cosmic vectors of light and dark, with the human task to uphold and develop Rightness, or the force of Light and Truth or Asha.[iii] A benevolent God is revered for granting humans the capacity for free and informed choice of Rightness and for a relative security that Right action contributes towards the path of Light and Truth, producing fruitful effect.

The discipline of Philosophy touches many other disciplines in the Academy. One can find philosophical issues and Contemporary Moral Philosophy treated in divergent domains. For example, one might find a medical ethics course taught by a School of Medicine. Law schools will offer political philosophy and legal ethics. Computer departments may offer units dealing with issues in the Philosophy of Mind. Indeed, Philosophy was once regarded as the "Queen of the Sciences" and thus is prevalent in all areas of study. Doctorates commonly reflect this outlook by their formal stipulation being Doctor in Philosophy of such and such specialized field.

As Philosophy is a most general and abstract field pertaining to the human condition, it has a very long history. Methods and styles of thought pertinently considered philosophical have varied over millenniums as Philosophy has spanned historical developments, most notably, the invention of writing, books, and printing.

The Gathas, like the Homeric odes and ancient Chinese thought, were conveyed orally for generations. These chants offer an impressively tight poetic structure useful for consistent oral transmission. When the Gathas were first set into written form, they were not recorded on paper and books as we know them today. Rather, the innovations of cuneiform script, clay tablets, and papyrus scrolls came prior to treatment as standardized text. Linguistic science of 18-19th century Europe provided revealing and fresh understanding of our texts. With the challenges of both close translation and expansive interpretation, no single text of the Gathas prevails right now. We are usefully served by several better translations that provided insight into Zarathusthra’s vision.

The situation of our scripture and text not being conveyed in several forms is a problem faced by many cultures drawing upon Antiquity. Problems often present opportunities, and we have a pleasing challenge as inquirers of our scared texts. We can use all the resources of study and learning and our lived, collected Wisdom as Zarathushtis to respect and extend understanding of the textual heritage. Understanding the difficulty of translation widens our perspective, making us aware of crucial human issues in the use of language: We can be better for our epistemic challenges, rather than eroded by them.

Oral tradition is due respect. Humans evidence great variety in their styles of mentality, in thought. In medieval times, European monks would commit to memory texts of hundreds of pages of length. And, their powers of memory were exercised to the extent that access and recitation of text word-by-word backwards and upon referenced line number was attained. In order to accomplish such feats of memory, long text was analogized to great castles whereby Chapter One may be this room with its furniture and Chapter Two that room: In imagining the castle, the monk could access the memorized text analogized to the castle's structures.[iv] One can appreciate the human effort, ingenuity and striving so invested and the efforts of our priests in their commitment to memory.

Modern Philosophy pertains to the time after which Europe began to emerge from its Dark Ages and Medieval times. Modern Philosophy emerges with other dynamic forces which present social change from medieval feudalism, such as the growth of science, commerce, and new political systems. Philosophers of the modern era, such as Descartes, were both "men of science", "Natural Philosophers", as well as major figures in Philosophy. Descartes pursued science, extending Calculus and inventing Cartesian method in mathematics and geometry, and he pursued philosophy, developing arguments for the existence of God and elucidating the nature of perception and knowledge.

The last hundred or so years begin the time of Contemporary Philosophy and it may be considered part of both Modern Philosophy and even later developments, such as Post-Modernism.

Contemporary Philosophy

With Contemporary Philosophy being an outgrowth of Modern Philosophy, certain styles of thought and certain methods are at the forefront of what it offers. The Analytic style of Philosophy, especially predominant throughout the 20th century in Western Philosophy, is especially valued. It asserts the preeminence of clarity of thought, achieved by precise argument, careful language, and conceptual analysis. Positions are best supported and debated by offering deductively valid arguments (i.e., those for which the conclusions must follow, if asserted premises are true, on pain otherwise of logical inconsistency). Standards of critical reasoning emulate the virtues of deductive argument. Explicit, open, and clear argumentation is pursued. Less rigorous and more diffuse rhetorical styles, offered by Continental Philosophy (of the continent, Europe) are partially available in North America.

Zarathushtra recommends to us clear thought. While Zarathushtra especially advocates clarity about morale choice, the epistemic force of his recommendation cannot be overlooked. Choice is dependent upon inner mental, mindful, states of the agent. She is to choose with a clear and informed mind. Learning which readies the mind for such clarity of purpose is then welcomed. Analytical sharpness, used to facilitate right choice and in cohesion with right choice is of a par with it. The epistemic challenge to develop knowledge is evident,

“…Wise One, may [the beneficent person’s] knowledge grow throughout the days of his long life of joy …” (8.2, Jafarey).

