Jacob Burda - ‘The Importance of Buddhist Ethics in the Age of Subjectivity’.
Delivered at the 2015 HPP/DLC Persons and Community colloquium.
The importance of Buddhist ethics in the age of subjectivity In this talk I will argue that the existing social and political conditions of the 21st century are such that Buddhism represents one of the most viable and expedient ethical systems of our time. I will begin by giving a brief historical analysis of the formation – identified by Heidegger and others since – of the ‘self-centred’ world-picture that has been gaining momentum ever since the Cartesian cogito. I will then ask what the consequences of this age of ‘radical subjectivity’ – in which the idea of something greater than oneself is slowly retreating (at least in the West) – mean for the project of reconciling one’s self-interest with the interests of others. It will be argued that some of the traditional candidates for ethical systems struggle as any ‘top-down’ approach – i.e. one that places communal interests before self-interests – faces structural challenges with respect to the conditions defined above. Buddhism, on the contrary, with its insistence of the individual self as the starting point (before any de-identification, that is) looks much more able to fit with the soil of our age.