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Kant and Buddha

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Tommy Sirawan

Philosophy 1130

Dr. Gamez

December 1, 2017

Kant and Buddha

There are hundreds of important figures in philosophical history. Men and women whose thoughts affected the way vast numbers of other people think and feel. Wherein examined is Kantianism, based on the works of Immanuel Kant, of 18th century Germany. Also discussed will be Buddhist ethics, based on the work of Buddha, who lived and taught in what is today East India, approximately 500 years before Jesus of Nazareth. Kant and Buddha will be explained, compared and contrasted in terms of ethical dilemma.

Immanuel Kant was, and still is, a central figure in Western philosophy. Kantianism is a deontological (judging rightness or wrongness of an action based on rules) ethical theory. Kantianism is based on the view that the only inherently good thing is a good will (good heart or soul) and action can only be good if the principle, or maxim, behind it is duty to morality.

Essential to Kantianism is the categorical imperative. A categorical imperative represents an absolute, unrestricted obligation that must be followed in all situations and is defensible as an end in itself. Kant believed that we should act, by following a maxim, in a way that it could become universal law. The categorical imperative is universal law, that must apply to all people, without any contradiction of morality occurring.

Kant believed that the ends don’t justify the means. This means that even if something really good comes of a harmful action, then that good is not really good. For instance, a medical researcher may find a cure to cancer much quicker by experimenting on humans, but the harm caused by the experimentation drains the end (a quicker cure to cancer) of its morality.

For Kant, human beings held a special place in the universe because we have the power to be rational. Kant claims that reason motivates and creates morality. Kant insists that all rational beings should be treated as an end, themselves. Each person’s motives should be respected equally.

Kantianism in summary requires all people to beholden to the categorical imperative. Kantianism judges actions by rules and the intent of the actor. Finally, Kant refuses the idea that the ends justify the means.

Guatama Buddha (or just Buddha), is a preeminent figure in Eastern philosophy (thoughts, feelings and attitudes of the Asian continent, less modern day Russia). Buddhist ethics are based on the teachings of Buddha. The basic and principle motivating factor is to do no harm to living creatures.

Karma, an idea central to Buddhism means action, work or deed. Furthermore, Karma can be described as deeds that have a future effect on the actor. Good deeds bring happiness in the future while bad deeds bring more suffering. Karma is also associated with the cycle of rebirth, affecting future lives of the actor.

Buddhist ethics teach that there is a cycle of rebirth, called reincarnation, that beings go through. It also teaches that life is suffering. Nirvana is the liberation from the painful process of rebirth and constant suffering. A soul can be reincarnated as one of millions of different life forms, based karma. A person that leads a evil life may be reborn as a cockroach and a good person may be reborn as another person, in a better position to achieve Nirvana.

How does one end the painful cycle of rebirth? One must follow the Four Noble Truths. The first is that we crave things which cause pain. The second is that the previous truth leaves us in a cycle of rebirth. The third is that this cycle can be broken by achieving Nirvana. The last is that to achieve Nirvana, one must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

        The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to achieve Nirvana and the suffering of rebirth. The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view (actions have consequences), right resolve (intention), right speech (not lying or harmful with words), right conduct (abstaining from killing or harming living thigs), right livelihood (possessing what is strictly necessary for life), right effort (preventing the rise of evil), right mindfulness (awareness and insight), and right meditation (concentrating the senses, mind and soul). The Eightfold Path explains that by limiting oneself, nurturing discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation, those following Buddhist ethics attain nirvana, thereby ending their rebirth and suffering.

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