Zarathushtra even expects the Wise One himself to attend to careful, skilled use of language,

“ … instruct me …through the eloquence befitting Thy spirit …” (Y28.11, Insler).

Zarathushtra is a model inquirer of the causes and reasons of everything and the most basic of things, as shown throughout Yasna 44.3-9,

“ … Who made the sun and the stars in their paths?

Who makes the moon wax and wane?

I am, Wise One, eager to know all this and more. … …

Who creates the waters and who the plants?

Who lends the wind and clouds speed? … …

Which artist planned sleep and awakening? … …

Who made the child lovingly attentive to the parent?” (9.3-7, Jafarey).

Zarathushtra, in paradigmatic Philosopher position, provides an answer with a simplifying Ockham’s Razor quality,

“ … You [the Wise One] as the Creator of all by Your progressive mind.” (9.7, Jafarey).

Ritual and ceremonial life pattern and enrich our activities and are a vital part of creating communal depth as a people or as worshippers. Achieving excellence in analytic thought should not deter other human capacity, but mutually assist it.

When an agent exercises choice, he is as Zarathushti, responsible for the choice. He is especially responsible, for he is responsible at the moment of choice and throughout time. Unlike J-Christian tradition, no alternative agent such as Christ exists to take upon himself the agent’s unwelcome responsibility. While our God is benevolent, the abiding grace of full forgiveness is not ours. Therefore, choice need be careful choice. Sharpness of mind, or discernment in the confusing array of issues and perplexities, is a capacity to be sought.

When Contemporary Philosophy draws upon insights from other times, it often isolates and presents those insights in the style of analytic argumentation.

Contemporary Moral Philosophy

Contemporary Moral Philosophy spans three general areas, Meta-ethics, Moral Theory, and Applied Ethics.

Meta-ethics and Morality

Morality itself at its most abstract level offers puzzles. These puzzles may also involve differing metaphysical and epistemological orientations. Meta-ethics lies between metaphysical and epistemological concerns, and substantive alternatives on what constitutes right action.

The Gathic Vision provides a host of meta-ethical indications.

Questions at the metaethical level include,[v]

  • How is Morality alike or different from other evaluative institutions, (i.e., How is Morality more than Etiquette? How is Morality alike or different from Legality?)

Morality is the paradigm of normative concern in the Gathas. The agent at all times and for all situations is obliged towards right choice between good and evil. This charge is joined with the normative injunctions to pursue Justice (a social and political objective). Moral injunction prevails in political endeavor, and thus the normative domain of morality extends over the normative domain of politics.

  • Does Morality have normative force? (Is a moral claim an expression of sentiment or a call upon behavior? Are moral claims like cheering or like directives for action?)

The normative force of Morality is strong in the Gathas. While the songs, the chants, are expressive, they are action-guiding as well.

  • How does Morality derive or get its normative force (i.e., Is Morality founded by Reason? By God? By Prudence?)

Morality’s force comes to Zarathushtra prophetically through inspiration, veneration of the Divine and by choice,

“ … Zarathushtra describes how he came to select Ahura-Maza as Lord of Wisdom and light. He makes it very clear that this was a selection he made; it was not made for him …”[vi]

Zarathrushtra is convicted enough in his praise of Morality that it rests not on ground of his particular benefit or the benefit of humanity alone: It is a larger matter, carrying the force of its justification itself.

“ … … the clarity of Truth requires no additional mechanism to generate its acceptance …”[vii]

  • How strong is Morality's normative force? (I.e., Are moral claims overriding? Are they limited to special contexts for action?)

The normative force is presented as strongly as it might be and is not constrained. Indeed the very metaphysics conveys Asha and Truth as a normative vector, that which moves the World in the direction it “ought” to tend towards: Truth is constructive of a life-giving, growth-oriented telos,

“And may we be those who make this life Fresh!” (3.9, Jafarey)

“And may we be those that renew this existence!” (Y30.9, Duchesne-Guillemin)

“Thus may we be those who make existence brilliant …” (Y30.9, Humbach and Ichaporia)

“… Let the Giver of Existence promote through good thought the making real of what is most brilliant in value.” (Y50.11, Humbach and Ichaporia)

  • What is the relationship between Morality, Prudence, Rationality, and Self-Interest?

Zarathushtra doesn’t find these in opposition. Rather his own self-worth and self-regard hinge on Morality’s advance.

“ … For as long as I can and am able I shall look out in (my) search for truth.” (Y28.4, Humbach and Ichaporia)

  • What is the nature of moral failing?

