https://doi.org/10.31979/2151-6014(2013).040205">
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Abstract

In recent years, discussions of Buddhist ethics have increasingly drawn upon the concepts and tools of modern ethical theory, not only to compare Buddhist perspectives with Western moral theories, but also to assess the meta-ethical implications of Buddhist texts and their philosophical context. Philosophers aiming to defend the Madhyamaka framework in particular - its ethics and soteriology along with its logic and epistemology - have recently attempted to explain its combination of moral commitment and philosophical scepticism by appealing to various forms of meta-ethical anti-realism. This paper argues that those attempts do not succeed, even in their own terms. Their emphasis on universal compassion, among other features of their approaches, is difficult to explain normatively so long as it is embedded within an anti-realist framework. Soteriological values - such as enlightenment and liberation - also seem to require a realist account of their normativity. Though many Buddhist philosophers disagree, there is at least one form of Buddhist philosophy, that of the Yogacara school, that can be interpreted as articulating a meta-ethical realism of the kind that the broader Mahayana tradition (if not other Buddhist traditions as well) seems to require. To a greater extent than stressing common anti-realist themes would allow, the paper argues that finding common ground, where Western moral realism and Buddhist moral realism can coalesce and jointly vindicate a repertoire of shared ethical concepts, may also facilitate the efforts of those engaged in comparative ethical theory.

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