The Identity Problem In Buddhist Ethics: An Examination of Buddhist and Parfitian Conceptions of the Subject
The Buddhist tradition offers a reductionist view of the subject – the ‘weak’ view -which appears to undercut concern for the consequences of action. The doctrine of morally conditioned rebirth – that is, the perpetuation of a persistent individual through death - entails a ‘strong’ view. Each view has a bearing on morality, and each is problematic: the two seem incompatible. The notion of rebirth and the associated doctrine of karman are deeply connected with this. It is in this complex that I find what I call ‘the identity problem’. I give a general account of Buddhist ethics, placing it within the tradition of ‘virtue ethics’. I show the impact of the identity problem to be large but not total. I deal also with some related topics in Buddhist doctrine: anātman, the heterodox ‘Person school’ and the ‘two-truths’ notion. I consider the bearing of Parfit’s arguments for his version of reductionism on the problem’s solution. Their support for the ‘weak’ view is real but limited. When Parfit deals with the consequences of reductionism for morality, his conclusion is uncertain. When I consider these arguments on their merits, I find them largely unpersuasive. Parfit’s account of reasons for action, with some qualifications, is acceptable, and welcome in its vindication of disinterestedness. I consider how it stands with Buddhist ethics in this light and offer restatements of the doctrines of karman and rebirth. In the case of karman, I develop the idea of a guiding metaphor and suggest how it may be applied; in that of rebirth I draw on a broader Buddhist tradition of meditation practice and benvolence. This restatement leaves the ‘strong’ view more sustainable, and its compatibility with the ‘weak’ view less problematic for morality. I then present the Buddhist ethical scheme as largely intact, if with slightly diminished coercive force.Ethics
Farrington, Roger William (2008) The Identity Problem In Buddhist Ethics: An Examination of Buddhist and Parfitian Conceptions of the Subject. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.
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