Moral failing is due to incorrect choice fostered by ignorance, a confused mind or to cases of moral incontinence. As moral excellence has an epistemic component in Zarathushtrianism, moral failing leans in part toward default of the episteme necessary for correct choice. The responsibility for choice is a finality for the agent and she does not have the recourse of Grace wiping clean the slate of responsibility for one’s acts.

The harshness of the agent’s responsibility is balanced. Unlike some J-Christian tradition, moral failing is not wedded with a notion of the entrenched sinfulness of the human condition. While the imperfection of human choice manifests itself in an original sinful nature for many Christians, in the Zarathushtrian tradition, moral imperfection is not a necessary and entrenched aspect of our natures as human, nor do we inherit the condition of shame due sinfulness. In the case of moral failing, the pertinent, first and best recourse to that failing is not to repeat the mistake. The genuine nature of one’s corrected awareness and remorse for incorrect choice is manifest in improved future conduct.

  • What relationship does Morality have to theories of action?

Every Zarathushtrian moral agent has capacity and responsibility for free choice as an individual. The Mind develops and nurtures this capacity.

“Hear ye … my best teachings, ponder over them with bright intellect, for each one for himself … “(Y30.2, Kanga)

  • What are Moral Skepticism and Amoral-ism?

For the Zarathushtrian, skepticism is entailed in choosing wrong when one has awareness of right choice. In such case, one’s choice is a perversion of one’s agency and of the grander role the human has in the Zarathushtrian cosmic scheme. Since Good triumphs over Evil in Zarathushtrian metaphysics, the willfully immoral agent is bucking a trend, achieving futility and self-destruction through amoral endeavor.

“From Evil Mind do all his acts proceed,

His evil deeds darken and cloud his Soul.” (Y47.5, Taraporewala)

“ … a deceitful person will miss the reality of the straight (path) … … for he has strayed from the path of truth by his own actions and those of his tongue.” (Y51.13, Humbach and Ichporia)

Moral agency requires steadfast character. Gathic Moral Vision helps in the skeptical challenge to maintain steadfastness to moral law and not waiver at the point between thought and action,

“Thus may we be those who make existence brilliant … … with truth, while (our) thoughts are concentrated on the place where insight waivers.” (Y30.9, Humbach and Ichaporia)

  • What does Morality entail for personhood, identity, and human nature?

One’s standing as a moral agent, one’s repute, comprises one’s personhood and identity.

“The living, the departed, and the yet-to-be born … ….

The souls of the righteous shall eternally be strong.” (10.7, Jafarey)

Views of human nature are more and less kind to the human. If we adhere to a most lovely view of human nature, that it is good and offers unlimited potential for good, then such a view supports the understanding of moral failure that we have offered. Moral failing is far from irremediable and we can act in hope of its repair.

  • Does Morality presume a theology?

Morality, its self-sustaining justificatory force, and its eminent command upon humanity in the Gathas is strong in extra consideration of its theology. Rather than Morality serving as an imposition upon Zarathushtra in the Gathas, it is rather the gift which makes him whole. His songs are praises and venerate the kind provider of our light filled material World, God. The theology arises in an intimate context of a tripartite between the Divinity, Morality and the agent with integrity,

If indeed, You are so, Wise One,

Through righteousness and good mind, then grant me guidance through all the goals of this life,

So that I happily return to You

with veneration and praise.” (7.6, Jafarey)

Morality, a gift through which one has integrity, offering self-sustaining appeal, enjoins the agent despite the assertoric standing of the Divinity. Theology then serves the spirit as best and chosen hope in the striving on account of Asha.[viii]

  • Does Morality admit of theories? (i.e., Should theories converge on similar answers to moral perplexities? Do conflicting theories indicate that Morality is not like science?)

The Gathic vision relies upon clear mentality, thereby suggesting that Moral demand is intelligible to the agent. The J-Christian scenario of God testing Abraham’s faith beyond reason, runs contrary to such intelligibility. The Zarathushtrian God does not demand action as a matter of sheer obedience to his moral decree nor to God’s force/eminence as a powerful authority. Our God is kind and entrusts to each of us willful choice.

Moral theory an unending attempt to uncover and understand moral demand is an employment of intellect consistent with our epistemic obligation towards Asha.

  • Is moral knowledge like or unlike other knowledge?

Moral knowledge is not unlike other knowledge. Cognitive demand is emphasized as a component of moral assessment.

  • What is the nature of The Good?

Rightness is the best good for the Zoroastrian. Right action honors and is steadfast to Morality and allows for the integrity of the agent.

  • Are there moral dilemmas?

