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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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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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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