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Flourishing, Suffering and the Self: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to BA students in Philosophy. First year BA Philosophy has been successfully completed.


This is a course in comparative philosophy focused on the intersection between human flourishing, normativity and personal identity. The course draws mainly upon writing from Indian Buddhism and contemporary work in consequentialist and eudaimoniastic ethical theory. Topics to be explored include the relevance of personal identity to ethics, the relationship between well-being and normativity, comparative virtue theory and the role of suffering in ethical theory. A background question for the class will be whether, or to what extent, Buddhist texts provide a distinct method of arguing for normative conclusions. In doing this, we will compare ancient Indian forms of argumentation with the reasoning we find in Buddhist ethical texts and arguments used in contemporary philosophical work.

Although we will briefly survey some historical sources, the main focus of the class will be on contemporary authors writing from within, or critiquing, consequentialist or eudaimonist accounts of normativity. These will include Derek Parfit, Peter Railton, Bernard Williams, Susan Wolf and Harry Frankfurt. From the Buddhist side, we will read a number of early texts such as the Dhammapada, The Questions of King Milinda, and sutras from the Pali canon. Mahayana authors discussed will include Asaṅga, Śāntideva, Vasubandhu and Candrakīrti.

Course objectives

This course aims to investigate the relation between human flourishing, normativity and personal identity, drawing upon texts from Buddhist moral philosophy and contemporary ethical theory. Students will be expecte to develop their own positions on the assigned readings, both orally and in writing.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the several contemporary theories of well-being;

  • Buddhist accounts of suffering and virtue;

  • traditional Buddhist arguments for the nonexistence of the self;

  • criticisms of normative theory (especially consequentialism and eudaimonism) that critique a theory of well-being;

  • the potential normative implications of theories of personal identity.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • explain and critique several philosophical accounts of well-being;

  • draw upon texts cross-culturally in defending their positions;

  • explain the benefits and potential drawbacks of working with texts comparatively;

  • explain and critique Buddhist arguments against the existence of the self.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2014-2015, BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject of Standaardtraject), derde jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures and Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours
Attending lectures and seminars: 42 hours
Time for studying literature: 138
Time for writing papers and preparing presentation: 100

Assessment method

  • Midterm paper (40%)

  • Final paper (45%)

  • Presentation (15%)

One resit will be offered, covering one or both of the papers. Any student who did not take the first examinations (midterm and final) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for posting assignments and announcements.

Reading list

A full reading list will be posted on Blackboard at the start of the course.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the collegerooster in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. S.E. Harris