The central virtue and tool of action is Truth. Zarathushtrianism places firm preeminence on this virtue and metaphysical vector. The singularity of the vision and it optimistic teleological thrust towards a World of brilliant renewal suggest that encountered dilemmas are not the final or utmost expression of reality.

  • Is there moral luck?

The Zarathushtrian outlook is optimistic. A progression towards Freshokareti (the living World made fresh and new) is aided by human effort. This happy perspective leans in the direction of luck – our efforts should be fortuitous in the path of Asha.[ix]

Normative and Moral Theory

Normative concerns are about how things should or ought to be. Normative assessments pertain to what evaluations are justified and legitimate. Many areas, not only morality, have a normative aspect. In logic, the normative concern is over whether an argument is valid (conclusion follows if premises are true). Epistemically, our normative concern centers on how certain we are of some item of knowledge. Artistically, our normative concern may center on how skillful an artist has been, whether an item is beautiful, or even is art. In law, normative concerns raise matters of the application of correct and fair procedure in the course of securing Justice. In etiquette, the normative concern centers on whether standards of politeness are met.

Normative concerns predominate for morality. Indeed, Morality is the paradigm, the best example, of normative assessment. Morality's normative concerns pertain to at least action, intent, character, and people. When is an act right? When is our state of mind good? What character is best cultivated? Who is a good person?

And, these questions have their corresponding negative appraisals. When is an act wrong? When is one's intent bad? What character traits are immoral? Who is a bad person? Why?

Moral Theory addresses morality's normative aspect with the aim to offer, support, and advocate positive substantial views. In Contemporary Moral Philosophy, three leading contenders for moral theories are utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue theory.

Utilitarianism is the view that the right action maximizes the expected utility of a future outcome. Let me use a simple example. Suppose you are deciding what to do for a Friday evening after a long week of studies. Your options may include reading two chapters of your biology text, listening to CDs, going with a group of friends for pizza and a movie. If these choices exhaust the possibilities for action, then as a utilitarian, one assesses each act, asking about its likely consequences. One ranks those possible outcomes according to which produces the most utility. For the utilitarian, the utility in question is the overall utility produced for everyone. It is neither the utility produced for oneself, nor for a group (you and your friends), but for all. It is commonly understood by John Stuart Mill's phrase, "as the greatest happiness for the greatest number", or the most good. Once you have assessed possible outcomes with respect to utility, the utilitarian standard mandates that you choose the act that leads to the best outcome, that with the highest utility.

The Gathic Vision offers a utilitarian perspective in its stress on the welfare of communities and people, beneficence,[x] attending to the consequences of chosen action, and impartiality.

“ … [Wise God] You have ordained that actions and words should have consequences: bad for the bad and good for the good.” (8.5, Jafarey)

We've elaborated the most direct utilitarian position. Even in this small example, one notes many aspects indicating that many positions may be taken in further elucidating a utilitarian orientation. Should one be assessing single acts or assessing behaviors or policies for collections of acts? How good is the tie between act and consequence? Since the connection between act and consequence will not be perfect (we can only anticipate expected consequences), is the right act the one expected to produce best consequences or the act which actually produces best consequences? Is the universe of possible acts broadly enough enumerated or does one have reason to assess every possible course of action for the evening? If one performs the right act as utilitarianism indicates, does poor intent or poor character enter into assessing the agent? If one fails the utilitarian guideline, are "backwards-looking" considerations or regret in order?

Deontological moral theories ground the notion of right action in obligation, duties, rights, or rules rather than the production of utility. Obligation and duty place the focus of moral appraisal on motivation and intention. Considering intent goes more quickly to an agent's inner state of mind than to action's utility. Consider again our simple example of deciding what to do on a Friday evening. A deontologist would likely assess her obligations and have them direct her activity. Had she obliged herself with a promise to meet a friend for the evening? What other obligations exist? Could a person have duties towards family, say to share time together? For the strict deontologist, acting from a motive of duty, to fulfill a duty, and acting only from such motive, is the right thing to do.

Deontology is intrinsic to Gathas; A) Rightness is the obligatory objective of action and B) makes for goodness. C) Rightness originates in Good Thought. D) Love of Moral choice is action from a motive of duty, or obligation towards Morality, rather than choice coincidentally in accord with duty. E) Rightness insures integrity and wholeness. F) Distributive justice is evident in all persons, rich or poor, being morally enjoined and having moral capacity.

