Theses Bachelor's

The Synthetic A Priori Noble Truths and Their Foundation of a Practical Philosophy

Chada, Kavin

The four noble truths are philosophically fundamental to Buddhism, and an analysis of them in Kantian terms mutually clarifies Kantian and Buddhist ethics. In the first noble truth, commonly known by the simple formulation “Life is suffering,” the Buddha describes a structure of our experience which at each moment we must be able to affirm as suffering. The formulation of the first noble truth in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta identifies this structure of experience as the five aggregates. In this thesis, I argue that the first noble truth can be understood as a synthetic a priori judgment because (1) it is about an a priori structure of experience, and (2) the predicate, suffering, is also not analytically contained within the subject, the aggregates. Additionally, since the claim is about our experience as a whole, the five aggregates must also be taken as a synthetic a priori ground of experience. I will show how it is possible to positively demonstrate the syntheticity of the first noble truth through the notion of causality provided by the second noble truth, which says that desire causes suffering. The first noble truth then becomes a practical proposition, which can serve as a principle of practical philosophy, from which we ought to be able to derive a science of imperatives. Desire, by its nature, conditions our actions on its objects, and therefore forms the basis of hypothetical imperatives that only contingently determine our actions. Suffering poses a necessary and universal problem which can only be solved by a possible categorical imperative, a form of the moral law. And since suffering has a definite, categorical cause, given in the second noble truth, it must be distinct from unhappiness, a merely contingent problem.


  • thumnail for KavinChada_SeniorPhilosophyThesis_5-12-22_Revisions.pdf KavinChada_SeniorPhilosophyThesis_5-12-22_Revisions.pdf application/pdf 297 KB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Aitken, Allison E.
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 31, 2022