Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Criteria of Goodness in the Pāli Nikāyas

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 11 2004

The Criteria of Goodness in the Pāli Nikāyas and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics

Abraham Velez de Cea
Georgetown University

I start by discussing Damien Keown’s important contribution to the field of Buddhist ethics, and I point out some difficulties derived from his criterion of goodness based on the identification of nirvana with the good and the right. In the second part, I expand Keown’s conception of virtue ethics and overcome the difficulties affecting his criterion of goodness by proposing a heuristic distinction between instrumental and teleological actions. In the third part, I explore the early Buddhist criteria of goodness and argue that they do not correspond to a form of virtue ethics as Keown defines it, but rather to a particular system of virtue ethics with features of utilitarianism and moral realism. That is, a system where the goodness of actions is determined not only by the mental states underlying actions as Keown claims, but also by the content and the consequences of actions for the happiness of oneself and others.

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