A-B “ … … good deeds lead only through righteousness to happiness … “(7.13, Jafarey)

B “ … radiant happiness is for him who upholds righteousness.” (16.8, Jafarey)

C. “Tell me about the better (part) which you have assigned me through truth, that I may discern it and that I may learn through good thought … … and note in my mind which things will not be, and which will be … “(Y31.5, Humbach and Ichaporia)

C. “Bright things are … who already possesses them in his thought. [And then through Vohu Manu, Good Mind]/(Through good power he holds truth) in word and action.” (Y31.22, Humbach and Ichaporia)

D “The Path , O Ahura, of Vohu Man’ … That good deeds done for their own sake lead far: This teaching leads mankind to [True] Wisdom … “ (Y34.13, Taraporewala)

E “ … [The Wise God] grants wholeness …” (10.10, Jafarey)

E “ … do enlighten my inner-self …” (11.7, Jafarey)

F “ … A person of very small means can be kind to a righteous person … “(12.4, Jafarey)


As with the utilitarian view, deontology admits of many aspects through which a variety of deontological moral orientations exist. What are the duties and obligations to which one must adhere? How are they determined? Can they conflict with one another? If so, which have priority over remaining duties? How many duties do people have? Does this differ for different people and why? What do we make of inner motivation that seems not to match external act? What kinds of inner motivation do deontologists not include as morally worthy?

Virtue theories center upon character traits exhibiting moral excellence in some aspect or another and appraise the agent based upon good character. If the character of our agent in the Friday evening example is best, we grant admiration, even praise, to the agent. If during the course of Friday evening activity, the agent displayed virtues such as kindness, courage, truthfulness, and bravery we would think of the person as someone to emulate.

The first virtue recommended by the Gathic Moral Vision is Truth. Other virtues and applications of ethical striving are further emendations of this prevailing ethic of Truth.  For example, the Amesha Spentas fill out a picture supplementing the fulfillment of Truth. Its virtues, Creative Spiritedness (Spenta Mainyu), Comprehension (Vohu Manah), Wisdom (Ahura), Regulating Order (Asha Vahishta), Strength (Khashtra Vairya), Devotion (Spenta Armaiti), Completeness (Haurvatat), and Unendingness (Ameretat) provide a host of excellences consistent with the exercise of Truth.[xi]

Moral theories provide substantive positions on morality. As might be discerned from the example of what action to undertake for a casual Friday evening, different moral theories do not easily converge upon the same answer. Different theories construe right action in different ways. This has proved most vexing and led to questions about the use of theoretical approaches to morality. Some virtue theorists have gone as far as to renounce the use of moral theories and to recommend approaches to learning of virtue and virtues more discursively. For example, one might read literature elucidating virtues. We find stories in Aesop’s fables and the Shah Nameh in which virtuous conduct is displayed.

The Zoroastrian emphasis on good thoughts, words, and deeds suggests an order of priority between moral standards that are more geared towards assessment of inner intent, and those more set for assessment of externally observable act, with intent leading to action. Thus, the deontic aspect of Zarathushtrianism is not overcome in dilemmas of contingent circumstance or utilitarian claims. The largely fortuitous cosmos suggests that existence is not ultimately tragic and that unpleasant circumstances of conflict in moral obligation do not reflect ultimate reality. The ultimate reality, things as they ought be, in the condition of Freshokareti, serves as a regulative ideal of action. 

Applied Ethics

In applied ethics, we find contemporary practical issues treated with the tools of philosophical analysis, casuistry (the special and detailed study of some ethical quandary), special fields of ethical inquiry (such as legal and medical ethics), professional ethics, and codified ethics.

Moral theories may be more fully applied and developed in the context of a contemporary issue. For example, animal rights proponents offer utilitarian arguments in support of better treatment of animals. Rights-based, deontological arguments, are also put forward by animal rights advocates. The intriguing problem of moral theories providing differing, even conflicting grounds, for moral claims arises in discussion of contemporary issues to which moral theories apply. Proponents for humane treatment of animals have differing foundations and corresponding differing implications in their fine-grained implications for the treatment of animals.

While this is a problem, it is useful to develop moral views and theories in conjunction with their application to real-life contemporary issues. Theory can be informed by practical experience. As well, transition from the generality of theory to the particularity of applied issues enriches moral understanding. The challenge of developing a consistent moral position across diverse applied issues (as the Catholic Church attempts in its unified opposition to the death penalty and reproductive rights) also presents the theoretical challenge of coherence and consistency.

The Gathic Moral Vision offers points of departure for the development of applied ethics,

  • A substantial place exists for Professional Ethics with so many of our people serving at high levels in the professions. Many of us are noted for distinctive ethical concern in professional life. Isolating this strength and undertaking a coordinated appraisal across different professional roles would produce fruitful material.

  • As mentioned, we can extract moral insight from our literature, as in the case of reflecting on the virtues conveyed through the stories in the Shah Nameh. Such extraction can extend the Gathic Vision.

