Early Buddhism II: Applied Ethics (Ethics-1, M31)

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

Shyam Ranganathan
York University
In the previous module, I covered the basics of Early Buddhist metaethics. The core ideas here are: (1) linguistic representation is not the same as reality – linguistic representation depicts reality as static, but reality is relational and dynamic; (2) reality can drift away from linguistic representation causing disappointment – duḥkha; (3) choosing wisely now can result in a better future; (4) ethical choice involves appreciating the justifying relations of states of affairs. In this module, I explore the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path as efforts to systematise these findings as the basis of a normative theory and applied ethics. Of special concern is its culmination in Buddhist practices of meditation. In the fourth section, we shall examine the relationship between these meditational practices and Buddhist Consequentialism. Indeed, the very practice of meditation is, in large measure, justified by the outcomes that Buddhists meditate upon. This approach to ethics is not only consequentialist, but provides a uniquely Buddhist approach to overcoming personal challenges. This allows us to revisit the issue of rule following in Buddhism. Contrary to those who would claim that Buddhist uses of "dharma" to identify wrong motives is proof that such uses are amoral, or inconsistent with Consequentialism, I show that this is exactly what we would expect if Buddhist ethics is Consequentialist. Such dharmas (ethical ends) are to be treated as ends, and not as means. Mindfulness is the appropriate means justified by such ends. The absurdity arises if we abandon Consequentialism and treat such ends requiring justification or as procedures that are reasonable, and not what confers justification.
Keywords Consequentialism  Rule-Following  Mindfulness
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