Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Buddhist Morals

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 12, 2005

Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Buddhist Morals: A New Analysis of puñña and kusala, in Light of sukka

Martin Adam
University of Victoria

This paper offers a new basis for assessing the nature of Buddhist moral thinking. Although consistent with Damien Keown’s view that Buddhist eth­ics may be considered a form of virtue ethics, the account outlined here does not aim to determine which western ethical theory Buddhism most closely matches. It suggests instead that Buddhist discourse presupposes different kinds of moral agency, distinguishable on the basis of the spiritual status of the agent. The moral language characteristically employed in different texts of the Pāli Canon differs accordingly. This accounts for some of the difficul­ties experienced by modern authors attempting to make comparisons with western traditions. Apparent inconsistencies among the texts can be resolved if one takes careful note of the spiritual status of the moral agents under dis­cussion. The argument is based upon an analysis of a particular conceptual schema found in the Pāli Canon, namely, the tetrad of four logical categories of action based upon the pair of the bright and the dark (sukka and kaṇha). This schema is employed in order to clarify the relationship of two more commonly discussed terms, puñña and kusala.

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