  • We can use the straightforward understanding of our Gathic Vision to re-examine and appraise items which we have understood on other terms. For example, the gem of a novel, The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis, is very useful in conveying the Kantian insistence that action be done from duty rather than in accord with duty.[xii] When Gathic imports are added to the interpretation, the obligations to acquire and act upon knowledge are also conveyed. One sees a sublime example of Truth obliging action. The agent’s righteousness outstrips his own unfortunate contingent situation and his right choice secures unending good repute.

  • An applied ethic of Gathic Moral Vision should be useful in more readily enabling us to distinguish Zarathushti outlooks from engrained non-Zoroastrian cultural presumptions. Without distinction, these presumptions, on their own terms benign, can be corrosive to an alternative worldview.


Advantages offered by the Study of Contemporary Moral Philosophy

The advantages offered by the study of Contemporary Moral Philosophy are many.


Contemporary Moral Philosophy is especially able to provide clarity for two reasons. First, in seeing matters of moral concern treated, one is given more information. Greater information increases understanding. For example, we may wish to provide instructions for end of life treatment in the case of our incapacity. A moralist who can guide one through a discussion of euthanasia gives a person contemplating signing a Do Not Resuscitate Order a full range of information about the subject of euthanasia. Thereby, one's understanding of the moral concerns at issue is enhanced. One has a deeper view, and a view which is more insightful in how much it can foresee.

The second reason why Contemporary Moral Philosophy provides special clarity is due its reliance on sharp, clear philosophical analysis. Analytical strength is gained by the study of Contemporary Moral Philosophy. One acquires the capacity to think in a sustained, rigorous, publicly accessible, rhetorically simple, non-manipulative, and deductively strong manner. One acquires a capacity to analytically support one's points of view. Such capacity is vital to any person who wishes to provide reasons and considered judgment for their views and to be able to persuade others of their views. The strength of the analytic approach is that another person accepting the premises of one's valid argument is epistemically obliged to accept the conclusion entailed by the premises. One acquires the capacities of responsible judgment, i.e. the weighing of various considerations and development of a balanced position among diverse factors.

When one does not accept an argument's conclusion, one is a fair step along in diagnosing why and can offer counterargument, another result of clarity of thought. Through argument and counterargument, understanding can be mutually enriched in fruitful discussion.

The analytic process of reaching consensus through clear argument may be directly suggested by Zarathushtra,“…Let each of you try to win the other with Truth, for This shall be of good gain for each of you.” (Y53.3-5, Insler).


When one has studied a subject, one’s depth for that subject grows. This means that an agent can foresee more cases, more sorts of cases, associations and analogies between varieties of cases, and more fully into a case. Implications of the features surrounding a case are clarified and the agent is more readied and more attuned to discern factors affecting a situation. One’s positions become honed by real-world complexity and less shrill or dogmatic. One achieves a resonance and has judicious and temperate outlook.

Without depth, the discourse of our community is hurt. Scholarship in a less knowing community results in its use as a tool of status and the real force of thoughtful ideas becomes obscured.

A third need for the depth achieved in the study of Contemporary Moral Philosophy is its aid in achieving cultural currency. The concerns of moral philosophers arise in many cultural venues. One’s sophistication in grappling with the culture is aided in knowing the substance of Contemporary Moral Philosophy.

A Life of Learning

Another advantage of Contemporary Moral Philosophy is that its study entrenches one in a life of learning, a life of the mind. We are often rushing to acquire credentials for professions and managing the practicalities of our immediate livelihood. In this, we require the sustaining methods of contemplative learning and study as a counterpart to practical living. The tools of scholarship through which one's mind is nurtured as an inquirer provide forceful input when used in ordinary and professional life. Contemporary Moral Philosophy itself provides a basis for study in other disciplines such as law, anthropology, psychology, religious study, public policy, history and more. Through an active and sustained approach to learning, one attains a connection with thinkers who are not of our era but by whom one becomes excited and rues the temporal distance placing them beyond ready engagement with us. One becomes a student of Moral Philosophy for life, for one can never exhaust the wealth of what fine authors offer in understanding the moral life. Thereby, the student of Contemporary Moral Philosophy welcomes learning throughout life, joining an eon-spanning human community of respect for learning.


Contemporary Moral Philosophy fascinates an inquirer. Moral concerns can be troubling, persistent, draining, and raise anxiety. But they are also astounding in the perplexity, significance, implication, depth, intrigue, connection and enlightenment which they provide. Just as the artist is consumed by Art, the moralist too is struck by Morality. As the paradigm for normative inquiry, Morality offers this special feature of itself to us. Since its normativity always belongs to Morality, the inquirer can be assured that Morality's capacity to fascinate always persists.

