A thought that we all entertain at some time or other is that the course of our lives might have been very different from the way they in fact have been, with the consequence that we might have been rather different sorts of persons than we actually are. A less common, but prima facie intelligible thought is that we might never have existed at all, though someone rather like us did. Arguably, any plausible theory of personal identity should be able (...) to accommodate both possibilities. Certain currently popular Reductionist theories of personal identity, however, seem to be deficient in precisely this respect. This paper explores some Reductionist responses to that challenge. (shrink)
Over the last few decades Mark Siderits has established himself as a leading philosophical interpreter of Indian Buddhist philosophy. He has published widely in this field, but three of his books are particularly well known: his Personal Identity and Buddhist Philosophy, a self-styled "essay in fusion philosophy"; his introductory textbook Buddhism as Philosophy ; and–with Shōryū Katsura–his translation and commentary, Nāgārjuna's Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. Taken together, these three books offer a fuller sense of Siderits' philosophical concerns with Buddhism. The concern (...) with "fusion philosophy" is focused primarily on philosophical problem-solving and energetically quarries Buddhist... (shrink)
The publication of Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons in 1984 revived and reshaped the debate on personal identity in Western philosophy. Not only does Parfit argue forcefully and ingeniously for a revisionary Reductionist theory of persons and their diachronic identity, but he also draws radical normative inferences from such a theory. Along the way he also mentions Indian Buddhist parallels to his own Reductionist theory. Some of these parallels are explored here, while particular attention is also paid to the supposed (...) normative implications of Reductionism. (shrink)
In this essay I defend both the individual plausibility and conjoint consistency of two theses. One is the Intentionality Thesis: that all mental states are intentional . The other is the Self-Awareness Thesis: that if a subject is aware of an object, then the subject is also aware of being aware of that object. I begin by arguing for the individual prima facie plausibility of both theses. I then go on to consider a regress argument to the effect that the (...) two theses are incompatible. I discuss three responses to that argument, and defend one of them. (shrink)
There is an apparent tension between two familiar platitudes about the meaning of life: (i) that 'meaning' in this context means 'value', and (ii) that such meaning might be ineffable. I suggest a way of trying to bring these two claims together by focusing on an ideal of a meaningful life that fuses both the axiological and semantic senses of 'significant'. This in turn allows for the possibility that the full significance of a life might be ineffable not because its (...) axiological significance is ineffable, but because its semantic significance is ineffable in virtue of the signification relation itself being unsignifiable. I then explore to what degree this claim about signification can be adequately defended. (shrink)
What have modern Buddhist ethicists to say about abortion and is there anything to be learned from it? A number of writers have suggested that Buddhism (particularly Japanese Buddhism) does indeed have something important to offer here: a response to the dilemma of abortion that is a 'middle way' between the pro-choice and pro-life extremes that have polarised the western debate. I discuss what this suggestion might amount to and present a defence of its plausibility.
Philosophical defenders of animal liberation believe that we have direct duties to animals. Typically a presumption of that belief is that animals have the capacity to experience pain and suffering. Notoriously, however, a strand of Western scientific and philosophical thought has held animals to be incapable of experiencing pain, and even today one frequently encounters in discussions of animal liberation expressions of scepticism about whether animals really experience pain. -/- The Analogical Argument for Animal Pain responds to this scepticism by (...) claiming that it is just as reasonable for me to believe that animals feel pain, given my only evidence for this is shared behaviour and physiology, as it is for me to believe that other humans feel pain on the basis of similar evidence. In this paper I expound and defend this Argument. (shrink)
Would personal immortality have any value for one so endowed? An affirmative answer would seem so obvious to some that they might be tempted to go so far as to claim that immortality is a condition of life's having any value at all. The claim that immortality is a necessary condition for the meaningfulness of life seems untenable. What, however, of the claim that immortality is a sufficient condition for the meaningfulness of life? Though some might hold this to be (...) the characteristic religious view, this is certainly disputable. Thus McTaggart reminds us, for instance, that ‘Buddhism... holds immortality to be the natural state of man, from which only the most perfect can escape.’ I want to argue that we can imagine variants of personal immortality which would not be valuable and hence immortality in itself cannot be a sufficient condition for value. What is required for the meaningfulness of life is that life exhibit certain valuable qualities. But then the endless exhibition of these qualities is not only unnecessary for the meaningfulness of life, but the endlessness of a life can even devalue those qualities that would make valuable a single, bounded life. (shrink)
The modern environmental movement has a tradition of respect for indigenous cultures and many environmentalists believe that there are important ecological lessons to be learned from studying the traditional life styles of indigenous peoples. More recently, however, some environmentalists have become more sceptical. This scepticism has been sharpened by current concerns with the cause of indigenous rights. Indigenous peoples have repeatedly insisted on their rights to pursue traditional practices or to develop their lands, even when the exercise of these rights (...) has implications in conflict with environmentalist values. These conflicts highlight some important questions in environmental ethics, particularly about the degree to which global environmental justice should be constrained by therecognition of indigenous rights. I explore some of these issues and argue for the relevance of the “capability approach” to environmental justice. (shrink)
Naiyāyikas are fond of a slogan, which often appears as a kind of motto in their texts: "Whatever exists is knowable and nameable." What does this mean? Is it true? The first part of this essay offers a brief explication of this important Nyāya thesis; the second part argues that, given certain plausible assumptions, the thesis is demonstrably false.
