Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mindby Dan Arnold
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 held that the mental… See more details below
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 held that the mental continuum is uninterrupted by death (its continuity is what Buddhists mean by "rebirth"), they would have no truck with the idea that everything about the mental can be explained in terms of brain events. Nevertheless, 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 on the philosophy of mind. The issues center on what modern philosophers have called intentionalitythe 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 his concern to refute physicalism, Dharmakirti's 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 Mimasa school as well as fellow Buddhists from the Madhyamaka school of thought), whose critiques exemplify the same logic as modern arguments from intentionality. Elaborating these various strands of thought, Arnold shows that seemingly arcane arguments among first-millennium Indian thinkers can illuminate matters still very much at the heart of contemporary philosophy.
Columbia University Press
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.
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What People are saying about this
This is a superb book. 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 both with classical Indian Buddhist philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Dharmakirti and with contemporary Western philosophers such as Sellars, Davidson, McDowell, Dennett and 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.
Jay Garfield, Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy, Smith College
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, then sets him into robust conversation with other philosophers of mind, both Indian and Western, in the process illuminating important issues in Buddhist thought, the philosophy of mind, the study of Buddhism and neuroscience, and the relation between humanistic and scientific inquiry.
Roger Jackson, John W. Nason Professor of Asian Studies and Religion, Carleton College
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.
Columbia University Press
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