Volume 19, 2012
Buddhist Hard Determinism: No Self, No Free Will, No Responsibility
Kingsborough College, CUNY
This is the third article in a four-article series that examines Buddhist responses to the Western philosophical problem of whether free will is compatible with “determinism,” the doctrine of universal causation. The first article (“Earlier”) focused on the first publications on this issue in the 1970s, the “early period.” The second (“Paleo-compatibilism”) and the present articles examine key responses published in the last part of the Twentieth and the first part of the Twenty-first centuries, the “middle period.” The fourth article (“Recent”) examines responses published in the last few years, the “recent period.” Whereas early-period scholars endorsed a compatibilism between free will and determinism, in the middle period the pendulum moved the other way: Mark Siderits argued for a two tiered compatibilism/incompatibilism (or semi-compatibilism) that he dubs “paleo-compatibilism,” grounded in the early Buddhist reductionist notion of “two truths” (conventional truth and ultimate truth); and Charles Goodman argued that Buddhists accept hard determinism—the view that because determinism is true, there can be no free will—because in the absence of a real self determinism leaves no room for morally responsible agency. In “Paleo-compatibilism,” I focused on Siderits’s reductionist account. The present article focuses on Goodman’s hard determinism, and the fourth article will examine the most recent publications expressing Buddhist views of free will. Together with my own meditation-based Buddhist account of free will (“Meditation”), this series of articles provides a comprehensive review of the leading extant writings on this subject.