Volume 12, 2005
Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Buddhist Morals: A New Analysis of puñña and kusala, in Light of sukka
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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Volume 11 2004
The Criteria of Goodness in the Pāli Nikāyas and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics
Abraham Velez de Cea
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.
Volume 9 2002
The Value of Human Differences: South Asian Buddhist Contributions Toward an Embodied Virtue Theory
Western Michigan University
What are virtues? Are these best described as cognitive and affective aspects of a person’s psyche, or can virtues also be described as features, postures, and movements of a person’s body? This paper explores the relationship between virtues and bodies in South Asian Buddhist traditions. The paper illumines several different ways in which Buddhist ethical discourse construes the nature of this relationship: (1) Bodies are the material effects of practicing virtues; (2) bodies are the material conditions for practicing virtues; (3) certain kinds of bodies can influence others to practice virtues; and (4) certain features, postures, and movements of bodies constitute in and of themselves virtues. The paper foregrounds the corporeal specificity of ethical agents in order to consider how South Asian Buddhist ethical discourse can contribute to the development of an embodied virtue theory.
Volume 8, 2001
An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues. By Peter Harvey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 478 pages, ISBN: 0-5215-5640-6 (paper): £13.95/$19.95. ISBN: 0-5215-5394-6 (hard): £37.50/$59.95.
Reviewed by Damien Keown