First of all, it is essential to provide an overview of this paper’s scope to formulate the core problem along with outlining different perspectives on the issue. In this paper, I will argue that the Buddhist account of the personality and the self provides an applicable approach to caring as well as moral obligations. This position appears to be highly beneficial in the current state of society, and thus the purpose of this paper is to identify and prove this paper’s key assumptions.
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In order to be critical enough, I will employ three perspectives related to the concept of self and ethics of caring: Buddhism, being the central reference point for my analysis, individualism as it the most prominent philosophical and moral perspective in the Western culture, and constructionism as the philosophical view that partially supports the Buddhist account on the self, yet it is not identical to Buddhism. In the attempt to prove my initial hypothesis, I will employ the supporting evidence from academic literature as well as from the lecture notes and class readings. This approach will give the paper a supporting foundation upon which I will be able to develop my reasoning.
It could hardly be doubted that the problem of the self is one of the most important issues, which is investigated in philosophy. During the history of philosophical thought, starting from Ancient Greece and continuing to the present day, numerous philosophers and thinkers strive to understand what it means to be a person, what are the core characteristics of the human self, and how these personalities interact with each other.
Despite the fact that there are numerous perspectives on this issue, it is possible to state that, in general, Western culture has developed around the idea of the uniqueness of every individual, while Eastern societies tend to be more collectivistic and less concerned about personal self (Cohen et al. 1236). Therefore, since Buddhism originated in Eastern culture, one of the principal Buddhist premises is that the human ego is a conventional concept while ultimately there is no self (Siderits 98). This perspective will be elaborated in this paper to prove the assumption about the benefits of this approach to caring and solving moral issues. However, the writing should be critical enough, and thus the Buddhist account is juxtaposed to individualism and constructionism.
Individualism is widely considered to be the primary underlying basis for various philosophical and ethical movements in the history of the Western world. It is considered common for Western culture to appraise the self-worth of a human being, and thus the concept of personal self is immensely important for the majority of people from the Western world to a considerable extent. Further, in the paper, I will discuss how this inherent perspective on the self could pose some problems for the implementation of the Buddhist approach to caring. However, it is also mentioned by Garfield et al. that Buddhism has been significantly influencing Western culture throughout the history of the modern world, especially since the 19th century (294).
Therefore, the application of Buddhist accounts on caring appears to be promising. This paper will also investigate constructionism as a philosophical view, which provides an interesting perspective on the concept of self. Constructionism partially supports the premises of Buddhism since it also views the self as a subject to continuous changes, which does not have the utmost importance as it has in individualism. However, this paper will clarify the differences between these philosophical approaches.
This section aims to critically investigate the reasons that support the application of the Buddhist account on the self and ethics to caring and moral obligations. It is apparent from lectures and scholarly literature on the topic that Buddhism is a highly elaborated and complex religious movement. However, for this paper, I will focus on the concept of no-self (or selflessness) and prevention of suffering.
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These two aspects provide a basis for the investigation of reasons in favor of the application of the Buddhist account. The first premise, which I consider to highly beneficial in term of use of this approach to the current social society, is that Buddhism, being widely recognized as one of the world’s most widespread and accepted religions, does not require an appraisal of a divine being or having deep faith in order to understand and practice it. Instead, Buddhism represents a combination of religion and philosophy with particular stress on the latter aspect. Therefore, since modern society tends to be prevalently secular, the application of the Buddhist approach would not be a considerable problem for non-religious people.
Further, it is essential to elaborate on the idea of the prevention of suffering, which is one of the central premises of Buddhism. This aspect of the Buddhist philosophy appears to be one of the critical points that support my initial assumption. As it is pointed out by Siderits, prevention of suffering is one of the primary virtues in Buddhism that is obligatory for every follower of this religion (98). Therefore, this idea is highly applicable to the moral obligations of a modern human.
It is also of high importance to mention the rationale behind the Buddhist approach to suffering, which has its origins in the Buddhist account of the self. It is argued by Siderits that in Buddhism, the idea of a person is the “conventional truth” (95). In other words, it is stated that the concept of personality is only employed because it is more convenient to think of a person as a unique entity.
However, in the grander scheme, there is no self because every individual represents an ever-changing set of various qualities, which do not have an ultimate worth (Siderits 95). Therefore, it is argued that there is no identifiable source of suffering: everyone (and everything) suffers, and thus it is everyone’s moral obligation to prevent as much suffering as possible. Accordingly, it could be stated with certainty that this approach is highly beneficial for caring.
Another considerably important perspective, which should be taken into account in the context of the paper’s topic, is the development of modern medical technologies and ethical dilemmas, which are imposed by this development. An immensely profound and elaborated perspective on this topic is presented in the article by Zhang that is dedicated to the investigation of the correlation between human rights and contemporary bioethics (24). It is important to mention another related concept from Buddhism, which is central in the context of moral issues. Buddhists argue that every human being possesses inherent dignity, which is to be respected and cared about.
Zhang argues that this approach could be applied to the current ethical problems in the areas of human rights and medicine (26). Additionally, as is mentioned in the previous paragraph, Buddhism suggests that there is no owner of suffering, and thus suffering from any human being counts as an equally important issue. Also, it is pointed out by Zhang that Buddhism, being a traditionally collectivist culture, tends to be more concerned about duties and obligations for other members of society (27). I can argue that such an approach could be highly beneficial in the context of the current medicine to reduce negative manifestations of individualism.
Further, it is also of high importance to discuss the final reason for the implementation of the Buddhist approach to caring. It is already mentioned in the paper that, despite being significantly different approaches to ethics and philosophy, Eastern culture has been influencing Western society for a considerably long time. One of the aspects of this impact is elaborated in the article by Garfield et al., where the authors discuss the application of Buddhist concepts and ideas to contemporary psychology (293).
It is appropriate to mention that the implementation of the Buddhist philosophical assumptions to the current psychological practices might be difficult to implement. However, Garfield et al. argue that such an application would help numerous people to cope better with such mental disorders as anxiety and depression as well as the overall perception of death, which is considered problematic in contemporary society (303).
In this section, I strive to present the argument against my initial hypothesis to prove that my original assumption is reliable and applicable to the current ethics. Primarily, there is a significantly important aspect that could be used as a reason against my position. As is already mentioned in the paper, there are apparent differences between Western and Eastern cultures. In the context of this paper, it is appropriate to indicate that there is an evident dissimilarity between the concepts of self in each culture. As it is pointed out by Siderits, there is no ultimate worth of the individual self in the Buddhist philosophy (95).
To be more exact, it is possible to cite Sauchelli, who states that, in Buddhism, a person is “a series of five kinds of impersonal, impermanent, but causally related psychophysical elements” (1275). This assumption directly contradicts the traditionally high appraisal of self-worth and self-importance in Western culture. However, it is important to notice that individualism is mistakenly considered to be a mere justification for egoism by numerous people. Also, individualism in its current condition tends to create a significant detachment between the members of society. Therefore, it is argued that the application of the Buddhist account would help to eliminate the negative consequences of individualism, at least to some extent.
From the previous paragraph, it is evident that Buddhism can have a significantly positive effect if it is implemented in modern society, despite contradicting the principal aspects of Western culture. However, it is important to mention other reasons against my initial hypothesis, which are less important. For example, one can argue that the application of the Buddhist account to psychology might not be efficient since contemporary psychology is developed on the same individualistic premises as the rest of the Western culture. Partially, this argument is reasonable due to the previously identified possibility of people not accepting the concept of selflessness.
