The Means and Ends of Non-Violence

Michael Christian
4 min readFeb 12, 2021


In The Distinctiveness of Satyagraha H.J.N. Horsburgh writes with the intent to cover two goals: the first is to explain how Gandhi uses satyagraha to turn all occasions of conflict into a creative rather than a destructive account. The second is to distinguish how satyagraha settles disputes more efficiently through non-violence than violence. To Horsburgh, civil disobedience arises from two distinct features; conflict either within or between communities and the fact that this conflict cannot be resolved conventionally as accepted by the status quo (constitutional or agreed authority). Horsburgh explains that the difference between non-violent proponents and Gandhian non-violent proponents is how they view the means and the ends. Non-violent proponents first decide what the desired outcome of civil disobedience is and follow this by designing a plan to accomplish such a future.

In contrast, Gandhian non-violence chooses to live and act a certain way first, and through this, communities can achieve their desired outcomes. In a way, Gandhian believers use means to establish a cooperative relationship with those with whom they disagree. This method, satyagraha, draws attention to the relevant human needs that require attention and will lead to a just settlement. However, one cannot merely set about on this path without establishing a fundamental notion, commitment, commitment to a cause that chooses to disentangle moral judgment from moral criticism. By creating this disconnection, which holds because of truth’s role in determination, one establishes the mindset necessary to walk satyagraha’s path for the long term. Creating this disconnect is vital for two reasons; the first is to establish a new mindset, and the second is to overcome impatience.

There is a specific mindset that Gandhi wants to establish in his believers in non-violence. He does this in order to create the mental response necessary to elicit the appropriate physical reaction to the conflict that reflects the values of satyagraha. Akeel Bilgrami explains this concept in his writing of Gandhi’s integrity: The philosophy behind the politics. By disconnecting moral criticism from moral judgments, one can then create moral judgments that have universalizability, application to all under certain pretenses. This is very different from being a universality, a moral value that applies to everyone, whether they embrace it or not (Bilgrami 84). Once moral judgments share universalizability, then do not embrace a view that encourages violence. No longer will your moral judgments elicit moral criticism in your mental response, but instead, you will be free of criticism in your entire being and able to eschew violence through this mindset. By living your life in a manner where you provide an example of how to live and think, one creates an environment for universalizability of moral judgments that are not individual but shared and resistant to conflict. Living as an exemplar can lead to long-term efforts of large groups working cohesively towards a cause. A reality realized in the success of Gandhi’s Salt March.

The second reason the disconnect between moral judgment and criticism is essential is to overcome impatience. There is no guarantee that any effort to gain what is perceived as necessary will be expeditious. Thus, Horsburgh believes impatience is the most significant difficulty facing believers in non-violence (Horsburgh 175). The way to overcome impatience is through what Horsburgh calls constructive work. To establish universalizability of our moral judgments, satyagraha followers must live their lives as an example of their beliefs, and this is viewed through their actions. One method of communicating their deep-seated ideas is through this constructive work.

Simply put, constructive work is working towards a cause that furthers the need to maintain awareness of one’s actions by drawing attention to the continuity of the concerns. As one embraces constructive work, they preserve their sense of direction through the constant recollection of the why’s of their means. Through this process, Gandhi has created an environment where people have engaged in satyagraha’s policies to realize that the ideals of living free and working in one cause are achieved even before any political freedom is attained (Horsburgh 177). He has created a model of self-reliance for those who follow and liberty from their imposed political subjugation by using constructive work. This work and realization of freedom allow one to endeavor with the reality of a long road to achieve their ends and overcome the nature of impatience.

Through the approach of living life as an exemplar of your beliefs in satyagraha, one can create universalized moral judgments, free from criticism. By eliminating criticism, you have cast aside a sense of I am right, and you are wrong, or I am victorious, and you are defeated. Instead, it is merely the example set that establishes this is how I live my life; it betters my community through constructive work and spreads ideas that benefit the whole. Through this, one can resolve conflict within or between their communities that otherwise could not be achieved through conventional measures and accepted by the whole. Instead of achieving victory, you have acquired accord.

Akeel Bilgrami (2002) Gandhi’s integrity: The philosophy behind the politics, Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy, 5:1, 79–93, DOI: 10.1080/13688790220126906

Horsburgh, H. J. N. “The Distinctiveness of Satyagraha.” Philosophy East and west 19.2 (1969): 171–180.