Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Review: Luminosity and Personhood in Indian and Chinese Thought

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 23, 2016

Encounters of Mind: Luminosity and Personhood in Indian and Chinese Thought. By Douglas L. Berger. Albany: SUNY Press, 2015, 262 pages, ISBN 9781438454740 (paperback), $24.95.

Reviewed by Leah Kalmanson

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Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Nature’s No-Thingness: Holistic Eco-Buddhism and the Problem of Universal Identity

Marek Sullivan
University of Oxford

“Holistic eco-Buddhism” has been roundly criticized for its heterodoxy and philosophical incoherence: the Buddha never claimed we should protect an “eco-self” and there are serious philosophical problems attendant on “identifying with things.” Yet this essay finds inadequate attention has been paid to East Asian sources. Metaphysical issues surrounding eco-Buddhism, i.e., problems of identity and difference, universalism and particularity, have a long history in Chinese Buddhism. In particular, I examine the notion of “merging with things” in pre-Huayan and Huayan Buddhism, suggesting these offer unexplored possibilities for a coherent holistic eco-Buddhism based on the differentiating effects of activity and functionality.

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Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva

Kenneth Hutton
University of Glasgow

Although it is well known that Schopenhauer claimed that Buddhism closely reflected his own philosophy, this claim was largely ignored until the mid-late Twentieth century. Most commentators on Schopenhauer (with some recent exceptions) since then have mentioned his Buddhist affinities but have been quite broad and general in their treatment. I feel that any general comparison of Schopenhauer’s philosophy with “general” Buddhism would most likely lead to general conclusions. In this article I have attempted to offer a more specific comparison of what is central to Schopenhauer’s philosophy with what is central to Mahāyāna Buddhism, and that is the concept of compassion.

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How Ethically Unstable Is Egocentrism?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Impermanence, Anattā, and the Stability of Egocentrism; or, How Ethically Unstable Is Egocentrism?

Michael G. Barnhart
Kingsborough Community College/CUNY

Egocentrism has always been viewed as profoundly unethical, and thus a reason against ethical egoism. This paper examines the arguments for such claims and finds them somewhat wanting. It then considers the positions that egocentrism is psychologically untenable and that it is philosophically unstable. Though it appears true that egocentrism is a psychologically unappealing position for many, it isn’t universally so and may be adaptable to some dystopian situations. However, the claim that it is philosophically unstable may be more promising, and the paper turns to Owen Flanagan’s Buddhist-inspired discussion of the issue in his book The Bodhisattva’s Brain. Flanagan argues that the notion of anattā offers an important reason for not taking oneself seriously and thus fatally undermines the meaningfulness of privileging one’s own interests or concerns over others. The paper examines this reasoning, but concludes that Flanagan’s interpretation of anattā may be too weak to support his refutation of egocentrism. The paper concludes by suggesting a more extreme interpretation of anattā that Flanagan rejects and argues that it might both do the job and better resist philosophical criticism than its weaker cousin.

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Why Buddhism and the West Need Each Other

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Why Buddhism and the West Need Each Other: On the Interdependence of Personal and Social Transformation

David R. Loy

The highest ideal of the Western tradition has been the concern to restructure our societies so that they are more socially just. The most important goal for Buddhism is to awaken and (to use the Zen phrase) realize one’s true nature, which puts an end to dukkha—especially that associated with the delusion of a separate self. Today it has become more obvious that we need both: not just because these ideals complement each other, but also because each project needs the other. The Western (now world-wide) ideal of a social transformation that institutionalizes social justice has achieved much, yet, I argue, is limited because a truly good society cannot be realized without the correlative realization that personal transformation is also necessary. On the other side, the traditional Buddhist emphasis on ending individual dukkha is insufficient in the face of what we now understand about the structural causes of dukkha. This does not mean simply adding a concern for social justice to Buddhist teachings. For example, applying a Buddhist perspective to structural dukkha implies an alternative evaluation of our economic situation. Instead of appealing for distributive justice, this approach focuses on the consequences of individual and institutionalized delusion: the dukkha of a sense of a self that feels separate from others, whose sense of lack consumerism exploits and institutionalizes into economic structures that assume a life (and motivations) of their own.

