Suffering and the Shape of Well-Being in Buddhist Ethics

Asian Philosophy 24 (3):242-259 (2014)
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Abstract

This article explores the defense Indian Buddhist texts make in support of their conceptions of lives that are good for an individual. This defense occurs, largely, through their analysis of ordinary experience as being saturated by subtle forms of suffering . I begin by explicating the most influential of the Buddhist taxonomies of suffering: the threefold division into explicit suffering , the suffering of change , and conditioned suffering . Next, I sketch the three theories of welfare that have been most influential in contemporary ethical theory. I then argue that Buddhist texts underdetermine which of these theories would have been accepted by ancient Indian Buddhists. Nevertheless, Buddhist ideas about suffering narrow the shape any acceptable theory of welfare may take. In my conclusion, I argue that this narrowing process itself is enough to reconstruct a philosophical defense of the forms of life endorsed in Buddhist texts.

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Stephen E. Harris
Leiden University

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