Document Type


Publication Date



Buddhism, sacred books, Buddhist sects, Nichiren (Sect)


The Lotus Sūtra repeatedly asserts the moral permissibility, in certain circumstances, of deceiving others for their own benefit. The examples it uses to illustrate this view have the features of weak paternalism, but the real-world applications it endorses would today be considered strong paternalism. We can explain this puzzling feature of the text by noting that according to Mahayana Buddhists, normal, ordinary people are so irrational that they are relevantly similar to the insane. Kant's determined anti-paternalism, by contrast, relies on an obligation to see others as rational, which can be read in several ways. Recent work in psychology provides support for the Lotus Sūtra's philosophical anthropology while undermining the plausibility of Kant's version. But this result does not necessarily lead to an endorsement of political paternalism, since politicians are not qualified to wield such power. Some spiritual teachers, however, may be mo-rally permitted to benefit their students by deceiving them.

Publisher Attribution

Goodman, C. A. (2011). Paternalist deception in the lotus sūtra: A normative assessment. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 18, 1-30

Included in

Philosophy Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.