Karma The Unobservable of Existence

23 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2018

See all articles by Kim R. Sawyer

Kim R. Sawyer

University of Melbourne - School of Historical and Philosophical Studies

Date Written: June 9, 2018


Karma admits various definitions. Commonly karma is regarded as the ethical consequence of individual actions. While karma has ancient origins, it has entered modern discourse if only to underscore our belief in natural fairness that individuals should do unto others as they expect others to do unto them. But in an era dominated by rationality, the appeal for karma is only hypothetical and never real. For most karma is entirely unobservable and entirely uncertain.

In this essay we consider why it is rational to hypothesize in karma. In a thought experiment we consider how karma might work. The thought experiment hypothesizes three principles. The first principle is that of natural fairness, do to others whatever you would have them do to you. What we project onto others we project onto us; and it is in our self-interest to be fair. The second principle is calibration, that all actions are calibrated for their fairness. And the third principle is unobservability; that karma is unobservable to ensure that we are free to choose.

The essay references Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, an event study of karma where the consequences of a crime are matched to the punishment. Dostoyevsky seemed to understand karma better than most. It is an existential masterpiece consistent with the premise of the essay.

Keywords: Dostoyevsky, karma, natural fairness, rationality, synchronicity

JEL Classification: Y93, Z10, Z12

Suggested Citation

Sawyer, Kim Russell, Karma The Unobservable of Existence (June 9, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3193503 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3193503

Kim Russell Sawyer (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - School of Historical and Philosophical Studies ( email )


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