Non-Self and Ethics: Kantian and Buddhist Themes

In Gordon Davis (ed.), Ethics without Self, Dharma without Atman: Western and Buddhist Philosophical Traditions in Dialogue. Springer. pp. 145-159 (2018)
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Abstract

After distinguishing between a metaphysical and a contemplative strategy interpretation of the no-self doctrine, I argue that the latter allows for the illumination of significant and under-discussed Kantian affinities with Buddhist views of the self and moral psychology. Unlike its metaphysical counterpart, the contemplative strategy interpretation, understands the doctrine of no-self as a technique of perception, undertaken from the practical standpoint of action. I argue that if we think of the contemplative strategy version of the no-self doctrine as a process engaged in, in order to free oneself from delusion and to see things more objectively in order to promote right action, then we find a clear parallel in Kant’s duty of self-knowledge which demands that we rid ourselves of deluded moral self-descriptions. While in Buddhism the aim is a selflessness that liberates one from suffering, for Kant the aim is an agency free of the conceit that interferes with clear moral vision, sound judgement, and dutiful action. I conclude by responding to objections advanced by Charles Goodman which aim to show that the Kantian position is deeply at odds with Buddhist thinking, arguing that neither Kantian agency nor Kantian self-legislation is undermined by the doctrine of no-self.

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