What is sovereignty? Was it ceded to the Crown in the Treaty of Waitangi? If land was unjustly confiscated over a century ago, should it be returned? Is an ecosystem valuable in itself, or only because of its value to people? Does a property right entail a right to destroy? Can collectives (such as tribes) bear moral responsibility? Do they have moral rights? If so, what are the implications for the justice system? These questions are essentially philosophical, yet all thoughtful (...) New Zealanders will be keen to see them discussed clearly, rigorously, and dispassionately. This book gathers together essays by eminent philosophers on some of these problems. All of them are New Zealanders or have connections with this region. The problems which this book addresses on aspects of justice and ethics are of concern to all New Zealanders. Students of law, Maori studies, philosophy, politics, and history will find it particularly helpful. (shrink)
Questions about the meaning of life have traditionally been regarded as being of particular concern to philosophers. It is sometimes complained that contemporary analytic philosophy fails to address such questions, but there do exist illuminating recent discussions of these questions by analytic philosophers. 1 Perhaps what lurks behind the complaint is a feeling that these discussions are insufficiently close to actual living situations and hence often seem rather thin and bland compared with the vivid portrayals of such situations in autobiography (...) or fiction. I therefore want to focus on two works by Tolstoy—one autobiographical, one fictional—and try to see what philosophical lessons can be learned from them, particularly with regard to questions about the relation of death to the meaning of life. (shrink)
Our present actions can have effects on future generations - affecting not only the environment they will inherit, but even perhaps their very existence. This raises a number of important moral issues, many of which have only recently received serious philosophical attention. I begin by discussing some contemporary Western philosophical perspectives on the problem of our obligations to future generations, and then go on to consider how these approaches might relate to the classical Indian philosophical tradition. Although the Indian commitment (...) to pre-existence and rebirth precludes the arising of the Non-Identity Problem, this does not mean that there is not still a problem about justifying our obligations to future generations. The Indian Non-Reductionists about personal identity have difficulties with this that are comparable to the difficulties of their Western counterparts, but the Indian Buddhist Reductionists offer some provocative arguments for impartiality and the rationality of altruism. (shrink)
Damien and John Keown claim that there is important common ground between Buddhism and Christianity on the issue of euthanasia and that both traditions oppose it for similar reasons in order to espouse a "sanctity of life" position. I argue that the appearance of consensus is partly created by their failure to specify clearly enough certain key notions in the argument: particularly Buddhism, euthanasia and the sanctity of life. Once this is done, the Keowns' central claims can be seen to (...) be either false or only restrictedly true. (shrink)
Many philosophers have supposed that while most of the objects in our immediate experience are composed of parts, at some point we must come down to those fundamental impartite objects out of which all partite things are composed: the metaphysical simples (usually conceived of as enduring, even eternal, entities). I consider what reason we have to believe that there really are simples, then we also have good reason to believe in their momentariness.
