The Ethics of Interconnectedness: Charles Taylor, No-Self, and Buddhism

In Gordon F. Davis (ed.), Ethics without Self, Dharma without Atman. New York, NY, USA: Springer. pp. 235-251 (2018)
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My aim in this paper is to chart what I see as parallels between the ontology of self in Charles Taylor’s work and that of various Buddhist ‘no-self’ views, along with parallels between Taylor’s commitment to reviving republican ideas and some aspects of Buddhist ethics. I see key resemblances and overlaps at the level of metaphysics as well as ethics. For Taylor, the sorts of atomistic accounts of self that have come to be accepted as natural and unquestionable in the West are deeply misguided. The dominant Hobbesian-Lockean procedural picture of selfhood blinds us to the intrinsic relatedness of self to others and has profoundly negative consequences for the kinds of shared conceptions of the good necessary for viable and functioning democracies to survive and flourish. For Taylor, we thus need to retrieve and rearticulate a more accurate understanding of the self (Taylor 1985a, c, d, 1989, 1995a, b, 2003). This conception acknowledges that the self is located in a web of locution, conversation, and social interconnectedness, a sense that gives rise to an expanded notion of our moral and political duties. I argue that such an understanding of the self and ethics has strong resemblances to the kinds of views of the self and ethics as articulated by various schools of Buddhism. Conceptions of anātman or no-self and pratītyasamutpāda (interconnectedness) similarly broaden the scope and domain of our moral concern to be more inclusive by interrogating perspectives that conceive of the self as a separate and isolated individual. This is illustrated by many Buddhist schools of philosophy, which argue that a more accurate understanding of the self as empty of inherent and separate existence leads to adopting a more compassionate ethical stance towards others. I would suggest that, along the same lines, this understanding is required for a sustainable future for not only our communities, but that of an increasingly interrelated and interdependent world.

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Ashwani Kumar Peetush
Wilfrid Laurier University


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