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:
(happiness) for Aristotle and
inthe case of Buddhism.
In both cases the
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
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
li words that have been translated into English as “good.” A key chapter of Keown’s study is centered on two main terms, namely,
. 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
describe the moralstatus of actions and dispositions
, 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
being the more generalterm (Premasiri 1976:72, see Keown 1992:122-123).
Before we can begin our own approach to this discussion one importantobservation must be made. As is apparent from Keown’s remark,
each represent the positive pole of an antithetical pair of moral terms: