The Inherent Dignity of Empty Persons


In 2011 I received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to spearhead the first academic conference solely devoted to Buddhist ethics. The essays from that event were compiled and edited by Dr. Jake H. Davis in this lovely volume by Oxford University Press entitled, A Mirror Is for Reflection: Understanding Buddhist Ethics (2017).  I contributed Chapter 16: "The Inherent Dignity of Empty Persons."

Here's the abstract with a link to the book page on the OUP website. 

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has expressed strong support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While this may seem to be consistent with his outspoken promotion of basic human values and universal responsibility, there is an unresolved metaphysical conflict between his endorsement of the UDHR and concomitant ideas like inherent dignity and inalienable rights, on the one hand, and, on the other, his espousal of the Buddhist Middle Way or “centrist” (Madhyamaka) thesis that all phenomena (i.e., persons, things, and ideas like human rights) lack “intrinsic existence” (svabhāva). This chapter explores the possibility of an unforced consensus on rights between Tibetan Buddhism and the Western human rights tradition through a novel application of Madhyamaka Buddhism that can help us make sense of the metaphysics of rights in the 21st century, as well as combat the fundamentalist mind-set that contributes to human rights violations.