The lack of interest in history in ancient India has often been noted and contrasted with the situation in China and the West. Notwithstanding the vast body of Indian literature in other fields, there is a remarkable dearth of historical writing in the period before the Muslim conquest and an associated indifference to historiography. Various explanations have been offered for this curious phenomenon, some of which appeal to the supposed currency of certain Indian philosophical theories. This essay critically examines such (...) "philosophical explanations."I argue that it is not true that there was no history in ancient India, and it is not surprising that there was no developed historiography or scientific history. It is both true and surprising that there was no real importance attached to history in ancient India. An adequate philosophical explanation for this historical phenomenon, however, is not to be found in appeals to the influence of indigenous metaphysical theories about time and the self. A much more plausible philosophical explanation appeals instead to certain features of classical Indian epistemology. (shrink)
Associated with the successful development of computer technology has been an increasing acceptance of computational theories of the mind. But such theories also seem to close the gap between ourselves and machines, threatening traditional notions of our special value as non-physical conscious minds. Prima facie, Sāmkhya-Yoga - the oldest school of classical Indian philosophy, with its dualism between purusa ('self', 'consciousness') and prakrti ('nature', 'matter') - seems a case in point. However, Sāmkhya-Yoga dualism is not straightforwardly a mind-body dualism and (...) in order to understand exactly where it stands on the mind-body problem we need a more nuanced characterisation of that problem than is usual. Once this is done, it seems that Sāmkhya-Yoga may well be able to accommodate the most plausible parts of the computational theory of mind. (shrink)
Traditional Western conceptions of immortality characteristically presume that we come into existence at a particular time , live out our earthly span and then die. According to some, our death may then be followed by a deathless post-mortem existence. In other words, it is assumed that we are born only once and die only once; and that – at least on some accounts – we are future-sempiternal creatures. The Western secular tradition affirms at least ; the Western religious tradition – (...) Christianity, Judaism, Islam – generally affirms both and . The Indian tradition, however, typically denies both and . That is, it maintains both that we all have pre-existed beginninglessly, and that we have lived many times before and must live many times again in this world. The Indian picture, then, is that we have died and been reborn innumerable times previous to this life and we will be reborn many times in the future. This is sometimes called the Indian belief in reincarnation. The difficulty with this usage is that the term ‘reincarnation’ suggests a belief in an immortal soul that transmigrates or reincarnates. However Buddhism, while affirming rebirth, specifically denies the existence of an eternal soul. Thus the term ‘rebirth’ is preferable for referring to the generally espoused Indian doctrine. (shrink)
We (relatively few) Western analytic philosophers who also work on classical Indian philosophy commonly encounter puzzlement or suspicion from our colleagues in Western philosophy because of our Indian interests. The ubiquity of these attitudes is itself revealing of Western conceptions of Indian philosophy, though their origins lie in cultural history often unknown to those who hold them. In the first part of this paper I relate a small but significant slice of that history before going on to distinguish and illustrate (...) three different Western conceptions of Indian philosophy associated with three different approaches to India: the magisterial, the exoticist and the curatorial. I argue that none of these three approaches gives us an adequate conception of Indian philosophy: the magisterial approach is overly dismissive, the exoticist approach misrepresents the analytical achievements of Indian philosophy, and the curatorial approach fails to take seriously Indian philosophy's concern with truth. I advocate instead a different Western approach to Indian philosophy, an approach suggested by the Indian philosophers' own discussions of the problem of truth. (shrink)
What is the traditional relation of religion to politics in India? Recent scholarly debate has generated at least two divergent answers. According to one view there is a long standing traditional opposition between religion and politics in India. According to another view a separation of religion from politics is contrary to Indian ways of thinking. I argue that from the perspective of classical Indian philosophy there is no single tradition on the issue of religion and politics. To be able do (...) so, however, I utilize too some work in Western philosophy. (shrink)
In "arguments for the existence of god" and "faith and knowledge", john hick argues for the rationality of religious belief on the basis of an analogy between religious and perceptual belief. i reply that the analogy does not obtain because there is no alternative solipsistic interpretation of perceptual belief possible. this is because (a) hick's phenomenology of dreaming is unsatisfactory and (b) wittgenstein's "private language" argument shows solipsism to be an unintelligible option.