How Can a Buddha Come to Act?: The Possibility of a Buddhist Account of Ethical Agency

How Can a Buddha Come to Act?: The Possibility of a Buddhist Account of Ethical Agency COMMENT AND DISCUSSION HowCanaBuddhaCometoAct?ThePossibilityofaBuddhist AccountofEthicalAgency Bronwyn Finnigan DepartmentofPhilosophy,UniversityofAuckland Introduction Inthepastdecadeorsotherehasbeenasurgeofmonographsonthenatureof`BuddhistEthics.'Forthemostpart,authorsareconcernedwithdevelopinganddefendingexplicationsofBuddhismasanormativeethicaltheorywithanapparentaimof puttingBuddhistthoughtdirectlyindialoguewithcontemporaryWesternphilosophical debates in ethics. Despite disagreement among Buddhist ethicists concerning whichcontemporarynormativeethicaltheoryaBuddhistethicwouldmostclosely resemble(ifany),1itisarguablethatallBuddhistethicists(likeallBuddhists)embrace andendorsetheFourNobleTruthsasaframingassumption.Thatis,aBuddhistethic will(1)typicallyassumethatwefalliblehumanbeingsareintrouble hatis,that --t thereissuffering(Skt.duhkha /Tib.sdug bsngal );(2)diagnosethetrouble;(3)posita strategyforovercomingthetrouble(forexample,theEightfoldPath);and(often)(4) indicatewhatlifewouldbelikewhenonehasovercomethetrouble.Significantly, foranyethicaltheorythatis`progressive'inthesenseofpositingastrategyorpathwaytowardadesiredteleologicalend,therewillbeasymmetricrelationofdependencebetweentheteleologicalendandthestrategyemployedtoachievethatend. Thatis,notonlywillthestagesofthepathwaypositedforovercomingthetroublebe justifiedinrelationtotheirroleinconstitutingorproducingtheteleologicalend,but the teleological end itself will be determined by this process.2Arguably, the Four NobleTruthsarealsoaframingassumptionfortheIndianandTibetantraditionof Buddhist logic and epistemology that stems from the thought of Dignga and Dharmakrti.Accordingtothistradition,onemajorcauseofourtroubleisouremploymentofuniversals(s m nya /spyi).3Mostcrudely,thispracticeleadsusto(fala a laciously)positandreifytheobjectsofourintentionalstates.4Wethinktherereally arepeopleandmiddle-sizedobjects`outthere'towardwhichwedirectouranger, fear,andclinging,andtherebyperpetuatethesufferingthatisthecentralexpression ofourtrouble. Moresubtly,ouremploymentofuniversalsleadsustoconfuseourperceptual judgments5orconceptualcognitions(considered,ultimately,tobeerroneousordistorted,bhr nta)withperception(whichisconsideredtobenon-erroneousorundisa torted,abhr nta).Howshallweunderstandthis?Perception(pratyaka / mngon sum) a accordingtoDharmakrti,isoneofonlytwotypesofknowledge,orvalidcognition (pram na/tshad ma),6thesecondofwhichisinference(anum na / rjes dpag).Pera a Volume61,Number1January2011134­160 ©2011byUniversityofHawai`iPress ception is considered to be the initial and direct acquaintance with a real object, where the only real objects in Dharmakrti's ontology are unique and momentary particulars(svalakaa / rang mtshan)capableofcausalefficacy(arthakriy ). a Importantly,perceptionisconsideredtobefreefromconceptuality(kalpan poha) a and,assuch,isundistorted.Bycontrast,cognitionsthatareinanywaymediatedby concepts, language, memory, or recognition (such as perceptual judgments of the kind`thisissuch-and-such'orinstancesof`seeingas')aredistorted.Thisisbecause their objects are conceptual constructs, or universally characterized phenomena (s m nyalakaa / spyi mtshan),anduniversallycharacterizedphenomenaarenot a a real.Moreover,althoughinferenceisconsideredtobeavalidformofcognition,itis still a form of conceptual knowledge and, ultimately speaking, does not directly grasparealparticularobjectinitstruenature.7Thus,inferentialcognitionis,essentially,distortedknowledge,unlikeperception.8 IfwereturntotheframingassumptionoftheFourNobleTruths,theDharmakrtian systemsuggestsacharacterizationofthemindnotonlyoffalliblehumanbeingson thepathwaytobuddhahood,butalsothatofabuddhaattheendofthisprocess.Falliblehumanbeingsrelyoninferenceasasourceofknowledge,engageinc nceptual o cognition,andhavedualisticawareness.Thesepractices(andcognitivecapacities) relyonuniversals/conceptsand,assuch,aredistorted.9Ourrelianceonuniversalsis oftenexplainedintermsofourignorance(avidy / ma rig pa).Abuddha,bycontrast, a isonewhotranscendsalldistortionandignorance.Hehasknowledgeonthebasis ofdirectperception,engagesinnonconceptualcognition,andhasnondualawareness. Asonemightexpect,anumberofphilosophicalproblemsarisefromthissystem. Forthemostpart,respondents(bothtraditionalandcontemporary)focusonproblemsthatarisespecificallyinepistemology,ontology,andlogic.10Whatisoftenoverlookedisthatthissystemalsohasimplicationsforphilosophyofmindinrelationto Buddhist ethical theory. In a recent article, Jay Garfield (2006) canvasses some of http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophy East and West University of Hawai'I Press

