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Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts


Admission requirements

  • This course is open to MA students in Philosophy, who have been admitted to the specialisations Ethics and Politics and/or Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture.

  • Admission requiremnts for MA students from other departments: an introductory knowledge of philosophy and/or of related disciplines such as Indian or Buddhist Studies, Cultural Studies or International Studies.

This course has a limited number of places available for students from other departments.


This course is a comparative investigation into two closely related aspects of human nature. First, we will look at Buddhist and contemporary theorizing about the phenomena of weakness of will (akrasia), in which an agent knowingly chooses that which is bad for them. Here, we will discuss both weakness of will as a technical philosophical problem, and take a more expanded look at human depravity, in which cognitive, emotional and habitual responses become accustomed to responding poorly.

In the other section of the course, we will look at virtue and excellence of character, both for its own sake and as a solution to weakness of will. Here, we will focus on contemporary work in virtue ethics, as well as Indian and Tibetan accounts of skillful and unskillful mental qualities (kuśala/akuśala-dharmas). Since contemporary accounts of virtue and weakness of will are heavily indebted to the Greek tradition, we will also review Aristotle’s accounts of virtue and weakness of will.

Course objectives

This course aims to investigate the relation between virtuous and vicious disposition and weakness of will, drawing upon texts from Buddhist moral philosophy and contemporary ethical theory. All students will be expected to develop their own positions on the assigned readings, both orally and in writing. Students will improve their ability to conduct original research, formulate a research question and develop a thesis to be argued for in a research essay (5000 words).

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

  • Buddhist and contemporary accounts of virtue and vice;

  • Buddhist and contemporary theories about weakness of will

  • the principles of early Indian Buddhist philosophy (basic understanding);

  • the benefits and potential difficulties in drawing upon texts and ideas from different intellectual traditions to address a common set of questions and problems.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • explain and critique several philosophical accounts of virtue, vice and weakness of will;

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

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

  • write a medium length critical essay.


See Timetables MA Philosophy 2015-2016

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures and seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load (10 EC x 28 hrs): 280 hours

  • Attending lectures and seminars: 14 × 3 hours = 42 hours

  • Time for studying literature: 140

  • Time for writing papers and preparing presentation: 98

Assessment method

  • Final Research Paper: (80%)

  • Participation (including attendance, short non-graded assignments and in class presentation): 20%


One resit will be offered, covering the entire course content and consisting of a paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Class participation and practical assignments are mandatory requirements for taking the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for posting class texts, turning in assignments, announcements and discussion board.

Reading list

Books to be announced.
Article references will be given on the first day of class. Book chapters, when possible, will be posted on Blackboard.


Please register for this course via Study administration system uSis
See also Registration for lectures and tests

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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. S.E. Harris



Other Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Anthropology and Buddhism in Asia
Buddhism through Stories
Buddhist Art
Culture of Tibet
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia
Elementary Pali
Tibetan 1

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Sacred Biography in Buddhism and Jainism
Indian Philosophy
Tibetan 2

At MA-level
Buddhism and Social Justice
Reading Buddhist Scriptures