Address to the Human Condition

Through the history of humankind, people have wondered and been concerned with the perennial issues of their condition. The cave dweller, the forager, the hunter, the king, the worker, the bureaucrat, the slave, the tormentor, the healer, all face the challenges of their human existence. For each, questions common to all of us as human beings arise. Humans cannot resist asking whys and wherefores of their situation. For those whose questioning and wonderment is constrained, we fear some great damage to their personhood, whether by self or society. Contemporary Moral Philosophy is a good way in which one today can enter into the great and unending process of wonderment and engagement with the perplexities of humanity.

Today, in Brazil, small children perish unloved, in Africa a corrupt warlord amputates the limbs of civilians, in America an innocent person awaits execution on death row, in Russia a ruthless criminal force takes the assets due the populace, in China, the Youth are denied information of disease transmission, in Afghanistan, tubercular women’s dress does not allow their bodies sunlight to make vitamin D, the South Asian foes devote resources to the weapons of mass destruction, the list is endless and it is so for the entire length of recorded history. And in the same moment, we live in the best era of startling promise and opportunity unlike any the world has seen or might see ... Contemporary Moral Philosophy provides a capacity to embrace the human condition in its fullness and to make one's way in our singular time amidst hope and despair. The Zoroastrian proceeds with unflinching awareness of promise and waste.[xiii]

Open Matters in Philosophy, Academia, and Globalization

Philosophy does not have an easy time in the Academy or in society at large. In a formal sense, even the American Philosophical Association, long adverse to any professionalization of something so fine in vision as "the love of Wisdom" is confronting the limited understanding North Americans have of it with an initiative. It will engage Philosophers with the larger public, offering it the rare wealth of its best proponents.

This is prudent in a time when even the position and role of the Academy itself is in flux. The institutions of higher education, developed throughout North America, as an acme of world research and achievement, tremble in a fierce climate of market demand for the resources of, and the resources to make, the best thinkers. Derrida[xiv] moved his audience to stunned ovation in reinforcing the role of the professoriate in society: The sacred role is as is said, "to profess", to critically assess and stand in professing to the larger society. This social role is endangered and the Academy itself wrestles with its positioning for market share.

Contemporary Moral Philosophy has been an outgrowth of Modern Philosophy and that has been so much the Philosophy of the West, of Europe, Britain, and the US. Surely it offers much in the global era, just as it is itself enriched with the understanding from cultures once far-off.

But Globalization itself, of what measure does it leave for Philosophy and erudite concerns such as represented by Contemporary Moral Philosophy? Won't the methods and styles for human accord go beyond skilled argument and be dominated by the play of markets? It may be maintained that in the development of markets, critical thought and judgment, Reason, must at the boardroom table, and it is the hope of liberalism that freedom too is in the making of the new world order.[xv]

Zarathushtis are especially attuned for the Global era. By our history, we have cause to embrace a global outlook and understanding of peoples, as the religion has moved throughout continents in its long impact upon global culture. By our current occasion, we confront a challenging task of globalization drawing upon the gentle skills of diplomacy between older cultures from Iran and India, the new World in North America, and Russia and Central Asia. Thirdly, the Gathic creed is singular in advocacy of beneficence for the World and the World-Soul. Asha, Freshokareti, Truth are of an extensive cosmic dimension, going beyond communalism. Forth, rational and analytic thrust in world development, in correspondence with the Zarathushti demand for clarity of thought, has a fragile status. Zarathushtrians often have cause to know this more personally than many in a more protected North American culture. The protection of Reason is requisite if Hobbessian resort of all against all is to be diminished in a world offering many occasions for upheaval.

Ambassadorship for the Gathic Vision

The profound Gathic vision offered by Zarathushtra is unknown inside Contemporary Moral Philosophy, indeed in the larger North American society as well. If obscurity is not to be our inheritance on this continent, we have a special task. Each of us lives here as more than a private individual. We each have upon us a special office, a duty. We are the ambassadors of Zarathushtrianism, diplomats, in the New World. Whether our style of life is quiet or large, limitedly or privileged, who and what Zarathushtis are will be understood by the behavior and graciousness of each of us, taken together into the social stereotype that will emerge of us. Gentle ambassadorship will go no further than will our competence and contribution. People resist what is different and strident, and no advocacy for Zarathushtrianism should work better than one by which people are already won over by the model of one's subtle diplomacy before the name of Zarathushtra is even put forward.

