Environmental Philosophy

Volume 3, Issue 2, Fall 2006

William Edelglass
Pages 8-16

Moral Pluralism, Skillful Means, and Environmental Ethics

J. Baird Callicott claims that moral pluralism leads to relativism, skepticism, and the undermining of moral obligations. Buddhist ethics provides a counterexample to Callicott; it is a robust tradition of moral pluralism. Focusing on one of the most significant texts in Buddhist ethics, Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, I show how it draws on a multiplicity of moral principles determined by context and skillful means (upāya kauśalya). In contrast to Callicott’s description of pluralism as detrimental to moral life, I suggest that South Asian Buddhist traditions provide a model of moral reasoning that is both robust and flexible, a model appropriate for the many kinds of moral obligations that arise in the context of environmental ethics.