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Adam Groundwork for Am Eta Physic of Buddhist

Adam Groundwork for Am Eta Physic of Buddhist

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Published by: Mauricio Andrés Salinas Moreno on Aug 01, 2010
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10/25/2012

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Journal of Buddhist Ethics
ISSN 1076-9005http://jbe.gold.ac.uk/ 
Groundwork for a Metaphysic of BuddhistMorals: A New Analysis of 
 puñña 
and
kusala 
, in light of 
sukka 
 
Martin T. AdamUniversity of VictoriaEmail: mtadam@uvic.ca
Copyright Notice: 
Digital copies of this work may be made and dis-tributed provided no change is made and no alteration is made to thecontent. Reproduction in any other format, with the exception of asingle copy for private study, requires the written permission of the au-thor. All enquiries to: d.keown@gold.ac.uk
 
 
Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Buddhist Morals
Martin T. AdamUniversity of VictoriaEmail: mtadam@uvic.ca
Abstract
This paper offers a new basis for assessing the nature of Buddhist moralthinking. Although consistent with Damien Keown’s view that Buddhist eth-ics may be considered a form of virtue ethics, the account outlined here doesnot aim to determine which western ethical theory Buddhism most closelymatches. It suggests instead that Buddhist discourse presupposes differentkinds of moral agency, distinguishable on the basis of the spiritual status of the agent. The moral language characteristically employed in different textsof the P
ā
li Canon differs accordingly. This accounts for some of the difficul-ties experienced by modern authors attempting to make comparisons withwestern traditions. Apparent inconsistencies among the texts can be resolvedif one takes careful note of the spiritual status of the moral agents under dis-cussion. The argument is based upon an analysis of a particular conceptualschema found in the P
ā
li Canon, namely, the tetrad of four logical categoriesof action based upon the pair of the bright and the dark (
sukka 
and
ka 
ṇ 
ha 
).This schema is employed in order to clarify the relationship of two morecommonly discussed terms,
 puñña 
and
kusala 
.
Section 1:
Sukka
and
Ka
ha
 
One of the more fertile ongoing conversations in the field of Buddhist Studiesrevolves around the problem of correctly situating the principles of Buddhist
 
63
Journal of Buddhist Ethics 
morality in relation to western ethical theories. Recent debate has focusedupon the work of Damien Keown (1992), who has argued for a classificationof early Buddhist ethics as a form of virtue ethics importantly similar to thesystem of Aristotle. Keown has indicated that both systems are centered on ateleological goal that is valued for its own sake and for the sake of which alllesser goals are sought:
eudaimonia 
(happiness) for Aristotle and
nirv 
āṇ 
inthe case of Buddhism.
1
In both cases the
summum bonum 
is attained throughthe cultivation of specific mental states that “participate in” or share the na-ture of the final good. For Aristotle these are the virtues. Keown argues thatthe conceptual frameworks of the two systems are sufficiently similar to war-rant the application of this term in the Buddhist context. More recently, Velezde Cea (2004) has critiqued Keown, arguing that the system of values foundin the P
ā
li
uttas 
is unclassifiable in terms of a single western theory, but if anything most closely resembles a combination of virtue ethics, utilitarianism,and moral realism. In this paper I wish to provide some of the groundwork fora revised account of Buddhist moral thinking, one that draws upon the in-sights of both authors, but which attempts to assess Buddhist moral discoursein specifically Buddhist terms rather than western categories.
The point of departure for much of the current discussion pertains to theP
ā
li words that have been translated into English as “good.” A key chapter of Keown’s study is centered on two main terms, namely,
 puñña 
and
kusala 
. Thequestion posed is how, exactly, are these words conceptually related? Do theyrefer to precisely the same set of phenomena, or do they differ in their refer-ence? There appear to be at least three logical possibilities. Keown takes theposition that the terms refer to the same extensional set. “[E]very virtuous ac-tion is both
kusala 
and
 puñña 
...
[K]usala 
and
akusala 
describe the moralstatus of actions and dispositions
vis-à-vis 
the
summum bonum 
.
Puñña 
, onthe other hand, describes the experiential consequences of moral activity suf-fered by the agent” (1992:123). Velez de Cea disagrees on this point, arguingthat the two represent two different kinds of action (2004:130). Others haveargued for an overlap in signification, with
kusala 
being the more generalterm (Premasiri 1976:72, see Keown 1992:122-123).
2
 Before we can begin our own approach to this discussion one importantobservation must be made. As is apparent from Keown’s remark,
 puñña 
and
kusala 
each represent the positive pole of an antithetical pair of moral terms:

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