Philosophy ETDs

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This dissertation explores how benevolence and self-interest converge, thereby lessening moral demandingness, in the writing of the eighth century Indian Buddhist monk, Śāntideva. In the opening chapter, I argue that Śāntideva appears vulnerable to the overdemandingness objection, the claim that a moral system asks too much of its followers. This is because he endorses an extremely demanding process of virtue development during which an individual commits to becoming a bodhisattva, the Buddhist saint who voluntarily takes countless rebirths, often in painful situations, in order to attain full Buddhahood and liberate all beings from suffering. In the dissertation, I show that Śāntideva can make a powerful response to the overdemandingness objection, largely because the psychological transformation bodhisattvas undergo, as they perfect the virtues of buddhahood, also greatly lessens the severity of the sacrifices they make. I begin to reconstruct this response in the second chapter, by showing how the Buddhist analysis of suffering implies that a bodhisattva gives up less than it appears when they commit to advanced Buddhist training. The final three chapters each explore an aspect of how demandingness lessens and self-interest and benevolence converge as the bodhisattva progresses along the path. The third chapter explores how perfecting Buddhist virtues allows the bodhisattva to overcome a particularly pernicious form of weakness of will that prevents doing what is in one’s best interest. The fourth chapter explains how developing key Buddhist virtues like patience, mindfulness and introspection lessens the amount of suffering experienced by the bodhisattva when they make sacrifices for others. The final chapter explores several demand-lessening benefits that result from perfecting wisdom and realizing the truth of no-self (anātman). The dissertation illustrates the philosophical value of Śāntideva’s writing, by showing that even though he does not explicitly raise and respond to the overdemandingness objection, he is aware of the need to lessen the demandingness of his ethical requirements and incorporates philosophically interesting demand-lessening strategies in order to do so.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Taber, John

Second Committee Member

Thomson, Iain

Third Committee Member

Baril, Anne

Fourth Committee Member

Keown, Damien




Buddhism Ethics Śāntideva

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