Co-authored Book
Moonshadows: Conventional Truth and Buddhist Philosophy

Abstract: The doctrine of the two truths—a conventional truth and an ultimate truth—is central to Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology. The two truths (or two realities), the distinction between them, and the relation between them is understood variously in different Buddhist schools; it is of special importance to the Madhyamaka school. One of the most influential interpretations of this doctrine derives from the commentary of Candrakirti (sixth century CE). This book, the product of years of collaboration by ten cowherds engaged in philosophy and Buddhist studies, provides this analysis. The book asks, “What is true about conventional truth?” and “What are the implications of an understanding of conventional truth for our lives?” This book begins with a philosophical exploration of classical Indian and Tibetan texts articulating Candrakirti’s view and uses this textual exploration as a basis for a more systematic philosophical consideration of the issues raised by his account.

by The Cowherds (2011) Oxford University Press
= Georges Dreyfus, Bronwyn Finnigan, Jay L. Garfield, Guy Martin Newland, Graham Priest, Mark Siderits, Koji Tanaka, Sonam Thakchoe, Tom Tillemans, and Jan Westerhoff

Articles and Book Chapters (organised by project)

Fear, anxiety and their social regulation: An interdisciplinary study

    The Paradox of Fear in Classical Indian Buddhism (2021) Journal of Indian Philosophy 49: 913-929  Final Draft | Published Version
    Abstract: The Nikaya Suttas frequently mention the concept of fear (bhaya) and related synonyms. This concept does not receive much scholarly attention by subsequent Buddhist philosophers. Recent scholars identify a ‘paradox of fear’ in several traditions of classical Indian Buddhism (Brekke 1999, Finnigan 2019, Giustarini 2012). Each scholar points out, in their respective textual contexts, that fear is evaluated in two ways; one positive and the other negative. Brekke calls this the “double role” of fear (1999: 443). Each also identify fear as purposely elicited to motivate acts aimed at achieving fearlessness, where freedom from fear is characteristic of nibbana. They all find this puzzling. Finnigan asks: “Why would one purposefully incite fear if one’s goal is its elimination?” (2019: 221). Giustarini says that fear has a “contradictory nature” (2012: 513); Brekke calls it “the paradox of fear” (1999: 442). This article introduces the ‘paradox of fear’ as it appears in the Bodhicaryavatara of Santideva and the Nikaya suttas. It then critically examines Brekke and Giustarini’s proposed solutions. It argues that they get some things right in ways that are both supported by the Nikayas and relevant to Santideva but that they leave some important questions unanswered. The article concludes by arguing that these questions are best answered if fear is analysed as appropriate when its objects are related to karma and rebirth.

    Santideva and the moral psychology of fear (2019) in Jonathon Gold & Douglas Duckworth (eds.), Readings of Santideva’s Guide to Bodhisattva Practice: 221-234, Columbia University Press Final Draft | Publisher Website
    Abstract: Buddhists consider fear to be a root of suffering. In Chapters 2 and 7 of the Bodhicaryavatara, Santideva provides a series of provocative verses aimed at inciting fear to motivate taking refuge in the Bodhisattvas and thereby achieve fearlessness. This article analyzes the moral psychology involved in this transition. I structurally analyze fear in terms that are grounded in, and expand upon, an Abhidharma Buddhist analysis of mind. I contend that fear, taking refuge, and fearlessness are complex intentional attitudes and argue that the transition between them turns on relevant changes in their intentional objects. This involves analyzing the object of fear into four aspects and ‘taking refuge’ as a mode of trust that ameliorates these four aspects. The analysis also distinguishes two modes of taking refuge and shows the progressive role each might play in the transition from fear to fearlessness.

    Can We Reinvent Ourselves? (2018) IAI TV  Final Draft | Online

Buddhist Philosophy of Mind and Buddhist Pragmatism in Dialogue with Science

    The Buddha's Lucky Throw and Pascal's Wager (forthcoming) Australasian Journal of Philosophy Final Draft
    Abstract: The Apaṇṇaka Sutta, one of the early recorded teachings of the Buddha, contains an argument for accepting the doctrines of karma and rebirth that Buddhist scholars claim anticipates Pascal’s wager. I call this argument the Buddha’s wager. Does it anticipate Pascal’s wager and is it a good bet? Contemporary scholars identify at least four versions of Pascal’s wager in his Pensées. This article demonstrates that the Buddha’s wager anticipates two versions of Pascal’s wager, but not its canonical form. Like Pascal’s wager, the Buddha’s wager presents a decision problem between two opposing theses in an epistemic context that lacks evidence of their truth or falsity. Like Pascal, the Buddha also tries to solve this problem using dominance, superdominance or ‘superduperdominance’ reasoning. The Apaṇṇaka Sutta likely provides the earliest textual example of such reasoning. While the Buddha’s wager does not exhibit the expected utility reasoning of the best-known form of Pascal’s wager, the article suggests a reformulation that parallels Alan Hájek’s (2018) vector-value reformulation. Is it a good bet? This article argues that it is not if this means we are rationally required to accept its recommendation. This is because, while it avoids two of the major objections levelled against Pascal’s wager, it succumbs to one and has two problems of its own.

