Dewey’s Metaethics and Theravāda

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 17, 2010

Theravāda Buddhism and John Dewey’s Metaethics

Or Neeman
University of Pittsburgh

In this article I carry out a comparison between the metaethical views of John Dewey in “Theory of Valuation” and the ethical methodology of Theravāda Buddhism. I argue that the latter illustrates how Dewey’s view of ethics may be applied. Specifically, his view is that ethics can be and ought to be a science, and that ethical knowledge, like all scientific knowledge, is causal. Thus, the focus of ethics is on the causes and effects of our actions. This includes a concrete analysis of desire and the context in which it arises. I further argue that the comparison with Dewey helps to transcend the debate over whether Buddhist ethics more closely resemble utilitarianism or Aristotelian ethics.

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