Sunday, November 28, 2004

Conference Abstract for a paper I hope to give in March

Just thought I might post the abstract I whipped out last week for an upcoming Postgraduate conference here in Bristol. I have about 80% of the stuff in the abstract taken care of through my past Philosophical and Religious Studies papers, but I'll have to put some work in bringing it all together as described below. In any case I think it will be fun. Any comments/suggestions based on this for reading/preparation would be appreciated:

Throughout the history of Buddhism, its most central philosophical doctrine, that of anattā (Skt. anātman) or not-self, has also been its most misunderstood doctrine. Today, Western philosophers are trying to understand anātman, often incorrectly using Western metaphysical models inherited from Descartes. This paper seeks to coherently and correctly bring anātman into the Western Philosophical dialogue by providing a Buddhist explanation of mind-body interaction. In the process, the Buddhist explanation will be compared to such Western philosophers as Aristotle, Gilbert Ryle, John Searle, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Through examples we will peal back the layers of reality and our mental constructions of it to see directly the unreality of both materialism and idealism, both nihilism and eternalism.

The historical development of anātman must be rooted in the philosophical milieu of the Buddha’s time, dominated by Brahmanical ‘self’ theory. The Buddha also encountered and refuted other ontological theories identical to those of the modern west, including materialism and idealism. Anata thus is not a complete refutation of selfhood as we understand it in the West, but a corrective philosophical statement against the hypostatization of the Aristotelian essence of self.

Anatman has been further confounded by the development of another Buddhist doctrine, śūnyatā, or emptiness. Śūnyatā is simply the rejection of ultimate substance, that which stands below. Given this we can see that for a Buddhist the categories of body and mind as substances are themselves mistaken. The stress of śūnyatā in Buddhist philosophy in the 1st Century C.E. led to over a millennium of rich philosophy and intense debate. Two ‘schools’ coming out of this debate are the Yogacāra, or so-called Idealist School, and the Prāsgika Madyamaka, the Refutational/Consequential Middle-Way School. The philosophy of these two schools, and the repercussions of their beliefs will be examined as well.


D said...

Suprisingly clear for a religious/philosophical abstract.

Anonymous said...

How can both materialism and idealism be unreal?

Buddhist_philosopher said...

materialism and idealism represent extreme positions in metaphysics. A middle way is found in Buddhism, as well as in modern Western phenomenological writers like Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Idealism says that physicality is 'just a projection' of the mental. Materialism states that mentality is an epiphenomenon of the physical. Each position is second-order, meaning that it takes an experience and instead of describing it *as experienced* it steps back and describes it in terms of a particular prefabricated framework.

Each of these frameworks appear right from the inside, and each is useful in different lines of conversation. The middle way seeks to see how each operates without being stuck within either.