Empty or Emergent Persons? A Critique of Buddhist Personalism

Comparative Philosophy 12 (1):76-97 (2021)


In contrast to Buddhist Reductionists who deny the ultimate existence of the persons, Buddhist Personalists claim that persons are ultimately real in some important sense. Recently, some philosophers have offered philosophical reconstructions of Buddhist Personalism. In this paper, I critically evaluate one philosophical reconstruction of Buddhist Personalism according to which persons are irreducible to the parts that constitute them. Instead, persons are emergent entities and have novel properties that are distinct from the properties of their constituents. While this emergentist interpretation is an interesting and well-motivated reconstruction of the Personalist position, I ultimately reject it on substantive grounds. I distinguish between different kinds of emergentism in the contemporary philosophical literature and show that they fail to support Buddhist Personalism. I thus conclude that Buddhist Personalism is untenable if it’s committed to emergentism about persons. This paper also indirectly defends Buddhist Reductionism by showing that it has crucial advantages over Buddhist Personalism.

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Javier Hidalgo
University of Richmond

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