Resources for Buddhist Environmental Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

Resources for Buddhist Environmental Ethics

Christopher Ives
Stonehill College

In recent decades Buddhists have been turning their attention to environmental problems. To date, however, no one has formulated a systematic Buddhist environmental ethic, and critics have highlighted a number of weak points in Buddhist arguments thus far about environmental issues. Nevertheless, Buddhism does provide resources for constructing an environmental ethic. This essay takes stock of what appear to be the most significant of those resources, including the Buddhist anthropology, the tradition’s virtue ethic, elements in Buddhist epistemologies, doctrines that make it possible to determine the relative value of things, the Four Noble Truths as an analytical framework, and bases for action if not activism.

Read article

One thought on “Resources for Buddhist Environmental Ethics”

  1. Thanks to Christopher Ives for the very useful list of topics at the beginning of this paper. It constitutes a nice agenda.

    Beside that, I take opportunity to say that as a Buddhist practitioner I do not share the taste professional scholars of “Buddhism” have for arguing endlessly about the nature of Buddhist ethics in relation to the three main systems adopted in the West. (Notwithstanding the fact that Kant’s deontology is never seriously studied in this context, whereas it could be easily.)

    During the conferences at Columbia University on “Contemporary Perspectives on Buddhist ethics,” many scholars and philosophers complained that there were no meta-ethics in this Shasana. We can understand the reason for this by reading Francisco Varela’s “Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition.” He was not a professional philosopher nor a scholar of Buddhism, but I think he got it right. His book is never mentioned by those; I do not know why.

    Anyway, this will to enroll Buddhist ethics in one of the big Western systems appears to my eyes as an ethnocentric move. Of course, comparative philosophy in itself is not, but this is different.

    As Cora Diamond wrote in “Losing Your Concepts”: “It is not part of the nature of things that ethical theories should come in two sorts, deontological and teleological. Our habits of classification of ethical theories and modes of ethical thought, based on false and oversimple notions of the aim of ethics, impede our understanding and distort our perception. No principles of classification are forced on us by the nature of ethics; we shape what ethical discussion is in part by what we choose to bring together, by the patterns of resemblances and differences in ethical thought that we trace and display.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *