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Rick Repetti


I have two questions:

1. You say that Buddhism doesn't distinguish between moral and non-moral, and this does seem so at least prima facie. But couldn't a Buddhist say that the alleviation or ending of dukkha (suffering) is morally primary or foundational, and that kusala and akusala (skillful and unskillful) are secondary, but essentially determined by reference to the end of dukkha. All the bees in your analogy (the lists of many often disparate things that are moral or amoral) are united in this respect. Some items may seem to be more prudential than moral, first blush, but in the same way that a utilitarian can reduce any moral value to a consequential consideration, Charles Goodman and others can argue that any item on the list that doesn't seem moral according to some stronger Western conception of morals (according to which it is merely prudential) is on analysis consequential and thus moral in the Goodman-like Buddhist consequentialist understanding of morals. A support for this is the obvious extent to which the ending of dukkha is very much a negative hedonic consideration. The epistemology for this is both the Buddha's authority and the experiential confirmation from arhats, bodhisattvas and advanced practitioners, who analyze what is kusala and akusala in their own experience, as articulated in the Abhidharma. Also, as I mentioned in my question about the issue of “no Buddhist moral theory” to Damien Keown (on this website), since Buddhism is centrally soteriological in its aim, apparently assumes folks generally know what is good and what is bad, presupposes a blended causal/karmic/moral ordering principle to the intentional if not also the non-intentional universe, and focuses therefore not on “what is good?” but on “how can I increase my own ability to actually be good?”, Buddhism has no problem with, and thus no philosophical need to explicate, the nature of morals or thus to formulate any moral theory (which, referring to the Buddha’s arrow analogy, is needlessly speculative), but only a moral/soteriological psychology, which it does at the level of overkill. Since moral psychology is wise to include not only moral but prudential and related soteriological principles, doesn’t it only stand to reason that in all your investigations you would not find what Buddhism has no need to supply, namely, criteria that distinguish the moral from the non-moral?

2. You appeal to how average folks make moral judgments, in ways that seem facially to undermine the legitimacy of the moral/non-moral distinction. But can one legitimately infer anything metaethical or prescriptive from anything merely descriptive? E.g., the mere fact that the way normative judgments are held valid is relative to cultures doesn't entail that the way normative judgments ought to be made (or evaluated for their validity) is by simple reference to the relevant culture, nor does it entail that the metaphysics of morals is relativistic. Here, the way folks seem to blur the distinction is a descriptive observation, but you seem to be using it as the premise for a metaethical conclusion about the absence of a metaphysical/conceptual basic for the validity of the distinction. In short, why should we think that how ordinary folks blur the distinction is valid evidence for how they should conceive the distinction?

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