Karma as a Theory of Retributive Morality

  • P. K. Mohapatra


This chapter focuses on the doctrine of karma primarily as a theory of retributive morality. But it questions two of its fundamental presuppositions which, being logically flawed, severely weaken both retributivism and moral force of the doctrine. The first presupposition is (1) the supposed interdependence of its three claims that (a) every action produces some effects, (b) which and only which the agent must experience, because (c) she/he deserves them. The second presupposition is (2) the belief in rebirth and reincarnation as the sine qua non of the doctrine. We argue that assumption (1) is flawed because the supposed interdependence among a, b and c is neither logically provable nor empirically demonstrable, since each of them can be thought independently of the other two. As per assumption (2), it is argued that transmigration and rebirth are logically weak assumptions because, in the obvious absence of physical continuity, personal identity would be dubious, which alone could show that the putative karma phala is the phala of the doer’s own karma in his past life. Logically weak bases, thus, weaken the doctrine itself.

Both the presuppositions, (1) and (2) above, were forced upon the law of karma because of the supposed absoluteness and inviolability of the law. In keeping with our reconstructive analysis, it is shown that the supposed absoluteness and inviolability of the law are not only empirically non-demonstrable but also logically indefensible. With copious scriptural support, the chapter concludes that the law of karma is not inviolable and karma phala is not unavoidable. Like all moral laws, this law too is absolute but defeasible.


Retributive morality Retributivism Desert Rebirth Samsara Absolute but defeasible Personal identity 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. K. Mohapatra
    • 1
  1. 1.Former Professor of PhilosophyUtkal UniversityBhubaneswarIndia

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