Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


The Buddha versus Popper: When to Live?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 27, 2020

The Buddha versus Popper: When to Live?

Jongjin Kim
Korea University
Rohit Parikh
The Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, City University of New York

We discuss two approaches to life: presentism and futurism. We locate presentism within various elements of Buddhism, in the form of advice to live in the present and not to allow the future to hinder us from living in the ever present now. By contrast, futurism, which we identify with Karl Popper, advises us to think of future consequences before we act, and to act now for a better future. Of course, with its emphasis on a well-defined path to an ideal future ideally culminating in enlightenment, Buddhism undoubtedly has elements of futurism as well. We do not intend to determine which of these two approaches to time is more dominant in Buddhism, nor how the two approaches are best understood within Buddhism; but simply we intend to compare and contrast these two approaches, using those presentist elements of Buddhism as representative of presentism while contrasting them with those elements of futurism to be found in Popper and others. We will discuss various aspects of presentism and futurism, such as Ruth Millikan’s Popperian animal, the psychologist Howard Rachlin’s social and temporal discounting, and even the popular but controversial idea, YOLO (you only live once). The primary purpose of this paper is to contrast one with the other. The central question of ethics is: How should one live? Our variation on that question is: When should one live? We conjecture that the notion of flow, developed by Csikszentmihalyi, may be a better optimal choice between these two positions. Read article

Buddhist Practice as Play

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Buddhist Practice as Play: A Virtue Ethical View

Meynard Vasen

The debate about which Western ethical theory is most suited to understand Buddhist ethics has been fruitful, because it places the Buddhist tradition in a light that brings out new features. In this article I take further Keown’s view on Buddhist ethics by offering a virtue ethical interpretation of Buddhist ethics with praxis/practice as a central notion, and a form of naturalism as foundation. I draw on the notion of play, as developed by Gadamer and Wittgenstein, and on MacIntyre’s view on virtues as grounded in practices, narratives, and traditions, as widening hermeneutical circles. I conclude by arguing that such an interpretation is a fruitful one, both in the sense that it increases our understanding and that it motivates to engage in Buddhist practice.

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Cultivation of Virtue in Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Cultivation of Virtue in Buddhist Ethics

Charles K. Fink
Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus

One question pursued in Buddhist studies concerns the classification of Buddhist ethics. Damien Keown has argued that Aristotelian virtue ethics provides a useful framework for understanding Buddhist ethics, but recently other scholars have argued that character consequentialism is more suitable for this task. Although there are similarities between the two accounts, there are also important differences. In this paper, I follow Keown in defending the aretaic interpretative model, although I do not press the analogy with Aristotelian ethics. Rather, I argue that Buddhist ethics corresponds to a more generic, act-centered virtue ethics. Buddhist moral reasoning is often strikingly consequentialist, but I argue that this does not support the consequentialist interpretation. Analyzing the concept of right action must be distinguished from providing a justification for living a moral life and from formulating a procedure for making moral decisions.

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Consequentialism, Agent-Neutrality, and Mahāyāna Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Consequentialism, Agent-Neutrality, and Mahāyāna Ethics

Charles Goodman
Binghamton University

Several Indian Mahāyāna texts express an ethical perspective that has many features in common with Western forms of universalist consequentialism. Śāntideva, in particular, endorses a strong version of agent-neutrality, claims that compassionate agents should violate Buddhist moral commitments when doing so would produce good results, praises radical altruism, uses a critique of the self to support his ethical views, and even offers a reasonably clear general formulation of what we call act-consequentialism. Meanwhile, Asaṅga’s discussions of the motivation behind rules of moral discipline and the permissible reasons for breaking those rules suggests an interesting and complex version of rule-consequentialism. Evidence for features of consequentialism can be found in several Mahāyāna sūtras as well. In reading these sources, interpretations that draw on virtue ethics may not be as helpful as those that understand the texts as committed to various versions of consequentialism.

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The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

Abraham Vélez de Cea
Eastern Kentucky University

This article clarifies the nature of Buddhist ethics from a comparative perspective. It contends that the Dalai Lama’s ethics is best understood as a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics. The article has two parts. The first part challenges Charles Goodman’s interpretation of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics as an instance of consequentialism. This is done indirectly, that is, not by questioning Goodman’s reading of Śāntideva and Asaṅga, but rather by applying to the Dalai Lama’s ethics the same test that Goodman uses to justify his reading of Mahāyāna ethics as a whole. The second part examines the Dalai Lama’s ethics in comparison to Christine Swanton, a representative of a pluralistic approach to virtue ethics in contemporary analytic philosophy. By comparing the ethics of the Dalai Lama and Swanton, the article does not wish to suggest that her pluralistic approach to virtue ethics is the closest western analogue to Buddhist virtue ethics. I use comparison, not to understand the Dalai Lama’s ethical ideas from the perspective of Swanton’s ethics, but rather to highlight what is unique about the Dalai Lama’s approach to virtue ethics, which is pluralistic in a characteristically Buddhist way.

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Buddhism, Punishment, and Reconciliation

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Buddhism, Punishment, and Reconciliation

Charles K. Fink
Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus

One important foundation of Buddhist ethics is a commitment to nonviolence. My aim in this paper is to work out the implications of this commitment with regard to the treatment of offenders. Given that punishment involves the intentional infliction of harm, I argue that the practice of punishment is incompatible with the principle of nonviolence. The core moral teaching of the Buddha is to conquer evil with goodness, and it is reconciliation, rather than punishment, that conforms to this teaching. I argue that a commitment to nonviolence requires not only that we refrain from inflicting intentional harm, but that we refrain from inflicting unnecessary harm, and that this has important implications concerning the practice of incapacitation. I analyze the concept of harm and argue that the Buddhist understanding of this notion leads to the conclusion that none of the standard justifications for punishment are compatible with the principle of nonviolence, properly understood.

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Review: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Consequences of Compassion: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics. By Charles Goodman. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, viii + 250 pages, ISBN 978–0–19–537519–0 (cloth), $74.00.

Reviewed by Richard Hayes

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