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Buddhist Reductionism and Free Will: Paleo-compatibilism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 19, 2012

Buddhist Reductionism and Free Will:Paleo-compatibilism

Riccardo Repetti
Kingsborough College, CUNY

This is the second article in a four-article series that examines Buddhist responses to the Western philosophical problem of whether free will is compatible with “determinism,” the doctrine of universal causation. The first article focused on the first publications on this issue in the 1970s, the “early period”; the present article and the next examine key responses published in the last part of the Twentieth century and first part of the Twenty-first, the “middle period”; and the fourth article will examine responses published in the last few years. Whereas early-period scholars endorsed compatibilism, in the middle period the pendulum moved the other way: Mark Siderits argued for a Buddhist version of partial incompatibilism, semi-compatibilism, or “paleo-compatibilism,” and Charles Goodman argued for a straightforward Buddhist hard determinism. The present article focuses on Siderits’s paleo-compatibilism; the subsequent article focuses on Goodman’s hard determinism.

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Does Anātman Rationally Entail Altruism?

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Does Anātman Rationally Entail Altruism? On Bodhicaryāvatāra 8:101-103

Stephen Harris
University of New Mexico

In the eighth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, the Buddhist philosopher Śāntideva has often been interpreted as offering an argument that accepting the ultimate nonexistence of the self (anātman) rationally entails a commitment to altruism, the view that one should care equally for self and others. In this essay, I consider reconstructions of Śāntideva’s argument by contemporary scholars Paul Williams, Mark Siderits and John Pettit. I argue that all of these various reconfigurations of the argument fail to be convincing. This suggests that, for Madhyamaka Buddhists, an understanding of anātman does not entail acceptance of the Bodhisattva path, but rather is instrumental to achieving it. Second, it suggests the possibility that in these verses, Śāntideva was offering meditational techniques, rather than making an argument for altruism from the premise of anātman.

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Review: A Buddhist Social Theory

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory. By David R. Loy. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003. 228 pages. Paperback. ISBN 0861713664.

Reviewed by Dan Arnold

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Review Essay: Personal Identity and Buddhist Philosophy

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 11, 2004

Personal Identity and Buddhist Philosophy: Empty Persons. By Mark Siderits. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003. 231 pages. Cloth. ISBN 0-7546-3473-6.

Reviewed by Roger Farrington

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A Buddhist Vision of Social Justice

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

Selflessness: Toward a Buddhist Vision of Social Justice

Sungtaek Cho
State University of New York at Stony Brook

The difficulty of developing a theoretical framework for Buddhism’s engagement with contemporary social issues is rooted in the very nature of Buddhism as an ontological discourse aiming at individual salvation through inner transformation. It is my contention, however, that the concept of “selflessness” can become the basis of a Buddhist theory of social justice without endangering Buddhism’s primary focus on individual salvation. In this article, I show how the key concept of selflessness can provide a viable ground for Buddhist social justice by comparing it with one of the most influential contemporary Western theories of social justice, that of the American philosopher John Rawls. Drawing on the bodhisattva ideal and the Buddhist concepts of “sickness” and “cure,” I then demonstrate how selflessness can serve as a link that allows Buddhists to be socially engaged even while pursuing the goal of individual salvation.

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Bioengineering and Buddhist Values

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

Nature, Nurture, and No-Self: Bioengineering and Buddhist Values

Michael G. Barnhart
Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

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Review: Nāgārjuna’s Philosophy

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 7, 2000

Emptiness Appraised: A Critical Study of Nagarjuna’s Philosophy. By David F. Burton. London: Curzon Press, 1999, xvi + 233 pages, ISBN 0-7007-1066-3 (cloth), £40.

Reviewed by Paul J. Griffiths

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Review: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāṇa in Early Buddhism

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 4 1997

The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāṇa in Early Buddhism. By Peter Harvey. London: Curzon Press, 1995, viii, 293 pages, 0-7007-0337-3 (paperback), £14.99; ISBN 0-7007-0338-1 (cloth).

Reviewed by Rupert Gethin

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Review: Lack and Transcendence

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism. By David Loy. Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1996, 248 pages, ASIN 0391038605, US $49.95.

Reviewed by Michael F. Stoeber

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