Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Jain-like Approach to Ethics?

“What a fully grown-up moral philosophy might attempt is an account of morality that embraces the full gamut of moral predications, seeing them as mutually irreducible and mutually indispensable, allowing no primacy to character traits or virtues or practices or acts or states of affairs—or allowing primacy to all at once.”—David Wiggins

The above passage is from Wiggins’ fairly sophisticated yet eminently readable introduction to ethics in the Western philosophical tradition: Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality (2006). Attracted to what has been aptly described as “a rationality of reconciliation”[1], as found in the Jaina worldview,[2] I suppose it is not surprising that I think Wiggins has proffered a worthy task for moral philosophy, one that cannot be dismissed out of hand, at least prior to the earnest attempt to bring it to fruition. The Jaina conception of rationality is premised upon both an ontological doctrine regarding the “many-sidedeness” of reality and a correlative “epistemology of perspective” or what we might term epistemic relativity or pluralism (nayāvada and syādvāda).[3] In short, Wiggins has—provocatively and (if I’m not mistaken) originally—suggested a Jain-like approach to moral philosophy, the beginnings of which he exemplifies in the above volume. Nothing follows from Wiggins’ suggestion that we gloss over or ignore any differences or contradictions between the various ethical theories (utilitarianism or consequentialism or ‘welfarism’ [as it is understood in economics], virtue ethics, Kantian moral theory, ‘ethics without principles,’ or an ‘ethics of care and empathy,’ religious ethics, what have you) or fail to account for their respective shortcomings or blind spots.

[1] On the meaning of a “rationality of reconciliation” in the Jain tradition, please see Jonardon Ganeri’s chapter, “Rationality, harmony, and perspective,” in his book, Philosophy in Classical India... (2001): 128-150.
[2] On the relevant aspects of the Jaina worldview of interest here, please see chapters 5 and 6 on the history and philosophy of the Jaina doctrines of relativity in Jeffery D. Long, Jainism: An Introduction (2009): 118-171.
[3] For a brief introduction, please see this earlier post at Ratio Juris: A Jaina Propaedeutic for Metaphysical Relativism, Perspectival Rationalism, and Contextual Pluralism.


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