Annihilation of Desire in Jain Ethics as a Challenge to Western, Subjectivist Notions of Well-being (2019, with Katherine L. Schaefer)

Abstract | Many accounts of well-being aim to be maximally accommodating with respect to the good life by focusing on what people take to be good for themselves. Some popular Western philosophical views attempt to do so by focusing on the subjective phenomena of desires and preferences, thereby ostensibly avoiding complicated questions about metaphysical commitments; similarly, clinical conceptions aim to be metaphysically neutral. We test these notions of well-being by investigating Jainism and its commitment to a metaphysics of reincarnation and the existence of souls. Assuming that well-being is a broad prudential value that identifies what is good for a person, we argue that Jain well-being is best understood as a value souls possess, rather than bodies, that actions that contribute to well-being depend on where that soul is on the path to eventual bodily liberation, and that ultimately well-being is epitomized by the annihilation of desires. Turning to Western clinical ethics—Beauchamp and Childress’ influential principlism in particular—we explore how a Jain who is on the path to eventual bodily liberation via a fast to the death might be treated, and the difficulties inherent in applying an ethics framework that remains neutral about the existence of souls, or the effects of acts on those souls. We conclude that no account of well-being is complete without an account of its fundamental metaphysical commitments.

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