Buddhism as Reductionism: Personal Identity and Ethics in Parfitian Readings of Buddhist Philosophy; from Steven Collins to the Present

Sophia 57 (2):211-231 (2018)
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Abstract
Derek Parfit’s early work on the metaphysics of persons has had a vast influence on Western philosophical debates about the nature of personal identity and moral theory. Within the study of Buddhism, it also has sparked a continuous comparative discourse, which seeks to explicate Buddhist philosophical principles in light of Parfit’s conceptual framework. Examining important Parfitian-inspired studies of Buddhist philosophy, this article points out various ways in which a Parfitian lens shaped, often implicitly, contemporary understandings of the anātman doctrine and its relation to Buddhist ethics. I discuss in particular three dominant elements appropriated by Parfitian-inspired scholarship: Parfit’s theoretical categories; philosophical problems raised by his reductionist theory of persons; and Parfit’s argumentative style. I argue that the three elements used in this scholarship constitute different facets of one methodological approach to cross-cultural philosophy, which relies on Western terminology and conceptual schemes to establish a conversation with non-Western philosophy. I suggest that while this methodology is fruitful in many ways, philosophy as a cosmopolitan space may benefit significantly from approaching Buddhist philosophy using its own categories and terminology.
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Archival date: 2020-12-27
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