, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 115-124
Date: 11 Mar 2008

Classes of Agent and the Moral Logic of the Pali Canon

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This paper aims to lay bare the underlying logical structure of early Buddhist moral thinking. It argues that moral vocabulary in the Pali Suttas varies depending on the kind of agent under discussion and that this variance reflects an understanding that the phenomenology of moral experience also differs on the same basis. An attempt is made to spell this out in terms of attachment. The overall picture of Buddhist ethics that emerges is that of an agent-based moral contextualism. This account does not imply that the prescription for moral conduct differs according to class of agent, but rather that the correct description of moral experience does. Further it implies that the descriptions of the moral experiences of different classes of agent differ phenomenologically, rather than in terms of overt behavioral characteristics. While most of the discussion is centered on the distinction between ordinary persons and disciples in higher training, the paper concludes with a brief exploration of the problematic moral experience of the arahat.