How Can a Buddha Come to Act?: The Possibility of a Buddhist Account of Ethical Agency

Philosophy East and West, Volume 61 (1) – Jan 16, 2011

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COMMENT AND DISCUSSION HowCanaBuddhaCometoAct?ThePossibilityofaBuddhist AccountofEthicalAgency Bronwyn Finnigan DepartmentofPhilosophy,UniversityofAuckland Introduction Inthepastdecadeorsotherehasbeenasurgeofmonographsonthenatureof`BuddhistEthics.'Forthemostpart,authorsareconcernedwithdevelopinganddefendingexplicationsofBuddhismasanormativeethicaltheorywithanapparentaimof puttingBuddhistthoughtdirectlyindialoguewithcontemporaryWesternphilosophical debates in ethics. Despite disagreement among Buddhist ethicists concerning whichcontemporarynormativeethicaltheoryaBuddhistethicwouldmostclosely resemble(ifany),1itisarguablethatallBuddhistethicists(likeallBuddhists)embrace andendorsetheFourNobleTruthsasaframingassumption.Thatis,aBuddhistethic will(1)typicallyassumethatwefalliblehumanbeingsareintrouble hatis,that --t thereissuffering(Skt.duhkha /Tib.sdug bsngal );(2)diagnosethetrouble;(3)posita strategyforovercomingthetrouble(forexample,theEightfoldPath);and(often)(4) indicatewhatlifewouldbelikewhenonehasovercomethetrouble.Significantly, foranyethicaltheorythatis`progressive'inthesenseofpositingastrategyorpathwaytowardadesiredteleologicalend,therewillbeasymmetricrelationofdependencebetweentheteleologicalendandthestrategyemployedtoachievethatend. Thatis,notonlywillthestagesofthepathwaypositedforovercomingthetroublebe justifiedinrelationtotheirroleinconstitutingorproducingtheteleologicalend,but the teleological end itself will be determined by this process.2Arguably, the Four NobleTruthsarealsoaframingassumptionfortheIndianandTibetantraditionof Buddhist logic and epistemology that stems from the thought of Dignga and Dharmakrti.Accordingtothistradition,onemajorcauseofourtroubleisouremploymentofuniversals(s m nya /spyi).3Mostcrudely,thispracticeleadsusto(fala a laciously)positandreifytheobjectsofourintentionalstates.4Wethinktherereally arepeopleandmiddle-sizedobjects`outthere'towardwhichwedirectouranger, fear,andclinging,andtherebyperpetuatethesufferingthatisthecentralexpression ofourtrouble. Moresubtly,ouremploymentofuniversalsleadsustoconfuseourperceptual judgments5orconceptualcognitions(considered,ultimately,tobeerroneousordistorted,bhr nta)withperception(whichisconsideredtobenon-erroneousorundisa torted,abhr nta).Howshallweunderstandthis?Perception(pratyaka / mngon sum) a accordingtoDharmakrti,isoneofonlytwotypesofknowledge,orvalidcognition (pram na/tshad ma),6thesecondofwhichisinference(anum na / rjes dpag).Pera a Volume61,Number1January2011134­160 ©2011byUniversityofHawai`iPress ception is considered to be the initial and direct acquaintance with a real object, where the only real objects in Dharmakrti's ontology are unique and momentary particulars(svalakaa / rang mtshan)capableofcausalefficacy(arthakriy ). a Importantly,perceptionisconsideredtobefreefromconceptuality(kalpan poha) a and,assuch,isundistorted.Bycontrast,cognitionsthatareinanywaymediatedby concepts, language, memory, or recognition (such as perceptual judgments of the kind`thisissuch-and-such'orinstancesof`seeingas')aredistorted.Thisisbecause their objects are conceptual constructs, or universally characterized phenomena (s m nyalakaa / spyi mtshan),anduniversallycharacterizedphenomenaarenot a a real.Moreover,althoughinferenceisconsideredtobeavalidformofcognition,itis still a form of conceptual knowledge and, ultimately speaking, does not directly grasparealparticularobjectinitstruenature.7Thus,inferentialcognitionis,essentially,distortedknowledge,unlikeperception.8 IfwereturntotheframingassumptionoftheFourNobleTruths,theDharmakrtian systemsuggestsacharacterizationofthemindnotonlyoffalliblehumanbeingson thepathwaytobuddhahood,butalsothatofabuddhaattheendofthisprocess.Falliblehumanbeingsrelyoninferenceasasourceofknowledge,engageinc nceptual o cognition,andhavedualisticawareness.Thesepractices(andcognitivecapacities) relyonuniversals/conceptsand,assuch,aredistorted.9Ourrelianceonuniversalsis oftenexplainedintermsofourignorance(avidy / ma rig pa).Abuddha,bycontrast, a isonewhotranscendsalldistortionandignorance.Hehasknowledgeonthebasis ofdirectperception,engagesinnonconceptualcognition,andhasnondualawareness. Asonemightexpect,anumberofphilosophicalproblemsarisefromthissystem. Forthemostpart,respondents(bothtraditionalandcontemporary)focusonproblemsthatarisespecificallyinepistemology,ontology,andlogic.10Whatisoftenoverlookedisthatthissystemalsohasimplicationsforphilosophyofmindinrelationto Buddhist ethical theory. In a recent article, Jay Garfield (2006) canvasses some of

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Published: Jan 16, 2011

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