Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind

Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind

by Dan Arnold
     
 

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In the recent, burgeoning discourse on Buddhist thought and cognitive science, premodern Buddhists are sometimes characterized as veritable "mind scientists" whose insights anticipate modern research on the brain and mind. Aiming to complicate this story, Dan Arnold confronts a significant obstacle to popular attempts at harmonizing classical Buddhist and modern

Overview

In the recent, burgeoning discourse on Buddhist thought and cognitive science, premodern Buddhists are sometimes characterized as veritable "mind scientists" whose insights anticipate modern research on the brain and mind. Aiming to complicate this story, Dan Arnold confronts a significant obstacle to popular attempts at harmonizing classical Buddhist and modern scientific thought: since most Indian Buddhists believe that the mental continuum is uninterrupted by death (its continuity is what Buddhists mean by "rebirth"), they would have no truck with claims that everything about the mental is explicable with reference to brain events. Yet despite this significant divergence, a predominant stream of Indian Buddhist thought, associated with the seventh-century thinker Dharmakirti, turns out to be vulnerable to arguments modern philosophers have leveled against physicalism.

By characterizing the philosophical problems commonly faced by Dharmakirti and contemporary philosophers such as Jerry Fodor and Daniel Dennett, Arnold seeks to advance an understanding of both first-millennium Indian arguments and contemporary debates in philosophy of mind. The issues center on what modern philosophers have called intentionality—the fact that the mind can be about (or represent or mean) other things. Tracing an account of intentionality through Kant, Wilfrid Sellars, and John McDowell, Arnold argues that intentionality cannot, in principle, be explained in causal terms. Elaborating some of Dharmakirti's central commitments (chiefly his apoha theory of meaning and his account of self-awareness), Arnold shows that despite Dharmakirti's interest in refuting physicalism, his causal explanations of the mental mean that modern arguments from intentionality cut as much against his project as they do against physicalist philosophies of mind. This is evident in the arguments of some of Dharmakirti's contemporaneous Indian critics (proponents of the orthodox Brahmanical Mimamsa school as well as fellow Buddhists from the Madhyamaka school of thought), whose critiques exemplify the same logic as modern arguments from intentionality. Arnold's complex study shows that seemingly arcane arguments among first-millennium Indian thinkers illuminate matters still very much at issue among contemporary philosophers.

Editorial Reviews

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews - Charles Goodman
...an important work of philosophy...

Choice
Graduate students and scholars of Buddhist scholastic thought-particularly those engaged by the philosophical dimensions of Buddhism and science discourse-are in for a treat. Recommended.

Journal of Religion - Bronwyn Finnigan
Brains, Buddhas, and Believing is outstanding. It is exegetically robust, providing richly informed expositions of historical positions.... It is exciting and refreshing to read a book that coherently explicates common issues between distinct intellectual traditions with such philosophical rigor and independence of thought.

Journal of the American Oriental Society
...a rich and inspiring summary, livened up by many succint assessments of related positions.

Roger Jackson
Dan Arnold once again leads us through a brilliant and original exercise in cross-cultural philosophy. He gives a lucid account of the epistemology of the great Indian Buddhist thinker Dharmakirti and then sets him into robust conversation with other philosophers of mind, both Indian and Western, illuminating important issues in Buddhist thought, the philosophy of mind, the study of Buddhism and neuroscience, and the relation between humanistic and scientific inquiry.

PsycCritiques - Thomas Leahey
I recommend Brains, Buddhas, and Believing to anyone interested in philosophy of mind and to those who would like to learn about a vigorous non-Western philosophy often thought of in purely practical rather than theoretical terms.

H-Buddhism - Richard Nance
The book is strong both philosophically and philologically, with Arnold's characteristic erudition, analytic rigor, interpretive sensitivity, and enthusiasm evident throughout.

Religions of South Asia - Jan Westerhoff
The book admirably shows how the philosophical views of Dharmakirti and others are not just exhibits in the Indian Wing of the Museum of the History of Ideas, but positions that are of considerable importance in our attempts of addressing contemporary philosophical problems.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231145466
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
05/15/2012
Pages:
328
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Jay Garfield
This is a superb book, and Dan Arnold sets a new standard for contemporary cross-cultural philosophy. He approaches the most important and difficult issues in contemporary philosophy of mind, epistemology, and the foundations of cognitive science through a sustained dialogue with classical Indian Buddhist philosophers, such as Nagarjuna and Dharmakirti, and with contemporary Western philosophers, such as Wilfrid Sellars, Donald Davidson, John McDowell, Daniel Dennett, and Jerry Fodor. He addresses both Indian and Western traditions with great erudition and always in the service of a philosophical project prosecuted with uncommon clarity and precision.

Roger Jackson
Dan Arnold once again leads us through a brilliant and original exercise in cross-cultural philosophy. He gives a lucid account of the epistemology of the great Indian Buddhist thinker Dharmakirti and then sets him into robust conversation with other philosophers of mind, both Indian and Western, illuminating important issues in Buddhist thought, the philosophy of mind, the study of Buddhism and neuroscience, and the relation between humanistic and scientific inquiry.

Meet the Author

Dan Arnold is associate professor of philosophy of religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he also received his Ph.D. His first book, Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion, won an American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion.

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