In Manuel Vargas & John Doris (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 7-23 (2022)

Bronwyn Finnigan
Australian National University
The Buddha taught that there is no self. He also accepted a version of the doctrine of karmic rebirth, according to which good and bad actions accrue merit and demerit respectively and where this determines the nature of the agent’s next life and explains some of the beneficial or harmful occurrences in that life. But how is karmic rebirth possible if there are no selves? If there are no selves, it would seem there are no agents that could be held morally responsible for ‘their’ actions. If actions are those happenings in the world performed by agents, it would seem there are no actions. And if there are no agents and no actions, then morality and the notion of karmic retribution would seem to lose application. Historical opponents argued that the Buddha's teaching of no self was tantamount to moral nihilism. The Buddha, and later Buddhist philosophers, firmly reject this charge. The relevant philosophical issues span a vast intellectual terrain and inspired centuries of philosophical reflection and debate. This article will contextualise and survey some of the historical and contemporary debates relevant to moral psychology and Buddhist ethics. They include whether the Buddha's teaching of no-self is consistent with the possibility of moral responsibility; the role of retributivism in Buddhist thought; the possibility of a Buddhist account of free will; the scope and viability of recent attempts to naturalise karma to character virtues and vices, and whether and how right action is to be understood within a Buddhist framework.
Keywords Buddhism  Karma  Buddhist Ethics  Free Will  Moral Responsibility  Self  Character  Naturalistic Ethics  Happiness and Well Being  Retributivism
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
Buddhism as Philosophy.Mark Siderits - 2021 - Hackett Publishing Company.
Free Will.Sam Harris - 2012 - Free Press.
Attention, Not Self.Jonardon Ganeri - 2017 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

View all 45 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Karma, Character, and Consequentialism.Damien Keown - 1996 - Journal of Religious Ethics 24 (2):329-350.
Buddhism and Animal Ethics.Bronwyn Finnigan - 2017 - Philosophy Compass 12 (7):1-12.
Good and Well: The Case for Secular Buddhist Ethics.Paul Verhaeghen - 2015 - Contemporary Buddhism 16 (1):43-54.
Buddhist Ethics: A Review Essay. [REVIEW]Maria Heim - 2011 - Journal of Religious Ethics 39 (3):571-584.
The Cultivation of Virtue in Buddhist Ethics.Charles K. Fink - 2013 - Journal of Buddhist Ethics 20:667-701.
Kant and Karma.Bradford Cokelet - 2006 - Journal of Buddhist Ethics 12.
Embryo Experimentation in Buddhist Ethics.Piyali Mitra - 2018 - Journal of Dharma Studies 1 (1):163-178.


Added to PP index

Total views
656 ( #11,722 of 2,498,779 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
148 ( #4,180 of 2,498,779 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes