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Titel: Moral Agency under the No-Self Premise : A Comparative Study of Vasubandhu and Derek Parfit
Sonstige Titel: Moralische Handlungsfähigkeit unter der Nicht-Selbst-Prämisse : eine vergleichende Studie von Vasubandhu und Derek Parfit
Sprache: Englisch
Autor*in: Hanner, Oren
Schlagwörter: Vasubandhu; Ethics; Action; Agency; Buddhism
Erscheinungsdatum: 2016
Tag der mündlichen Prüfung: 2016-08-30
Zusammenfassung: 
A moral agent is someone, or something, which has the capacity to act and to abide by the principles of ethics. Most religious and philosophical systems assume, implicitly or explicitly, that moral agents are endowed with an enduring personal identity, that is, with a soul or a self. The present thesis explores the notion of moral agent in two philosophical systems, which reject the idea that such an enduring entity exists. The departure point of the study is the reductionist theory of the contemporary English philosopher Derek Parfit, who claims that a person can be reduced to a brain and body and a series of interrelated physical and mental events, without assuming the existence of an enduring identity. This view raises various conceptual and metaphysical difficulties related to ethics and agency, as pointed out by Parfit’s critics, as well as his proponents.

To provide a different perspective on these issues, the thesis turns to the thought of the Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (dated to the 4th-5th centuries CE), who, similarly, criticizes the notion of an enduring self, and investigates the ways in which he addresses the difficulties that the concept of selfless moral agency raises. Vasubandhu’s theory of agency is reconstructed relying on three key elements in his Abhidharmic philosophy (as expressed in his work, the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya): the analysis of the person into five aggregates (skandha), which serves as the basis for an impersonal articulation of agential conventions; the theory of seeds (bīja), on the basis of which Vasubandhu explains the diachronic continuity of agents; and the theory of karman, or action, which clarifies the nature of the relationship between agents and actions.

The thesis engages with current research on three levels. Within the field of Buddhist ethics, the argument put forth is that moral agency in Buddhism (as treated by Vasubandhu) requires a provisional concept of an enduring identity. I show that despite Vasubandhu’s commitment to the no-self thesis on the metaphysical level, his account of selfless agency nevertheless relies in an essential way on a conventional notion of an enduring self – both as a motivation to act and as an element in the process of undertaking actions.

At the intersection of Buddhist ethics and the Western philosophical study of personal identity, the thesis maps Vasubandhu’s views into Western frameworks. I argue that his view of the person is best understood as a form of reductionism (as opposed to non-reductionism and eliminativism) and that his criterion of personal identity should be classified as psycho-physical.

Finally, the thesis engages in the Western philosophical debate on personal identity and ethics and shows how the theory of selfless agency that emerges from the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya can address in new ways various issues and difficulties, with which Parfit’s reductionist theory grapples. I discuss in particular the problems of the general unity of the agent, interruption in the continuity of the person, and the presupposition of identity by the psychological criterion of personal identity, as well as the practical issues of self-interested concern for the future and moral obligation.
URL: https://ediss.sub.uni-hamburg.de/handle/ediss/6319
URN: urn:nbn:de:gbv:18-106421
Dokumenttyp: Dissertation
Betreuer*in: Zimmermann, Michael (Prof. Dr.)
Enthalten in den Sammlungen:Elektronische Dissertationen und Habilitationen

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