A Theory of Moral Objectivity

By Robert M. Ellis, originally written as a Ph.D. thesis 'A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity' in 2001. This html version copyright 2008.

Testimonial on the thesis by the external examiner

A hard-copy paperback book of this thesis is now available from lulu.com and also on Amazon, price UK£25 (or equivalent). This relatively high cost is necessary because it is A4 size and has 487 pages (296,000 words). This print version includes an index.

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A downloadable pdf version of this thesis is available from the British Library at http://ethos.bl.uk (you will need to search the original title 'A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity', and register with the ethos site, but registration is open and the download pdf is free for researchers). Alternatively you can download a pdf for a small cost from lulu.com.

Notes on this web version:

Web Prologue


1. Introduction

a) Clarification of terms

i) “Buddhist”

ii) “Moral”

iii) “Objectivity”

b) Outline of overall method

i) Non-dualism and metaphysical agnosticism

ii) The relation of theory and practice

iii) Absolute value and the judgements of conventional logic

iv) The use of psychological premises

v) Timeless truth in historical contexts

vi) The Middle Way and its antecedents

2. The psychological basis of dualism

a) The psychological basis of belief

i) Against initial philosophical objections to the unconscious

ii) Belief and desire

iii) Desire and the ego

iv) The nature of dualistic belief processes

v) Some evidence from social psychology

b) The heuristic process

i) The heuristic problem

ii) The failure of dualistic approaches to the problem

iii) A psychological explanation without relativism

c) Psychological basis and philosophical expression

i) Dogmatism and scepticism

ii) The dualism/non-dualism distinction

iii) Representationalism and expressivism

iv) Linguistic idealism

3. The failure of the dualistic model of ethics: (1) Eternalism

a) Introduction to dualistic ethics

b) Features of Eternalism

i) Ethical foundationalism

ii) Cosmic justice

iii) Freewill

iv) Alienation of desire

v) Political polarisation

c) Introduction to the historical survey

d) Plato

i) Socrates’ aporesis

ii) Socratic eternalism

iii) Platonic eternalism

iv) Platonic conservatism

e) Stoicism

i) Stoic non-dualism

ii) Stoic Dualism: the Cosmic Logos

iii) Stoic Dualism: the Individual Logos

f) Christianity

i) The Law of the Torah

ii) Jesus

iii) Paul

iv) Early Christianity and Stoicism

v) Constantine and Christian political philosophy

vi) Christian mysticism and religious experience

vii) The medieval period and the Renaissance

viii) Luther and the Reformation

ix) Descartes

x) Christianity and Capitalism

g) Kant

i) Kant’s background and psychology

ii) Dualism and non-dualism in Kant

iii) Representationalism/ Expressivism

iv) Linguistic idealism

v) Freewill

vi) Ethical Foundationalism

vii) Cosmic Justice

viii) From Conservatism to Liberalism

h) Hegel

i) Enlightenment and Romanticism

ii) Hegel’s Dialectic

iii) Pure thought, representations and idealism

iv) Freewill and ethical foundationalism

v) Cosmic justice

vi) Hegel and Totalitarianism

i) Marx

i) The priority of sociology

ii) Methodological holism

iii) Idealism and ideology

iv) Ethical foundationalism and cosmic justice

v) Freewill and determinism

j) Schopenhauer

i) Schopenhauer’s context and character

ii) Schopenhauer’s non-dualism

iii) The Principle of Sufficient Reason

iv) Cosmic justice and freewill

v) Ethical foundationalism

k) Utilitarianism

i) A capitalist form of eternalism

ii) The epistemological foundations

iii) Compatibilism

iv) Consequentialism and alienation

v) Utilitarianism and politics

l) Intermediate conclusion

4. The failure of the dualistic model of ethics: (2) Nihilism

a) Features of nihilism

i) Ethical coherentism

ii) The denial of freewill or cosmic justice

iii) Hedonism and alienation

iv) Individualism

b) The classical roots of nihilism (Scepticism and Aristotle)

i) Classical Scepticism

ii) Aristotle’s empiricism

iii) Aristotle’s ethics

iv) MacIntyre’s reformed Aristotelianism

c) Hume

i) The beginning of modern nihilism

ii) Ideas and impressions

iii) Belief and causality

iv) The denial of the self

v) Ethical descriptivism

d) Analytic Philosophy

i) Scientism from Hume to Frege

ii) Frege

iii) Logical positivism

iv) Positivist ethics

v) Hare

vi) Theories of rationality

vii) Liberal neutrality

e) Wittgenstein

i) Grammatical scientism

ii) Theory of meaning

iii) Private language

f) Pragmatism

i) General features of pragmatism

ii) Peirce and James on truth

iii) James’s psychology

iv) Dewey’s psychological ethics

v) Dewey’s political thought

g) Nietzsche

i) Nietzsche’s “nihilism”

ii) The Will to Power

iii) The Übermensch

h) The Existentialists

i) Kierkegaard’s leap

ii) Husserl

iii) Heidegger

iv) Sartre

v) Sartre versus Freud

vi) The Postmodern Condition

i) Intermediate Conclusion


5. The psychological basis of the Middle Way

a) Introduction

i) Outline of method in Part 2

ii) The Middle Way in Western thought

iii) Introduction to chapter 5

b) Integration and desire

i) Frustration

ii) Papañca as evidence of frustration

iii) Integration of desires

c) Integration and meaning

i) Meaning and desire

ii) The fragmentation of meaning

iii) The integration of meaning

d) Integration and belief

i) Belief, desire, meaning and stream-entry

ii) Doubt

iii) Confidence

e) Integrative Practices

i) Cultivating integration of attention

ii) Cultivating integration of emotion

iii) Narrative and archetype

iv) Friendship

v) Sceptical argument and the cultivation of wisdom

f) Temporary and permanent integrations

i) Temporary integrations

ii) Permanent partial integration

iii) Enlightenment

6. The Philosophy of the Middle Way

a) Metaphysical agnosticism and psychological integration

i) Metaphysical agnosticism

ii) Desires and objective integration

iii) Continuity and discontinuity

iv) The uses and abuses of duality

b) The Middle Way in philosophical problems

i) Supervenience

ii) Realism and idealism

iii) Mind and body

iv) Identity

v) Freewill and determinism

vi) Cosmic justice

vii) The unity of the virtues

viii) Positive and negative freedom

c) Verification and falsification

i) Verification and falsification incrementalised

ii) Verification of the Middle Way

iii) Falsification of the Middle Way

d) The individual and the group

i) Two forms of individuality

ii) The integration of groups

iii) Group epistemology

iv) The individual in the group

7. The Normativity of the Middle Way

a) Moral normativities

i) The question of normativity

ii) Rational normativity

iii) The normativity of desire

iv) The normativity of conventions

b) Other normativities

i) Aesthetic and symbolic normativity

ii) Scientific normativity

8. The Ethics of the Middle Way

a) Moral authority

i) Ignorance and the need for moral authority

ii) Authority from past integration

iii) Spiritual friendship

iv) Moral traditions

v) Moral precepts

vi) Buddhist precepts

b) Issues in the application of precepts

i) Problems of priority

ii) Consequentialism and deontology

iii) Pride, guilt and confession

c) Political authority

i) The justification of political authority

ii) The integration of government

iii) Conflicts between moral and political authority

9. Conclusion

i) Non-dualism in ten points

ii) The status of the argument

10. Appendix: Issues of compatibility with the Buddhist tradition

i) The epistemological starting-point

ii) Conditioned co-production (paticcasamuppada)

iii) Karma and rebirth

iv) “Sudden” enlightenment

v) Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels



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