International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 149-165

First online:

Retributive karma and the problem of blaming the victim

  • Mikel BurleyAffiliated withTheology and Religious Studies, Hopewell House, University of Leeds Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


A defining feature of retributive conceptions of karma is their regarding of suffering or misfortune as consequent upon sins committed in previous lives. Some critical non-believers in karma take offence at this view, considering it to involve unjustly blaming the victim. Defenders of the view demur, and argue that a belief in retributive karma in fact provides a motivation for benevolent action. This article elucidates the debate, showing that its depth is such that it is best characterized as a disagreement in form of life (in Wittgenstein’s sense) rather than as a disagreement in opinions. Also briefly discussed is an example of a non-retributive form that belief in karma and reincarnation can take.


Karma Reincarnation Blaming the victim Arvind Sharma Ludwig Wittgenstein Hinduism Buddhism