Buddhism, free will, and punishment: taking Buddhist ethics seriously

Gregg D. Caruso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


In recent decades, there has been growing interest among philosophers in what the various Buddhist traditions have said, can say, and should say, in response to the traditional problem of free will. This article investigates the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and the historical problem of free will. It begins by critically examining Rick Repetti's Buddhism, Meditation, and Free Will (2019), in which he argues for a conception of “agentless agency” and defends a view he calls “Buddhist soft compatibilism.” It then turns to a more wide-ranging discussion of Buddhism and free will—one that foregrounds Buddhist ethics and takes seriously what the various Buddhist traditions have said about desert, punishment, and the reactive attitudes of resentment, indignation, and moral anger. The article aims to show that, not only is Buddhism best conceived as endorsing a kind of free will skepticism, Buddhist ethics can provide a helpful guide to living without basic desert moral responsibility and free will.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-496
Number of pages23
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Buddhism
  • ethics
  • free will
  • moral responsibility
  • punishment
  • reactive attitudes


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