A critical review of Charles Goodman's view about Buddhism and free will to the effect that Buddhism is hard determinist, basically because he thinks Buddhist causation is definitively deterministic, and he thinks determinism is definitively incompatible with free will, but especially because he thinks Buddhism is equally definitively clear on the non-existence of a self, from which he concludes there cannot be an autonomous self.
I argue for a possible Buddhist theory of free will that combines Frankfurt's hierarchical analysis of meta-volitional/volitional accord with elements of the Buddhist eightfold path that prescribe that Buddhist aspirants cultivate meta-volitional wills that promote the mental freedom that culminates in enlightenment, as well as a causal/functional analysis of how Buddhist meditative methodology not only plausibly makes that possible, but in ways that may be applied to undermine Galen Strawson's impossibility argument, along with most of the other major arguments for (...) free will skepticism. (shrink)
A critical review of Mark Siderits's arguments in support of a compatibilist Buddhist theory of free will based on early Abhidharma reductionism and the two-truths distinction between conventional and ultimate truths or reality, which theory he terms 'paleo-compatibilism'. The Buddhist two-truths doctrine is basically analogous to Sellers' distinction between the manifest and scientific images, in which case the argument is that determinism is a claim about ultimate reality, whereas personhood and agency are about conventional reality, both discourse domains are semantically (...) insulated, and thus there cannot be any issue of the incompatibility. (shrink)
This is my response to the criticisms of Gregg Caruso, David Cummiskey, and Karin Meyers, in their roles as members of the “Author Meets Critics” panel devoted to my book, Buddhism, Meditation, and Free Will: A Theory of Mental Freedom at the 2019 annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, organized by Christian Coseru. Caruso's main objection is that I am not sufficiently attentive to details of opposing arguments in Western philosophy, and Cummiskey's and Meyers’ objections, (...) similarly, are that I am insufficiently attentive to details of Buddhism. I argue that all such objections, however putatively correct, do not rise to the level of objections that actually undermine my account of mental freedom. (shrink)
A critical reply to the anti-mindfulness critics in the collection, who oppose the popular secularized adoption of mindfulness on various grounds (it is not Buddhism, it is Buddhism, it is a tool of neo-capitalist exploitation, etc.), I argue that mindfulness is a quality of consciousness, opposite mindlessness, that may be cultivated through practice, and is almost always beneficial to those who cultivate it.
A collection of essays, mostly original, on the actual and possible positions on free will available to Buddhist philosophers, by Christopher Gowans, Rick Repetti, Jay Garfield, Owen Flanagan, Charles Goodman, Galen Strawson, Susan Blackmore, Martin T. Adam, Christian Coseru, Marie Friquegnon, Mark Siderits, Ben Abelson, B. Alan Wallace, Peter Harvey, Emily McRae, and Karin Meyers, and a Foreword by Daniel Cozort.
I argue for the use of contemplative practices, such as meditation, journaling, reflection, etc., as an adjunct or alternative form of pedagogy that can help enrich student engagement, facilitate the creation of a philosophical mind state, and engender intrinsic curiosity and related psychological and/or motivational qualities that are supportive of educational ideals. I report on my own scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research performed in my philosophy classes, as a case study in point. I found that the more times (...) students in my different philosophy courses meditated, the more their subjective responses changed on surveys about their philosophical attitudes and beliefs. (shrink)
In this essay, I argue that an analysis of the mind-control skills exhibited by Buddhist meditation experts may be used to formulate a theory of mental freedom, Buddhist Soft Compatibilism, that includes not only freedom of the will but the freedoms of emotion, attention, perception, the self, and all voluntary phenomena. BSC is compatible with determinism, indeterminism, the various Buddhist conceptions of causation, and the Buddhist conception of the self.The structure of my essay is as follows. First, I review the (...) major terms, positions, and arguments in the Western debate on free will, contrasting the strongest pessimistic and optimistic views, framing the... (shrink)
Traditionally, Buddhist philosophy has seemingly rejected the autonomous self. In Western philosophy, free will and the philosophy of action are established areas of research. This book presents a comprehensive analytical review of extant scholarship on perspectives on free will. It studies and refutes the most powerful Western and Buddhist philosophical objections to free will and explores the possibility that a form of agency may in fact exist within Buddhism. Providing a detailed explanation of how Buddhist meditation increases self-regulative mind-control abilities, (...) the author argues that the Buddhist path is designed to produce meditation virtuosos exhibiting mind-control abilities far exceeding the free-will advocate's ability to 'do otherwise' or have their choices be 'up to' them. Based on the empirically-supported mind-control cultivated by these meditation virtuosos, the book proposes the principle of, 'Buddhist Soft Compatibilism', a theory of 'freedom of the mind' that entails freedoms of the will, attention, emotion and action, compatible with both determinism and indeterminism. Buddhism, Meditation and Free Will will be of interest to Buddhist and Western philosophers and academics interested in comparative philosophy, free will, philosophy of action, metaphysics, ethics and Religious Studies. (shrink)
Book review of Peter Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists, Pitchstone Publishing, 2013, 280pp., $14.95, ISBN 978-1939578099 (paperback). Foreword by Michael Shermer. Science, Religion & Culture 1:2 (August 2014), 93-96 .
