Journal of Chinese Philosophy 49 (1):83-96 (2022)

Authors
Eric S. Nelson
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Abstract
Hegel remarked in his discussion of the nothing in the Science of Logic that: “It is well known that in oriental systems, and essentially in Buddhism, nothing, or the void, is the absolute principle.” Schopenhauer commented in a discussion of the joy of death in The World as Will and Representation: “The existence which we know he willingly gives up: what he gets instead of it is in our eyes nothing, because our existence is, with reference to that, nothing. The Buddhist faith calls it Nirvana, i.e., extinction.” It is striking how nineteenth-century German philosophical discourses concerning negativity, nihility, and nothingness explicitly refer to Buddhism, which was initially conceived by Christian missionaries as a “cult of nothingness” and became entangled with European debates concerning pessimism and nihilism. In this article, I reconsider how the interpretation of negativity and nothingness in Schopenhauer and nineteenth-century German thought informed the reception of Buddhism as a philosophical and religious discourse, and trace the ways in which Buddhist emptiness was reinterpreted in the context of the Western problematic of being and nothingness.
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DOI 10.1163/15406253-12340050
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