How Things Are: An Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics by Mark Siderits (review)

Philosophy East and West 72 (4):1–5 (2022)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:How Things Are: An Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics by Mark SideritsRick Repetti (bio)How Things Are: An Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics. By Mark Siderits. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2022. Pp. vi + 204. Paperback $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-760691-9.How Things Are: An Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics, by Mark Siderits, presents ten chapters on Buddhist metaphysics that will appeal to readers from any number of backgrounds, e.g. Western philosophers concerned with analytic metaphysics, but also philosophers of mind, epistemologists, phenomenologists, philosophers of meditation, comparative philosophers, non-Buddhist Indian philosophers, and Buddhist philosophers. The book includes an introductory chapter and chapters on the self, the person, fundamental ontology, causation, Buddhist nominalism, time, the external world, the internal world, and anti-realism. This book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to have a robust understanding of Buddhist metaphysics. If nothing else, the reader will appreciate the richness, complexity, and analytic rigor of Buddhist metaphysics that parallels its Western counterparts.This book is an "introduction" to "Buddhist" metaphysics, but much more, as each chapter comprehensively assesses the dialectical progression of arguments, theories, objections, rebuttals, and refinements throughout the history within and between the various schools and traditions of Buddhist metaphysics and their non-Buddhist interlocutors in Indian philosophy, and their analogues in Western philosophy. That comprehensiveness is an obvious feature, but possibly also a bug, as "Introduction to Buddhist Metaphysics" is an understatement. For readers to fully follow any "introduction," they must be able to do so on the basis of the information provided. This is largely but not entirely the case here, for, as someone fairly well-versed in Western and Indian philosophy, I think readers of How Things Are would only be able to fully follow its many abstract, complex, eloquent arguments and assertions if they were already quite well-versed in the history of both. I found it occasionally difficult to follow Siderits' reasoning, despite knowing what he means by certain unexplained terms he relies on, such as "qualia-philes," "cognitively impenetrable," and "the refrigerator illusion."The introductory chapter begins by noting that, contextually, older philosophical systems, e.g. Sāṃkhya and Nyāya, were extant when Buddhism [End Page 1] arose in India, systems which agree that liberation is about disidentifying consciousness with matter, while Buddhism is about disidentifying with anything. Siderits here sketches the eightfold path and its meditative core, noting that "the careful observation of mental states cultivated in some types of meditational practice is said to provide empirical evidence in support of key philosophical theses" (p. 11). As keen as Siderits is elsewhere to uncover problems, however, this description glosses over the fact that Buddhist meditative instructions are formulated precisely to "confirm" the "key philosophical theses" of momentariness, impersonality, and causal interdependence, in which case practitioners are looking for these things in ways that generate their perception; thus the claim that meditative experiences count as "empirical evidence of key Buddhist ideological theses" is circular (Struhl 2022).Siderits then sketches the three main stages in Buddhist development, namely, the early sūtras (the Indian Nikāyas and the Chinese Āgamas), the subsequent philosophical analyses of these (the Abhidharma), and the later developments (the Mahāyāna: both Yogācāra and Mādhyamaka), and what they all agree on: the unreality of the self, momentariness, mereological nihilism, and non-substantialism. Siderits brilliantly explains arguments for and against each, and maps out four general stances: two dualist realisms (Vaibhāṣika and Sautrāntika), one external world anti-realism (Yogācāra), and one global anti-realism (Mādhyamaka). He then explains Vaibhāṣika's direct realism (we perceive external, mind-independent objects directly, akin to naïve realism) and eternalism (each moment exists in all three times: past, present, future). He goes on to explain Sautrāntika's representationalism (we are aware only of mental representations of perceptual objects, akin to sense data) and presentism (only the present moment exists). Siderits here notes that representationalism leads to idealism (as it did in the modern West), and that Yogācāra espouses non-duality between representation and reality--a non-duality that entails local anti-realism about the physical...

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Rick Repetti
Kingsborough Community College (CUNY)

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