The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 3–4, pp 293–304 | Cite as

Ego, Egoism and the Impact of Religion on Ethical Experience: What a Paradoxical Consequence of Buddhist Culture Tells Us About Moral Psychology

  • Jay L. GarfieldEmail author
  • Shaun Nichols
  • Arun K. Rai
  • Nina Strohminger


We discuss the structure of Buddhist theory, showing that it is a kind of moral phenomenology directed to the elimination of egoism through the elimination of a sense of self. We then ask whether being raised in a Buddhist culture in which the values of selflessness and the sense of non-self are so deeply embedded transforms one’s sense of who one is, one’s ethical attitudes and one’s attitude towards death, and in particular whether those transformations are consistent with the predictions that Buddhist texts themselves make. We discover that the effects are often significant, but not always expected.


Cognitive science of religion Cross-cultural psychology Death anxiety Personal identity Self Tibetan Buddhism 



We thank the John Templeton Foundation, The University of California, Riverside and the Central University of Tibetan Studies for valuable research support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jay L. Garfield
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
    Email author
  • Shaun Nichols
    • 7
  • Arun K. Rai
    • 6
  • Nina Strohminger
    • 3
  1. 1.Yale-NUS CollegeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.Smith CollegeNorthamptonUSA
  5. 5.University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  6. 6.Central University of Tibetan StudiesVaranasiIndia
  7. 7.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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