, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 591–609 | Cite as

Moral Agency and the Paradox of Self-Interested Concern for the Future in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya

  • Oren HannerEmail author


It is a common view in modern scholarship on Buddhist ethics that attachment to the self constitutes a hindrance to ethics, whereas rejecting this type of attachment is a necessary condition for acting morally. The present article argues that in Vasubandhu’s theory of agency, as formulated in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (Treasury of Metaphysics with Self-Commentary), a cognitive and psychological identification with a conventional, persisting self is a requisite for exercising moral agency. As such, this identification is essential for embracing the ethics of Buddhism and its way of life. The article delineates the method that Vasubandhu employs to account for the notion of a selfless moral agent, with particular emphasis on his strategies for dealing with one central aspect of agency, self-interested concern for the future.


Agency Self Personal identity Buddhism Vasubandhu Abhidharmakośabhāṣya 



The article was written with the kind support of a research grant by the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). I would like to thank Charles E. Snyder, Roy Tzohar, David Weinstein, and Michael Zimmermann for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Thanks go as well to two anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group in Buddhist StudiesUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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