Self-Control without a Self

Monima Chadha, Shaun Nichols

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Self-control is essential to the Buddhist soteriological project, but it is not immediately clear how we can make sense of it in light of the doctrine of no-self. Exercising control over our actions, thoughts, volitions, and emotions seems to presuppose a conception of self and agency that is not available to the Buddhist. Thus, there seems to be a fundamental mismatch in the practical instructions for exercising control in the Buddhist texts and the doctrine of no-self. In this paper, we develop and defend a general account of self-control that coheres with Abhidarma Buddhism. We defend the Buddhist against recent arguments that self-control depends on an executive self; instead, for the Buddhist, the psychology of self-control must be ‘horizontal’ (for example, one desire winning out over another). However, the characterization of the psychological process isn’t sufficient for a Buddhist theory of self-control. For the Buddhist account is substantive. According to Buddhism, a paradigmatic instance of self-control is an episode in which the desire that wins is a desire that conforms to Buddhist values; by contrast, an episode is not an instance of self-control if the desire that wins is opposed to Buddhist values. We also argue that there are significant resources on which the Buddhist can draw for enhancing self-control despite the denial of self.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalAustralasian Journal of Philosophy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Buddhism
  • no-self view
  • self-control

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