The Zhuangzi and Skepticism

Author: Julianne Chung (University of Louisville)

The Zhuangzi(Wade-Giles: Chuang-tzu) is one of two foundational Daoist texts (alongside the Laozi, orDaodejing). It is widely considered to have been composed (at least in large part) by a Chinese philosopher of the same name in the late 4th century BCE.

Chapter 2 of the Zhuangzi,the Qiwulun, can be read and taught on its own.  Like other parts of the book, this chapter articulates and appears to advocate a variety of skeptical positions but also a number of positive claims that are seemingly inconsistent with them. Commentators have sought to resolve these tensions by claiming:

  • that Zhuangzi’s skepticism is more limited than many have been inclined to think (cf. Graham 1983, Eno 1996, Fraser 2009, and Sturgeon 2015),
  • that Zhuangzi is a relativist, pluralist, or perspectivist rather than a skeptic (cf. Hansen 1983, Wong 1984, Mou 2008 and 2015a, and Connolly 2011),
  • that Zhuangzi’s skepticism is better construed as a recommendation, method, or therapy rather than a thesis (cf. Kjellberg 1996, Ivanhoe 1996, Raphals 1996, Van Norden 1996, and Wong 2005),
  • that Zhuangzi does not sincerely advocate radically skeptical positions, despite appearances to the contrary (cf. Schwitzgebel 1996),
  • and that Zhuangzi can be interpreted as both a global skeptic and fictionalist (Chung forthcoming).

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Guo Xi – “The Interest of Lofty Forests and Springs”

Author: Robert R Clewis (Gwynedd Mercy University)

Guo Xi (Kuo Hsi) (ca. 1000–1090) was a leading Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) landscape artist and theorist of painting. His ideas connect with western ideas about painting and figuration, as well as aesthetic theories regarding awe and the sublime.   In one of his most famous paintings, “Early Spring,” two figures appear to be undergoing an experience of awe, wonder, or the sublime. The painting portrays the natural sublime — the two figures appear struck by a waterfall and a monastery above it. “Early Spring” also depicts what can be called the “transcendent” sublime — the ineffable or unknowable, which has been emphasized in western traditions of negative theology and in theories such as the one Hegel presented in “Symbolism of the Sublime.”

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VASUBANDHU and the problem of the external world in Mahayana Buddhist Philosophy (c. 300-400 CE)

Author: Gordon. F. Davis (Carleton University)

In a few short texts, assigned to a mature period following a famous ‘conversion’ to Mahayana Buddhism, Vasubandhu argues that reality consists of ‘impressions-only’ (Siderits 2007), or ‘only appearance’ (Gold 2015). This prima faciemetaphysical idealism came to be known, famously and more simply, as the ‘Cittamatra’ view, which means ‘mind-only’.

Taking ‘external world’ to mean a world in space and time that is putatively independent of the mind, Vasubandhu argues that this conception is a delusion, one that imposes a crude conceptual grid on the field of experience. As a critic of ‘naïve realism’, Vasubandhu sees unchecked mental projections as imposing a spatiotemporal structure on experience which, once purged of this, can also be liberated from other forms of ignorance. In his Twenty-Verse Treatise, Vasubandhu considers various objections to this irrealist account of belief in an external world, responding by invoking e.g. analogies of dream-experience (and other intriguing anticipations of modern philosophy).

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The Dhammapada and Virtue Ethics

Author: Christopher Ives (Stonehill College)

The most widely read Buddhist text is, in all likelihood, the Dhammapada, a collection of verses attributed to the historical Buddha, which includes a widely quoted statement:

Refraining from all that is detrimental,
attaining what is wholesome,
purifying one’s mind:
this is the instruction of Awakened Ones.[i]

By “detrimental” Buddha is referring to mental states that cause suffering, whereas the “wholesome” are the opposite mental states, the cultivation of which conduce to liberation from suffering. The Dhammapada is replete with lists of these mental states, the most prominent of which are the “three poisons,” ignorance, greed, and ill will, and their opposites, wisdom, generosity and loving-kindness. The Dhammapada also treats the “five hindrances” and the “ten fetters,” as well as the “five faculties” and the “seven factors of enlightenment.” In effect, these mental states are vices and virtues.

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Madhvācārya

Author: Deepak Sarma (Case Western Reserve University)

Madhvācārya is a 13th century Indian Hindu scholar who began the Dvaita or dualist (also known as Mādhva) tradition of Vedānta. He argues that the ultimate reality (brahman), identified with God as Viṣṇu, is distinct from the world and from each and every ātman (enduring, individual self). His primary opponent is the Advaita (non-dualist) School of Vedānta founded by Ṡaṃkarācārya in the 8th century which holds that ultimate reality is identical to each and every ātman. Madhvācārya argues that the universe is governed by pañcabheda (five types of differences) that are real and not illusory. Continue reading “Madhvācārya”

Cārvāka Critique of Inference

Author: Ethan Mills (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)

The irreligious Cārvāka school, which existed at least as far back as the time of the Buddha (c. 400 BCE), is often depicted as denying the validity of inference as a means of knowledge. There are virtually no extant texts written by members of the Cārvāka school, but the Sarvadarśanasagraha (Collection of All Philosophical Views), a doxography composed by the 14th century Advaita Vedāntin Mādhava, summarizes the Cārvāka argument against inference.

