Kant and Karma

Journal of Buddhist Ethics 12 (2006)
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Abstract

Adding to growing debate about the role of rebirth in Buddhist ethics, Dale S. Wright has recently advocated distinguishing and distancing the concept of karma from that of rebirth. In this paper, I evaluate Wright’s arguments in the light of Immanuel Kant’s views about supernatural beliefs. Although Kant is a paradigmatic Enlightenment critic of metaphysical speculation and traditional dogmas, he also offers thought-provoking practical arguments in favor of adopting supernatural (theistic) beliefs. In the light of Kant’s views, I argue we can assuage most of Wright’s worries about the traditional concept of rebirth and better identify the outstanding philosophic questions on which the debate between traditionalists and reformers rests. I conclude by expressing doubts about whether the karma controversy can be settled at a general level; I argue that it can be adequately discussed and resolved only within particular Buddhist traditions.

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Bradford Cokelet
University of Kansas

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