Volume 25, 2018
It Wasn’t Us: Reply to Michael Brent
Kingsborough Community College
City University of New York
In “Confessions of a Deluded Westerner,” Michael Brent insists no contributions to Buddhist Perspectives on Free Will (Repetti) even address free will because none deploy the criteria for free will that Western (incompatibilist) philosophers identify: the ability to do otherwise under identical conditions, and the ability to have one’s choices be up to oneself. Brent claims the criteria and abilities in that anthology are criteria for intentional action, but not all intentional actions are free. He also insists that Buddhism, ironically, cannot even accept intentional action, because, on his analysis, intentionality requires an agent, which Buddhism rejects. I have four responses: (i) Brent ignores the other half of the debate, compatibilism, in both Western and Buddhist philosophy, represented in the anthology by several contributors; (ii) the autonomy of Buddhist meditation virtuosos is titanic compared to Brent’s autonomy criteria, which latter are relatively mundane and facile, rather than something Buddhists fail to rise up to; (iii) such titanic Buddhist autonomy challenges, and possibly defeats, all major Western arguments against free will; and (iv) several contributors address the possibility of agentless agency. These responses could have been taken right out of the anthology, not only from my contributions.
Volume 21, 2014
Compassion in Schopenhauer and Śāntideva
University of Glasgow
Although it is well known that Schopenhauer claimed that Buddhism closely reflected his own philosophy, this claim was largely ignored until the mid-late Twentieth century. Most commentators on Schopenhauer (with some recent exceptions) since then have mentioned his Buddhist affinities but have been quite broad and general in their treatment. I feel that any general comparison of Schopenhauer’s philosophy with “general” Buddhism would most likely lead to general conclusions. In this article I have attempted to offer a more specific comparison of what is central to Schopenhauer’s philosophy with what is central to Mahāyāna Buddhism, and that is the concept of compassion.
Volume 21, 2014
Recent Buddhist Theories of Free Will: Compatibilism, Incompatibilism, and Beyond
Kingsborough College, CUNY
This is the fourth article in a four-article series that examines Buddhist responses to the Western philosophical problem of whether free will is compatible with “determinism,” the scientific doctrine of universal lawful causation. The first article focused on “early period” scholarship from the 1970’s, which was primarily compatibilist, that is, of the view that the Buddhist conception of causation is compatible with free will. The second and third articles examined “middle period” incompatibilist and semi-compatibilist scholarship in the remainder of the twentieth century and first part of the twenty-first. The present article examines work published in the past few years. It largely agrees that Buddhism tacitly accepts free will (although it also explores an ultimate perspective from which the issue appears moot), but mostly divides along compatibilist and incompatibilist lines, mirroring Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhist perspectives, respectively. Of the writers I emphasize, Gier and Kjellberg articulate both perspectives; Federman and Harvey advocate Theravāda compatibilism; and Wallace argues that although determinism and free will are incompatible, subtle complexities of Mahāyāna Buddhist metaphysics circumvent the free will and determinism dichotomy. Although the present article focuses on these writers, as the culminating article in the series it also draws on and summarizes the other articles in the series, and directs the reader to other recent period works that, due to space constraints, cannot be reviewed here.
Volume 17, 2010
Meditation and Mental Freedom: A Buddhist Theory of Free Will
Kingsborough College, City University of New York
I argue that central Buddhist tenets and meditation methodology support a view of free will similar to Harry Frankfurt’s optimistic view and contrary to Galen Strawson’s pessimistic view. For Frankfurt, free will involves a relationship between actions, volitions, and “metavolitions” (volitions about volitions): simplifying greatly, volitional actions are free if the agent approves of them. For Buddhists, mental freedom involves a relationship between mental states and “metamental” states (mental attitudes toward mental states): simplifying greatly, one has mental freedom if one is able to control one’s mental states, and to the extent one has mental freedom when choosing, one has free will. Philosophical challenges to free will typically question whether it is compatible with “determinism,” the thesis of lawful universal causation. Both Frankfurt’s metavolitional approval and the Buddhist’s metamental control are consistent with determinism. Strawson has argued, however, that free will is impossible, determinism notwithstanding, because one’s choice is always influenced by one’s mental state. I argue, however, that Buddhist meditation cultivates control over mental states that undermine freedom, whether they are deterministic or not, making both mental freedom and free will possible. The model I develop is only a sketch of a minimally risky theory of free will, but one that highlights the similarities and differences between Buddhist thought on this subject and relevantly-related Western thought and has explanatory promise.