However, I should state that Buddhism provides an immensely strong standpoint for fighting mental disorders since it is preoccupied with the idea of the prevention of suffering. Thus, a modern psychologist could implement at least several aspects of the Buddhist philosophical account to facilitate the interaction with their patients. Another objection against Buddhism is that it is a considerably complex philosophical view, which is difficult to understand. However, I should state that, even though this assumption has its point, individualism is not easier to understand, comparing it to Buddhism. Both of these accounts are complicated, but it is unreasonable to neglect Buddhism only on the basis of its complexity.
Finally, it is essential to discuss the philosophy of constructionism as it has both similarities and differences with the Buddhist account. Constructionism can be considered as the philosophical manifestation of a postmodern world. Overall, it should be observed that this philosophy remains within the traditional Western frame when explaining the self and relations with others. However, there are some particular differences.
One of the primary differential aspects, which also make constructionism connected to Buddhism, is that it interprets self not as a stable and unique entity but rather as an ongoing process of construction and structuring oneself and the world around that person (Hosking 92). However, it is important to mention the aspect of the philosophy under discussion, which clarifies the principal contradiction between this approach and the Buddhist account.
Since constructionism argues that each person interprets the world individually, it is possible to suggest that people might have very different perspectives on the world and themselves. Therefore, constructionism does not provide a holistic vision of the world, and it does not consider the prevention of suffering as one of the central aspects of its ethical scope. Accordingly, the application of constructionism is not valuable compared with the Buddhist account.
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Since the previous sections have properly introduced the problem and the initial hypothesis along with the provision of supporting arguments and the evaluation of the reasons against it, it is appropriate to summarize my position and conclude on the principal findings of this paper. First of all, it is evident that my original assumption about the beneficial effects of the application of the Buddhist philosophy to the current ethical and moral issues has been proven. This paper provides four valuable and evidence-based arguments in favor of my position, which is supported by the investigation of academic literature on the topic as well as the profound understanding of the lectures and class readings.
It is also essential to mention that my paper is critical enough to investigate the reasons against my initial hypothesis profoundly. The literature review on the topic has helped me to retrieve some meaningful arguments, which might be imposed to doubt my position. However, through the process of investigating these arguments, also dwelling upon the scholarly literature, it is found out that the reasons against my opinion are not strong enough to prove my hypothesis wrong.
Therefore, I can state with certainty that the application of the Buddhist account to the current ethical issues, including the moral obligation for the society, caring about other people, along with maintaining human rights and the inherent dignity in the context of contemporary medicine, is highly beneficial. Despite the fact that it might be difficult for some people to accept some of the Buddhist premises, especially about the idea of no-self, the advantages of using this approach outweigh these challenges imposed by cultural dissimilarities between the western and eastern worlds.
Cohen, Adam B., Michael Shengtao Wu, and Jacob Miller. “Religion and Culture: Individualism and Collectivism in the East and West.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 47, no. 9, 2016, pp. 1236-1249.
Garfield, Jay L., et al. “Ego, Egoism and the Impact of Religion on Ethical Experience: What a Paradoxical Consequence of Buddhist Culture Tells Us about Moral Psychology.” The Journal of Ethics, vol. 19, no. 2, 2015, pp. 293-304.
Hosking, Dian Marie. “Relating Shambhala Buddhism and Relational Constructionism: Constructing Enlightened Society.” Spirituality, Social Construction, Relational Processes, edited by Duane R. Bidwell, Taos Institute Publications, 2016, pp. 87-105.
Sauchelli, Andrea. “Buddhist Reductionism, Fictionalism about the Self, and Buddhist Fictionalism.” Philosophy East and West, vol. 66, no. 4, 2016, pp. 1273-1291.
Siderits, Mark. “Freedom, Caring and Buddhist Philosophy.” Contemporary Buddhism, vol. 6, no. 2, 2005, pp. 87-116.
Zhang, Ellen Y. “On Human Rights and Freedom in Bioethics: A Philosophical Inquiry in Light of Buddhism.” Studia Bioethica, vol. 7, no. 1, 2014, pp. 24-32.