Zarathushtrian Institutions and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

Our institutions, local associations and the larger organizations, can move us forward by continuing to develop their member’s understanding and appreciation of Contemporary Moral Philosophy, and by alerting Moral Philosophers to the Zarathushti vision. Local associations can build connections with Moral Philosophers in their locale and can sponsor short series of instruction on sets of contemporary moral issues. A special interest group can be formed for discussion at American Philosophical Association conferences, a major venue of the profession.


Zarathushtis gain cultural currency by Contemporary Moral Philosophy, while being assured in offering a singular and valuable philosophical orientation aiding the external culture and aiding internal Zarathushti culture.

Ó Natalie Vania, 2000, all rights reserved, permission given Vohuman.org for web publication.

A Reading List

Beauchamp, Tom L., Philosophical Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Foot, Philippa, Virtues and Vices, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1978.

Kagan, Shelly, The Limits of Morality, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989.

Kant, Immanuel The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Thomas Abbott, (trans.), Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1949.

MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.

Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism, with critical essays, Samuel Gorovitz, editor, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1971. Also, Mill, On Liberty.

Moore, George Edward, Principia Ethica, Cambridge University Press, 1903.

Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Havard University Press, 1974.

Ross, W.D. The Right and the Good, Oxford, 1930.

Slote, Beyond Optimizing, A Study in Rational Choice, Oxford University Press, New York, 1983.

Sterba, James, editor, Contemporary Ethics: Selected Readings, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice Hall, 1989.

Sen, Amartya, Development As Freedom, Knopf, 1999.

Web Resources For Contemporary Moral Philosophy

  1. http://ethics.acusd.edu/

  2. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~sdarwall/

  3. http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~korsgaar/#Publications

  4. http://www.inform.umd.edu/PHIL/Faculty/slote.html

  5. http://www.woodrow.org/

[i] The Gathas appear in the Yasna

        Ahunavaiti Gatha                 Yasna 28 to 34

        Ushtavaiti Gatha                  Yasna 43 to 46

        Spenta Mainyu Gatha          Yasna 47 to 50

        Vohu Xshathra Gatha           Yasna 51

        Vahishtoishti Gatha             Yasna 53 

A detailed bibliography compiling translations of the Gathas, offered over the Internet, would be helpful. 

[ii] See The Love of Truth in Ancient Iran, Professor Stanley Insler, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000 for a fuller elaboration. 

[iii] The Vision of Zarathushtra, Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000. 

[iv] Friedman, Michael, lecture, 1984/85, The University of Illinois at Chicago, The Humanities Institute. 

[v] This listing is not exhaustive nor meant to do justice the metaethical questions, each of which is due lengthy treatment. 

[vi] The Freedom to Choose and the Moral Responsibility to Make the Right Choice, Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000, page 1. 

[vii] The Vision of Zarathushtra, Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000, page 2. 

[viii] See Van der Linden, Harry, Part One, “Kant’s Highest Good as a Social Duty”, Kantian Ethics and Socialism, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1988 for discussion on assertoric theological standing, hope, duty and world Justice. See Epilogue, Ignoring The Good and Deontological Rationality, Natalie H. Vania, Doctoral Dissertation, The University of Maryland at College Park, 1991 for treatment of teleos and assertoric theological standing. 

[ix] This position is distinguished from a claim of certainty that a Perfected order comes into phenomenal existence and from security that religious life provides one personally with sure boon. 

[x] Beneficence in the Gathic vision entails several foci; Ahura Mazda is loving, Zarathushtra has loving concern as he spreads the Gathic Moral Vision, the good people imbibing Asha form a beneficence social order, the Cow-Soul and its pastoral/Shepard associations (which we also find in Plato’s treatment of Justice in The Republic and in Jesus’s stewardship), and in the overall kind lovingness of the Gathic outlook. See Dina MacIntyre, Love in the Gathas, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000. 

[xi] Professor Farrokh Mistry provides thoughtful discussion on the virtues of the Amesha Spentas and practical guidance for developing them in ordinary and familial life. 

[xii] Constantini Humberto, The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis, Norman Thomas di Giovanni, translator, New York, Harper and Row, 1985, ISBN: 0-06-015391-1. 

[xiii] See Mistry, Rohinton, Such a Long Journey, Vintage Books, June 92 for a novel with unflinching social insight. Mistry receives accolades from reviewers as “another Tolstoy” and indeed the assessment is prescient as Tolstoy’s novelistic creations are Truth telling in their social insight and in their descriptive power. 

[xiv] Stanford Presidential Address, 1999. 

[xv] See Sen, Amartya Kumar, Development As Freedom, Knopf, 1999 for a view of economic development advancing the moral terrain of humanity.