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Śāntideva on self-interest and altruism

Authors: Amod Lele (Boston University), and Anna Lännström (Stonehill College)

 

Śāntideva is an eighth century Indian Buddhist philosopher from the Mahāyāna tradition. His most famous work is the short and largely accessible Bodhicaryāvatāra (Undertaking the way to awakening). The work had an important influence on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The arguments for altruism (8.89 – 105) are perhaps the most famous parts of the work and can easily be excerpted. They occur in the context of the discussion of how to awaken the desire to become a bodhisattva (someone who wants to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of others). One of the steps he recommends for awakening that desire is meditating on the equality of oneself and others.

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Śāntideva on anger

Authors: Amod Lele (Boston University), and Anna Lännström (Stonehill College)

 

Śāntideva (Shantideva) is an eighth century Indian Buddhist philosopher from the Mahāyāna tradition. His most famous work is the short and largely accessible Bodhicaryāvatāra (Undertaking the way to awakening or Guide to the Bodhisattva way of life). This work was an important influence on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition generally and on the current Dalai Lama in particular.

Śāntideva’s discussion of anger is in chapter 6, where, arguing against anger, he praises the virtue of patient endurance (kṣānti). He treats anger as equivalent to hatred and singles it out as the most troublesome of the three root poisons (hatred, delusion, and craving) because, more than the others, it prevents us from developing compassion.

Śāntideva makes a psychological argument against anger, pointing out that it disturbs our relationships and our peace of mind. It makes us suffer, preventing us from being happy.

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Rasa – Indian Aesthetic Theory

AuthorKathleen Higgins (University of Texas at Austin)

Rasa is a central concept in Indian aesthetic theory. The term has a variety of meanings (among them “flavor,” “taste,” “juice,” and “essence”), but in aesthetics it is understood to refer to a distinctive type of emotional experience that can be experienced in connection with an artwork. The concept is presented in the Nāṭyaśāstra (200-500 C.E.), traditionally attributed to Bharata, a work that amounts to a compendium of knowledge on dramatic performance (including music and dancing). That Nāṭyaśāstra itemizes eight rasas that can be aroused in audience members through skillful performances. These include the erotic (śṛṅgāra), the comic (hāsya), the pathetic or sorrowful (karuṇa), the furious (raudra), the heroic (vīra), the terrible (bhayānaka), the odious (bībhatsa), and the marvelous (adbhuta). Continue reading “Rasa – Indian Aesthetic Theory”

Nishida Kitaro’s Self-Contradictory Identity

Author: Nicole Bea (Independent researcher)

Nishida is the founder of the Kyoto School of Philosophy.  The school includes three generations of thinkers who all put nothingness, or emptiness, at the core of their philosophy. Though not well known in the West, Nishida is regarded as Japan’s first and greatest modern philosopher.  His philosophy is not simply non-Western in the sense that Confucius’ or Dogen’s philosophies could be said to be. Rather, he is a modern thinker who has reformulated Japanese Zen philosophy using the language of Western philosophy.

Born in 1870, as Japan was opening up to Western culture in the Meiji Era, Nishida Kitaro received an education blending East and West, combining early tutoring in the Chinese classics and a serious Zen practice with an interest in mathematics and logic and a passion for Western philosophy. He was convinced that it was possible to articulate the East Asian notion of nothingness as the ground of reality in the language of Western philosophy, even though that language had been developed to elucidate an understanding of ultimate reality as being.  As a starting point for his first book, An Inquiry into the Good, Nishida borrowed William James’s concept of “pure experience” to access reality behind the layer of concepts carved out by the mind to give it meaning, and he seems to have regarded pure experience as equivalent to the Zen state of no-mind.

Nishida Kitaro, Last Writings – Nothingness and the Religious Worldview. Translated by David A. Dilworth. University of Hawaii Press, 1987.  This is Nishida’s last book where he gives an overview of his life’s work and sums up his thought. Includes an introduction and a postscript by the translator.  Pages 48-54 and 64-69 could be used as texts to introduce self-contradictory identity.

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Secondary Sources – Online
Secondary Sources – Books and Articles
Compare/Contrast With

 
Secondary Sources – Online

Nishida Kitaro,”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Secondary Sources – Books and Articles

Michiko Yusa, Zen & Philosophy, An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitaro.  University of Hawaii Press, 2002.  Outstanding biography blending life events and evolution of Nishida’s thought based on Nishida’s diaries. Includes short texts by Nishida.

Robert E. Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God.  Paragon House Publishers, 2nd Revised edition, 1998. Insightful study of Nishida’s thought.

James W. Heisig, Philosophers of Nothingness – An Essay on the Kyoto School University of Hawai’i Press, 1996.  Includes studies of Nishida Kitaro, Tanabe Hajime and Nishitani Keiji, the best known members of the Kyoto School, by the long-time director of the Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture.

Gereon Kopf, Beyond Personal Identity: Dōgen, Nishida, and a Phenomenology of No-Self. Richmond: Curzon, 2001.

Robert Wilkinson,  Nishida and Western Philosophy. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009. 

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Compare/Contrast With

Tanabe Hajime, Nishitani Keiji, and the later Martin Heidegger.  Tanabe and Nishitani are Nishida’s best known successors in the Kyoto School.
With regard to Heidegger, though neither was influenced by the other, both might be seen as seeking a standpoint, or form of thinking, that goes beyond the subject-object distinction to grasp a more basic and encompassing level of reality.

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