    Conventionalising rebirth: Buddhist agnosticism and the doctrine of two truths (forthcoming) in Yujin Nagasawa & Mohammad Saleh Zarepour (eds.), Global Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion: From Religious Experience to the Afterlife,  Oxford University Press Final Draft
    Abstract: What should the Buddhist attitude be to rebirth if it is believed to be inconsistent with current science? This chapter critically engages forms of Buddhist agnosticism that adopt a position of uncertainty about rebirth but nevertheless recommend ‘behaving as if’ it were true. What does it mean to behave as if rebirth were true, and are Buddhist agnostics justified in adopting this position? This chapter engages this question in dialogue with Mark Siderits’ reductionist analysis of the Buddhist doctrine of the two truths, conventional and ultimate. Richard Hayes (1998) characterises talk of rebirth as a useful fiction. Siderits characterises talk of persons as a useful fiction and explains and justifies statements that involve it as conventionally true despite persons not featuring in our final or ultimate ontology. Does rebirth satisfy the same criteria to count as conventionally true, and does thinking of it in these terms help explain and justify what it might mean to behave as if rebirth were true? This chapter will defend a conditional yes to these questions. In the process, it will clarify what is distinctive about the traditional Buddhist approach to rebirth, provide an analysis of how the concept of rebirth might relate to practical outcomes, and address some limitations of this approach.

    A Buddhist Response to Ankur Barua 'Liberation in Life: Advaita Allegories for Defeating Death' (forthcoming) in Yujin Nagasawa & Mohammad Saleh Zarepour (eds.), Global Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion: From Religious Experience to the Afterlife,  Oxford University Press  Final Draft
    Abstract: This article provides a Buddhist response to Ankur Barua's (forthcoming) account of how Śaṃkara’s Advaita Vedanta is consistent with morality.

    A Buddhist Response to Olla Solomyak 'The World to Come: A Perspective' (forthcoming) in Yujin Nagasawa & Mohammad Saleh Zarepour (eds.), Global Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion: From Religious Experience to the Afterlife,  Oxford University Press  Final Draft
    Abstract: This article provides a Buddhist response to Olla Solomyak's (forthcoming) account of the afterlife from the perspective of Hasidic Judaism.

    On being a good friend to Buddhist philosophy (2020) in APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies, 20 (2) (Special Issue on Evan Thompson’s Why I Am Not a Buddhist ) Minh Nguyen and Yarran Hominh (eds.) Final Draft | Publisher Website
    Abstract: This article critically responds to Evan Thompson's book, Why I Am Not a Buddhist.

    Is consciousness reflexively self-aware? A Buddhist analysis (2018) Ratio 31(4): 389-401, Shortlisted for Annette Baier Prize 2019  Final Draft | Published Version
    Abstract: This article examines contemporary Buddhist defences of the idea that consciousness is reflexively aware or self-aware. I call this the Self-Awareness Thesis. A version of this thesis was historically defended by Dignaga but rejected by Prasangika Madhyamika Buddhists. Prasangikas historically advanced four main arguments against this thesis. This article considers whether some contemporary defence of the Self-Awareness Thesis can withstand these Prasangika objections. A problem is that contemporary defenders of the Self-Awareness Thesis have subtly different accounts with different assessment criteria. The article starts by providing a fourfold taxonomy of these different views and then progressively shows how each can withstand Prasangika objections. It concludes by giving reasons to think that even some Prasangikas can accept some version of the Self-Awareness Thesis.

    Buddhist Idealism (2017) in Tyron Goldschmidt & Kenneth Pearce (eds.), Idealism: New Essays in Metaphysics: 178-199, Oxford University Press  Final Draft | Publisher Website
    Abstract: This article reconstructs some of the most influential Buddhist arguments in defense of idealism. It begins by clarifying the central theses under dispute and rationally reconstructs arguments from four major Buddhist figures in defense of some or all of these theses. It engages arguments from Vasubandhu’s Viṃśikā and Triṃśikā; Dignāga’s matching-failure argument in the Ālambanaparīkṣā; the sahopalambhaniyama inference developed by Dharmakīrti; and Xuanzang’s weird but clever logical argument that intrigued philosophers in China and Japan. It aims to clarify what is being argued and motivate these arguments in terms of their presuppositions. These presuppositions range from views about the nature of mind and metaphysics to epistemology and logic. By making this context explicit, this article introduces central ideas in Buddhist philosophy and suggests ways in which they were mobilized in support of an idealist conclusion.

