Variations on Anātman: Buddhist Themes in Deep Ecology and in Future-Directed Environmental Ethics

  • Gordon F. DavisEmail author
  • Pragati Sahni
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 24)


One of the most widely discussed applications of Buddhist ethics in recent years has been in the area of environmental ethics; here the impact of Buddhist ethics extends outside of the fields of philosophy and religious studies, and has made some significant inroads in ecological discourse in the public sphere. Buddhist ecology nonetheless raises difficult metaphysical questions, including many concerning selfhood. We begin with the seminal origins of deep ecology in the work of Arne Naess, who wrote extensively on Indian and Buddhist philosophy; we then consider echoes of his approach in the work of Joanna Macy, whose engagement with Buddhist philosophy is deeper and based on a more extensive familiarity with Buddhist sources. Some awkward philosophical problems attend the particular ways in which these ecologists incorporate versions of the no-self claim. But not all forms of Buddhist environmental ethics are versions of deep ecology. We sketch a style of environmental ethics that seems to follow from the consequentialist approach of two major contemporary Buddhist philosophers, Mark Siderits and Charles Goodman; we call this approach ‘future-directed’ ecology, to contrast it with an ethical view about temporal symmetry that seems implicit in deep ecology. As well as illustrating how far Western philosophers have come in expanding their knowledge of Buddhist philosophy (as illustrated by the work of Siderits and Goodman, among others), this approach shows how diverse the theoretical options are for contemporary Buddhist environmental ethicists.


Environmental ethics Deep ecology Anatman Self-realization Speciesism Pratitya-samutpada Dependent origination Consequentialism Reductionism Punctualism Naess Macy Siderits Goodman Spinoza Mahāyāna 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.University of DelhiDelhiIndia

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