Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Religious Studies

Major Professor

Darrell J. Fasching, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wei Zhang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.


comparative religious ethics, Buddhist ethics, Aquinas, pluralism, rationality, human dignity


This thesis investigates the topic of natural law in the Therav

āda and Thomistic traditions by utilizing the methodology of comparative religious ethics. Approaches to the method such as ethical formalism, ethical naturalism, and narrative ethics are assessed with the author opting for a multidimensional approach that is religious and ethical. This multidimensional approach, as defined by William Schweiker, conducts natural law inquiry from a hermeneutical standpoint of moral diversity and democratic pluralism.

The hermeneutical standpoint warrants a historicizing of natural law ethics that is compatible with modern secularity instead of a classicist metaphysical worldview. To achieve this task, the thought of moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and Jewish theologian David Novak is used to formulate a concept of a natural law tradition. Three normative features define the natural law traditions in question: rationality as tradition- constituted, revelation as a historical phenomenon, and natural law as a cultural construct that is both comparative and ontological.

The central claim of this thesis is that

the Theravāda and Thomistic traditions provide a similar conceptual apparatus for rational discourse that can locate ethical commonalities and respect differences across traditions. The commonality between

traditions is secured in natural law ethics because these traditions adhere to a constitutive truth that is the objective ground of all truths and of nature which designates a shared humanity. On the other hand, these natural law traditions are able to at least respect difference because they recognize the autonomy of other traditions outside of and pre- existing their own. Natural law ethics in these religious traditions therefore avoids the ethical challenges of relativism and authoritarianism.

Both traditions define a concept of "nature" with a proper teleological orientation for the moral life. "Nature" is an open category in these traditions that can never be fully defined. This demonstrates how these natural law traditions avoid ontological violence. The overall claim is that natural law ethics, which are evident in the Therav

āda and Thomistic traditions, offer something essential to a pluralistic secular democracy: an unconditioned view of human dignity that protects inalienable rights because it is secured by a higher law than civil laws.