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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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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Correspondence to Jay L. Garfield.

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Garfield, J.L., Nichols, S., Rai, A.K. et al. Ego, Egoism and the Impact of Religion on Ethical Experience: What a Paradoxical Consequence of Buddhist Culture Tells Us About Moral Psychology. J Ethics 19, 293–304 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10892-015-9210-9

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Keywords

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