I think it is quite interesting to note the difference in focus -

In Western Philosophy (WP), ethics is, if I may frame it really crudely, an attempt to create a cohesive picture of an objectively preferable morality (morality being distinct as the set of preferences of a particular culture or society). So many different philosophers have their own models and spent centuries disagreeing, I think mainly because the focus of WP is on the pursuit of truth, and what arises out of this is a sense that transcendent truth is largely inaccessible, and so all texts must rely on thorough reasoning to escape the muddiness of common ideas. As such, it is not common to find WPs who advocate a full 'recipe' for ethical character, except perhaps, for the Stoics, whose focus is much on practically applicability, which is not the grand focus of WP, which as said above, is precisely an epistemic exercise.

Buddhism, as a doctrine rather than discipline, can advocate a set of behaviours and regard them as instrumental to something higher. WP has slowly abandoned spirituality because it is not something which can be examined with reason, and this puts a ceiling on the kinds of things you can do. It means that one is forced to justify everything one says, and fully expect to be contradicted. Religious disciplines, on the other hand, can rely on charismatic language to persuade.

That said, Buddhism does not rely as much on charismatic language and persuasion as other doctrines. Nor does it rely on myths or fables, rather on what is a very philosophical reflective process. It seems almost obvious once it has been said, that we will all die, we will all suffer. Stoics felt a similar need to remind us, and both had the idea that this perspective would make us better people - treat ourselves and others better, by realising that we have nothing to gain from anger or selfishness. In fact, this being part of the idea that coming to see the world as it is will be liberating, goes beyond the explicit statements of many WPs, who often take it as read that knowledge is a good in itself, and with understanding, we will all just sort of know what to do with it. Buddhism seeing enlightnment as instrumental to something in particular - transcendance - I think is an important difference.

Overall though, there is an emphasis on discipline rather than inquest. The answer has been reached, we just have to follow it. This is the fundamental difference as far as I can tell. Which is why there is no term for 'ethics' in the writings - there is no need to examine or formulate or criticise, the answer is assumed to be reached. Not a terrible answer, but for good or ill, certainly lacking in challenge.

posted by Ezana: 1475 days ago