Compassion and Moral Guidance

Compassion and Moral Guidance

Steve Bein
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    Compassion and Moral Guidance
    Book Description:

    Compassion is a word we use frequently but rarely precisely. One reason we lack a philosophically precise understanding of compassion is that moral philosophers today give it virtually no attention. Indeed, in the predominant ethical traditions of the West (deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics), compassion tends to be either passed over without remark or explicitly dismissed as irrelevant. And yet in the predominant ethical traditions of Asia, compassion is centrally important: All else revolves around it. This is clearly the case in Buddhist ethics, and compassion plays a similarly indispensable role in Confucian and Daoist ethics.InCompassion and Moral Guidance,Steve Bein seeks to explain why compassion plays such a substantial role in the moral philosophies of East Asia and an insignificant one in those of Europe and the West. The book opens with detailed surveys of compassion's position in the philosophical works of both traditions. The surveys culminate in an analysis of the conceptions of self and why the differences between these conceptions serve either to celebrate or marginalize the importance of compassion.Bein moves on to develop a model for the ethics of compassion, including a chapter on applied ethics seen from the perspective of the ethics of compassion. The result is a new approach to ethics, one that addresses the Rawlsian and Kantian concern for fairness, the utilitarian concern for satisfactory consequences, and the concern in care ethics for the proper treatment of marginalized groups. Bein argues that compassion's capacity to address all of these makes it a primary tool for ethical decision-making.3 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3721-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    “COMPASSION” IS A WORD we use frequently in everyday conversation, but it is rarely used with anything close to philosophical precision. Indeed, one could go so far as to say we have lost the meaning of the word. As we generally use it, “compassion” appears in similar contexts with words such as “empathy,” “sympathy,” and “love” and may even be equated with one or more of these.Roget’s Thesauruslists “compassion” as having each of the following distinct connotations: “sensitivity,” “philanthropy,” “pity,” “mercy,” “forgivingness,” “consideration,” “leniency,” “unselfishness,” and “kindness.” Other lexicons include “concern” and “care” as synonyms. Although at times...

  5. CHAPTER ONE What Is Compassion, and What Is It Not?
    (pp. 1-49)

    IN EVERYDAY CONVERSATION, compassion is generally thought of as a recognition or awareness of the existence of suffering in some other being, coupled with the desire to alleviate that suffering. This is not a philosophical definition, nor is it particularly instructive from an ethical point of view. Utilitarianism starts with the belief that suffering ought to be avoided or alleviated; if we assume one must be aware of suffering in order to avoid or alleviate it, then any utilitarian ethic would be a compassionate ethic, even if no utilitarian thinker was interested in the nature of compassion as such.


  6. CHAPTER TWO What Is the Com- of Compassion?
    (pp. 50-86)

    IN SEARCHING FOR thecom-or “with-ness” of compassion, a good place to start is with analyses of those philosophical traditions that question the discreteness of “self” and “other.” Numerous thinkers and texts reject this bifurcation either implicitly or explicitly, and among them I select those whose views may be synthesized into a model of compassion that meets the eight conditions listed in the previous chapter.

    Like the last chapter, this one will begin with a survey. I first take up Śāntideva, whoseBodhicaryāvātāraserves as “one of the principal sources of Mahāyāna philosophy,”¹ and whose meditations there on the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Defining Compassion
    (pp. 87-131)

    THE EPIGRAPH POINTS to several ideas that are fundamental to an understanding of compassion. First, it says we arebound.All of the models of compassion laid out in the previous chapter also suggest a bonding, one that is part and parcel of human existence. Second, it says that the nature of these bonds is dependent upon the social context in which they are situated. That our obligations to others rise commensurately with their relational proximity to us is an intuition common to Confucianism and to Sidgwick. Third, by revealing a conceit largely endemic to Sidgwick’s day—namely, the “our,”...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Objections to an Ethic of Compassion
    (pp. 132-150)

    THERE ARE POTENTIAL objections that apply to any compassionate ethics, for there are objections to compassion itself as a source of moral guidance. The question of partiality has already appeared in previous chapters, and now it must be directly addressed. Compassion must ultimately reject impartiality, and if this is not found to be a deficiency, detractors may suggest that a compassionate ethic slips too far in the other direction. In other words, to be overly partial in one’s ethical concerns is to risk being self-serving, but if selfless compassion avoids this pitfall, it opens itself to the charge of being...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Compassion in Action
    (pp. 151-182)

    KANT SAYS THE following of the good will:

    Even if, by some especially unfortunate fate or by the niggardly provision of stepmotherly nature, this will should be wholly lacking in the power to accomplish its purpose; if with the greatest effort it should yet achieve nothing, and only the good will should remain . . . yet would it, like a jewel, still shine by its own light as something which has full value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitlessness can neither augment nor diminish its value.¹

    Perhaps compassion is like the Kantian good will—admirable in and of itself...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 183-206)
    (pp. 207-218)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 219-222)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-231)