Early Buddhism I: Metaethics (Ethics-1, M-30)

In A. Raghuramaraju (ed.), Philosophy, E-PG Pathshala. Delhi: India, Department of Higher Education (NMEICT) (2016)
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Abstract

Metaethics is that part of moral philosophy that is interested in the conceptual resolution of the relationship between the RIGHT and the GOOD. Metaethics is, hence, one step removed from practical questions of how to live—but not disconnected from them. Our investigation will begin with the early Buddhist account of language as meaningful for intersubjective reasons. This gives rise to a critical awareness of the correspondence between linguistic meaning and reality. The correspondence is outside of our control, but also structured by our own intersubjective purposes. Hence, a proper appreciation of reality involves an appreciation of the causal interdependency of what we refer to. This, in turn, gives rise to an appreciation of intentional action – karma – as a special case of the general metaphysical principle: dependent origination. While our subjective desires may fail to correspond to reality, our choices constitute our contribution to causality. Some of these contributions can be good, and others are bad. The implication for our own self is that our character itself is constituted by our choices. The result is that we have little reason to believe in a permanent self, characterised by unchanging personal characteristics. Positive change that takes us away from error of a subjective approach to reality can be characterised as a void (nirvāṇa) outside of the ordinary practice of linguistic categorisation.

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Shyam Ranganathan
York University

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