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... (shrink)
I argue that if the claims Buddhist philosophy makes about meditation virtuosos are plausible, then Buddhism may rebut most of the strongest arguments for free will skepticism found in Western analytic philosophy, including the hard incompatiblist's argument (which combines the arguments for hard determinism, such as the consequence argument, with those for hard indeterminism, such as the randomness argument), Pereboom's manipulation argument, and Galen Strawson's impossibility argument. The main idea is that the meditation virtuoso can cultivate a level of mind (...) control that is impervious to the causal origins of her mental states, on the basis of which ability an account of free will may be erected, consistent with the claim that Buddhist enlightenment consists in some sort of radical conception of the ultimately impersonal nature of the agent. (shrink)
Steven Cahn posed a puzzle in this issue of the APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy, asking whether philosophy professors are morally obliged to reason students out of presumably irrational religious beliefs, by analogy with a hypothetical case in which a young person has been led to believe she has a magnanimous uncle who she never met but who has the wherewithal to watch over her life from afar and protect her. I responded in a nuanced manner, but basically emphasizing that (...) we have an obligation to teach students to reason, not what particular premises or conclusions to accept. (shrink)
This Handbook provides a comprehensive overview & analysis of the state of the field of the philosophy of meditation. It will serve as textbook reading in courses in philosophy of mind, consciousness, selfhood/personhood, metaphysics, or phenomenology.
I argue for a soft compatibilist theory of free will, i.e., such that free will is compatible with both determinism and indeterminism, directly opposite hard incompatibilism, which holds free will incompatible both with determinism and indeterminism. My intuitions in this book are primarily based on an analysis of meditation, but my arguments are highly syncretic, deriving from many fields, including behaviorism, psychology, conditioning and deconditioning theory, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, simulation theory, etc. I offer a causal/functional analysis of (...) meta-mental control, or 'metacausality', cashed out in counterfactual terms, to solve what I call the easy problem of free will. (shrink)
Peter Strawson (1962) argued that the truth of determinism would not threaten our reactive attitudes, e.g., resentment, or our normative practices, e.g., punishment, though these presuppose (indeterministic) free will, because they are too entrenched. If autonomous agency presupposes an agent-self, however, the same concern faces the issue of the resilience of belief in an agent-self. If belief in agency would persist in the face of determinism, would belief in the agent-self? If not, what are the likely consequences? Buddhist practice is (...) depicted as the path from allegedly erroneous belief in the conventional agent-self to the ultimately enlightening realization of no-self, with meditation as the primary means for directly experiencing that ultimate reality. One largely unnoticed problem with this view is that analysis of Buddhist claims suggests the opposite: that ordinary people do not have an agent-self nor agency, but that the Buddha had an agent-self and agency, and that Buddhist practice increases agency, thus selfhood. Another problem is that Buddhist practice might not uncover the unreality of self, but disassemble a pre-existing self. And, among other problems, it is possible that the no-self doctrine would disempower individuals, threaten individual wellbeing, and lead to antisocial behavior. Such problems are examined here. (shrink)
This work focuses on a narrow Buddhist epistemological tradition that begins with the Abhidharma philosopher Vasubandhu’s analyses of perception and is developed by Dignāga, Dharmakīrti, Kamalaśīla, and Śāntarakṣita. Coseru explains how Buddhist epistemology evolved in dialogue with competing conceptions internal to Buddhism and against orthodox Indian philosophies, particularly Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā. Coseru’s main argument is that although widespread interpretations of Buddhist epistemology are foundationalist, a more useful way to understand it is as a form of phenomenology consistent with enactivism and (...) a naturalism based in descriptive accounts of cognition. Coseru engages his analysis with contemporary Western philosophical concerns in philosophy of mind and language, cognitive science, and enactivism. (shrink)