Thursday, 15 October 2009

Ethics as a Path

I am coming to the conclusion, or at least having the thought, that ethics must be about a path. Now, this is wrong immediately if we consider forms of ethics that at least seem to have nothing to do with a path or pathiness (to throw in a random neologism).

Prima facia
Mill's Utilitarianism doesn't seem to be about a path, more of a set of reasonable guidelines for the individual to follow to live in an orderly society. Aristotle's is path-like. Kant's doesn't seem to be (but can be construed as such - and I'll do just that). Buddhism is probably the most obviously path-based. Scanning Rupert Gethin's book, "The Buddhist Path to Awakening" we get a quick set of reasons for understanding early Buddhism as a path:
In their own terms, the Nikāyas teach but two things: dukkha and the cessation of dukkha. In other words, they postulate a situation where there is a problem and a solution where there is no longer a problem, and are concerned with the processes and means involved in passing from the former to the latter. If this is the Nikāyas' ultimate concern then everything in them might be viewed as at least intended to be subordinate to that aim....

In other words we might say that Buddhist thought is about the Buddhist path -- a path that is seen as leading gradually away from dukkha towards its cessation, and as culminating in the awakening from a restless and troubled sleep. (p.18)
And he goes on, discussing the western scholarly attraction to philosophical concepts in early Buddhism:
The point is that in Buddhist thought discussion of paṭicca-samuppāda, anattā, and nibbāna is not pursued as an end in itself but subordinated to the notion of the spiritual path, which is hardly true of the discussion of causality, change and metaphysics in western thought. (p.19)
Some food for thought...