Brains, Buddhas, and Believing

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

Dan Arnold
Copyright Date: 2012
DOI: 10.7312/arno14546
Pages: 328
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    Brains, Buddhas, and Believing
    Book Description:

    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 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 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51821-5
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The New York Times columnist David Brooks has ventured, notwithstanding the current popularity of books like Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, that a new wave of cognitive-scientific research on religion may lead not to rampant atheism but to “what you might call neural Buddhism”¹ Brooks’s point was that “the real challenge” for theists was likely to come not so much from the avowedly atheistic works of Dawkins and the like as “from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism” He seems to have meant that cognitive-scientific research supports such characteristically Buddhist beliefs as that (Brooks says) “the self is...

  5. 1 Dharmakiīrti’s Proof of Rebirth: A DUALIST ACCOUNT OF THE CAUSES OF COGNITION
    (pp. 19-47)

    Elaborating what he represented as the basic purport of his predecessor Dignāga, the Indian Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti all but eclipsed the earlier thinker’s work; indeed, Dharmakīrti’s work would subsequently be taken by nearly all Indian philosophers as practically coextensive with the “Buddhist” position in matters philosophical, and his magnum opus figures, to this day, in the basic curriculum of many Tibetan Buddhist traditions of learning.¹ It is fitting, then, that it should be in the work that has virtually defined Buddhist philosophy—Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇavārttika, or “Critical Commentary on Epistemic Criteria”²—that we find one of the Indian Buddhist tradition’s most...

    (pp. 48-80)

    In an article surveying the state of a widely entertained philosophical discussion, Paul Boghossian ventures the conclusion that “meaning properties appear to be neither eliminable, nor reducible. Perhaps it is time that we learned to live with that fact” (1989, 548). Boghossian’s conclusion follows from his survey of “the rule-following considerations”—from a line of argument, that is, framed by Saul Kripke’s (1982) influential reading of Wittgenstein’s famous but elusive arguments concerning the impossibility of a private language. On Boghossian’s account, these arguments most fundamentally disclose the normativity of conceptual content—the fact, on one way of putting the point,...

  7. 3 Responsiveness to Reasons as Such: A KANTIAN ACCOUNT OF INTENTIONALITY
    (pp. 81-115)

    We saw in the last chapter that there are important considerations that might recommend the project of “naturalizing” the intentionality of the mental—considerations centering on the problem of mental causation and on commitments, taken as axiomatic, regarding the understanding of causation that must figure in addressing that problem. In this chapter, I want to make a case for thinking that reason itself is centrally implicated in the nature of intentionality—and that it’s chiefly insofar as reasoning will not admit of efficient-causal explanation that intentionality essentially resists explanations such as proposed by Fodor and Dennett and their philosophical fellow...

    (pp. 116-157)

    We saw in chapter 1 that Dharmakīrti elaborated an epistemological project with affinities to the empiricism of modern philosophers such as John Locke. Attending, in particular, to the extent to which his critique of physicalism is focused by the question of what causes cognitions, we saw that Dharmakīrti—advancing what subsequent Indian philosophers would take to be the Buddhist position on the matter—held that only perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna) have the status of epistemic criteria (pramāṇas); all other ways of arriving at knowledge are reducible to one of these criteria. Of these two, perception is the privileged criterion...

    (pp. 158-198)

    In the last chapter, we saw that for Dharmakīrti it matters that the mental representations (ākāra) in terms of which semantic content is to be explained are themselves particulars. As particulars, they are causally describable (they are the effects of perceptual encounters); as representations, they are also phenomenally contentful, and it’s only at this level of description that Dharmakīrti allows for the kind of “sameness” seemingly necessary to get semantic content off the ground. Thus, Dharmakīrti’s account has it that what is excluded from coming under any concept is just whatever particulars do not produce “the same effect”; the effects...

  10. 6 Indian Arguments from Practical Reason: MĪMĀṂSAKAS AND MĀDHYAMIKAS CONTRA COGNITIVISM
    (pp. 199-235)

    The commentator Prajñākaragupta, we saw, summarizes Dharmakīrti as saying that except for the case of svasaṃvitti, “being a pramāṇa is just conventional” (sāṃvyavahārikaṃ prāmāṇyaṃ)—a point also expressed conversely as the claim that “ultimately there is only the perception which is self-awareness.”¹ On one understanding of what it means for “conventionally” real epistemic practices thus to be contrasted with “ultimately” real ones, the point is that the latter somehow explain what is conventionally experienced. There is more to be said on the “conventional” status of pramāṇas, again with reference to Prajñākaragupta and Dharmakīrti, when we turn (in the fourth section...

    (pp. 236-244)

    In the introduction, I noted a basic divide among philosophers of mind over whether the questions of their field are essentially empirical or metaphysical in character. Among the points centrally at issue in philosophy of mind has thus been whether the findings of cognitive-scientific research count as answering basic questions in philosophy of mind (such that with recourse to this research we might see, as in Dennett’s provocative 1991 title, Consciousness Explained)—or whether, instead, essentially philosophical questions about mind are such that they will not, in principle, admit of that kind of answer. It has been among my concerns...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 245-280)
  13. References
    (pp. 281-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-312)