The Coherence of Buddhism: Relativism, Ethics, and Psychology

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This essay defends a Buddhist answer to the question of how a skeptical tradition might account for its moral position. Two domains in Buddhist thought and practice are often considered to be dissimilar, perhaps contradictory. On the one hand, there is an aspiration to nirvana and a philosophy that describes everything as “emptiness” and rejects, with apparent universality, “attachment to views.” On the other hand, Buddhist traditions of practice recommend actions based in compassion and loving kindness, and the cultivation of contentment, introspective awareness, and peace of mind. It is argued that these arenas are not in conflict, but are linked through Buddhist psychology, wherein the proven limitations of concepts are quite explicitly leveraged to show that beings hampered by such limits ought to think and act with epistemic humility. The result is not nihilism, but a method for improving our perspectives on ourselves and our society—a method that may serve as a model for humanistic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-342
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Religious Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


  • Buddhist philosophy
  • Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
  • Nāgārjuna
  • nihilism
  • pragmatism
  • relativism
  • self-undermining
  • skepticism


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