    Examining the Bodhisattva's Brain (2014) Zygon 49 (1): 231-241 Final Draft | Published Version
    Abstract: Owen Flanagan's book The Bodhisattva's Brain aims to introduce secular-minded thinkers to Buddhist thought and motivate its acceptance by analytic philosophers. In this article I argue that Flanagan provides a compelling caution against the hasty generalizations of recent “science of happiness” literature, which correlate Buddhist views of happiness with certain neural states. I contend, however, that Flanagan's positive account of Buddhist ethics is less persuasive. This article questions its level of engagement with Buddhist philosophical literature and challenges Flanagan's central claim, that a Buddhist version of eudaimonia is a common core conception shared by all Buddhists. I argue that this view is not only a rational reconstruction in need of argumentation but is in tension with competing Buddhist metaphysical theories of self, including the one Flanagan himself endorses.

    [BOOK REVIEW] of Dan Arnold’s ‘Brains, Buddhas and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive Scientific Philosophy of Mind’ in Journal of Religion 95(1): 143-46

Buddhist Ethics and Moral Epistemology

    Karma, Moral Responsibility and Buddhist Ethics (2022) in John Doris & Manuel Vargas (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology: 7-23, Oxford University Press  Final Draft | Published Version
    Abstract: The Buddha taught that there is no self. He also accepted a version of the doctrine of karmic rebirth, according to which good and bad actions accrue merit and demerit and cause beneficial or harmful events to occur in this life or the next. But how is karmic rebirth possible if there are no selves? The relevant philosophical issues inspired centuries of philosophical reflection and debate. This chapter will contextualize and reconstruct some of the historical and contemporary debates relevant to moral psychology and Buddhist ethics. They include whether the Buddha's teaching of no-self is consistent with the possibility of moral responsibility; the role of retributivism in Buddhist thought; the possibility of a Buddhist account of free will; the scope and viability of recent attempts to naturalize karma to character virtues and vices; and how right action is to be understood within a Buddhist framework.

    Buddhism and the Moral Status of Animals (2018) ABC Religion and Ethics Online
    Buddhism and Animal Ethics (2017) Philosophy Compass 12 (7): 1-12 Final Draft | Published Version
    Abstract: This article philosophically reconstructs some of the central Buddhist positions and argument regarding animal welfare. It introduces the Buddha’s teaching of ahiṃsā or non-violence and rationally reconstructs five arguments from the context of early Indian Buddhism that aim to justify its extension to animals. These arguments appeal to the capacity and desire not to suffer, the virtue of compassion, as well as Buddhist views on the nature of self, karma, and reincarnation. This article also considers how versions of these arguments have been applied to address a practical issue in Buddhist ethics; whether Buddhists should be vegetarian.

    The Nature of a Buddhist Path (2017) in Jake H. Davis (ed.), A Mirror is for Reflection: Understanding Buddhist Ethics: 33-57, Oxford University Press. Shortlisted for the Annette Baier Prize 2018,  Final Draft | Publisher Website
    Abstract: Is there a ‘common element’ in Buddhist ethical thought from which one might rationally reconstruct a Buddhist normative ethical theory? Many construe this as the question: which contemporary normative theory does Buddhist ethics best approximate; consequentialism or virtue ethics? This paper will argue that two distinct evaluative relations underlie these distinct positions; an instrumental and constitutive analysis. It will raise some difficulties for linking these distinct analyses to particular normative ethical theories but will give reasons to think that both may be justified as meta-ethical grounds for rationally reconstructing Buddhist thought as an ethical theory. It will close with some reflections on the complexity involved in trying to establish a single and homogeneous position on the nature of Buddhist ethics.

    Buddhist Meta-ethics (2010-11) Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (JIABS) 33(1-2): 267-97 Final Draft | Published Version (pdf)
    Abstract: This article argues for the importance of pursuing Buddhist Meta-Ethics. Most contemporary studies of Buddhist Ethics proceed in isolation from the highly sophisticated epistemological theories developed within the Buddhist tradition. This article demonstrates that an intimate relationship holds between ethics and epistemology in Buddhism. To show this, I demonstrate how Damien Keown's influential virtue ethical theorisation of Buddhist Ethics conflicts Dunne´s exposition of the epistemological theories of  Dharmakīrti and Candrakīrti. I argue that the resolution of this conflict requires revision (either in interpretation of theories or in the theories themselves) by all parties. In so doing, I exemplify some of the virtues of engaging with a meta-ethical methodology for the advancement of the respective domains of inquiry.

  • How can a Buddha come to act? The possibility of a Buddhist account of ethical agency (2011) Philosophy East and West, 61(1): 134-160 Final Draft | Published Version
  • Buddhist account of ethical agency revisited: Reply to Garfield and Hansen (2011) Philosophy East and West 61(1):183-194 Final Draft | Published Version

Madhyamaka Buddhist Ethics

Skillful Coping and Ethical Agency (with some Ancient Greek Philosophy)