Ontology and Genuine Moral Action: Jnana , Ethics, and Karma-Yoga in Sankara's "Advaita Vedanta" and Schopenhauer's "on the Basis of Morality"

Dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (1997)

Sankara's ethics is based on the belief that there are no unique, and separate selves, but rather that our ontological condition is non-dual . The problem is twofold. A metaphysic which posits no separate individual is problematic for western ethics, because it is claimed that a non-dual conception of the self leads to the possibility of immoral actions. Western ethical theory requires an individual agent upon which accountability for actions can be placed. Most western interpretations fail to account for Sankara's metaphysical explanation of our ontological basis as non-dual, and hence the understanding of his ethical theory is misguided. ;Therefore, I show that an understanding of Sankara's metaphysic is required in order to understand his theory of action. Once western presuppositions of the self are excluded, non-duality is not a problem, because our actions become centered in compassion for the other and not egotistical concern for the self. ;This study also provides a western example , of an ethic which is similar to Sankara's concept of the self as non-dual. Schopenhauer argues that the basis of morality is in compassion for others. Compassion for others is grounded in Schopenhauer's belief that all humans are not separate. That is, our ontological basis is non-dual. Hence, egoistic action is not moral, because it cannot provide the basis for genuine moral action. ;The procedure is historical and critical. Since Sankara is influenced by, and yet significantly transformed, by his predecessors's work, it is necessary to provide historical and philosophical setting for his work. The procedure is critical because nearly all the extant philosophical literature ignores the ethical tenets of his thought. A critical assessment of the literature and an explication of the relevant primary sources provides the necessary reconstruction of the relation between ethics and metaphysics in Sankara's theory of non-duality. ;I show that moral action accompanied with intuitive perception leads to a realization of our ontological basis as advaita Brahman. Knowing our ontological basis provides the possibility for genuine moral action. Sankara's advaita provides a viable alternative to western ethical theories of action
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