Sunday, June 05, 2005

Leibniz and Buddhism?

(concerning the comment made on my June 2 post) Thank you for your suggestion. I don’t think I will be able to follow it, as I have already started work on my thesis, but I am intrigued by it and would like to hear more. I hadn’t even considered Leibniz as a source of comparison to Buddhist thought, and, reading about his thought now, I do not see much that would suggest comparison. In what follows I will simply pull out points from my reading (in “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy” Honderich ed., pp.477-480) on Leibniz and comment on their difference from Buddhism. Obviously then, I will just be pointing out prima facie problems, and hope that you will correct me in any misinterpretations.

  1. His ontology (monads) at first glance resembles an Abhidharma ontology of dharmas (basic building blocks of existence), but Leibniz allows (even necessitates) God as the creator of each monad whereas Buddhism argues that each dharma is necessarily the result of a beginningless chain of prior dharmas.
  2. Leibniz also denies the possibility of intersubstantial causal relations (ie. a monad of one type could not interact with monads of another type) whereas in Buddhist thought dharmas of one type must interact (ie. a moment of eye-consciousness [a mental dharma] is the result of an object [a physical dharma] and awareness [a mental dharma]).
  3. Leibniz also posited a thesis that individual substances “differ with respect to their intrinsic, non-relational properties”, whereas Buddhist thought universally denies intrinsic properties (the three marks of existence in Buddhism are: non-self, change, and unsatisfactoriness), all things which exist in Buddhism do so only by virtue of their causes and conditions.
  4. Leibniz denied that space was an entity existing beyond material entities within it, whereas Buddhism asserts that space is itself a dharma, hence separate from other (material) dharmas which may interact within it.
  5. Leibniz, arguing against Locke, argues that “concepts of self, substance and causation, are innate” in the human mind, whereas Buddhism, would side with the empiricist here that all of our ideas (especially the idea of ‘self’ which is fundamentally misconstrued according to Buddhism) are derived from experience.
There is no section on the ethics of Leibniz... I should have mentioned that my thesis focuses on Kantian ethical theory and that of Buddhism (probably specifically Tibetan Buddhism). I am intrigued though, as always with such novel ideas, with your suggestions. So if you (or anyone for that manner) have more comments, I would very much welcome them.

Thanks and best wishes. jw

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