The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Thu Apr 23, 2020
370 Dwinelle Hall, 5–7 PM
Prof. Jay Garfield
Seminar: Buddhist Philosophy Through a Sellarsian Lens

Buddhist Philosophy Through a Sellarsian Lens: Two Truths and the Critique of the Given


Thinking through the relation between Buddhist philosophy and contemporary science requires us to ask about the relationship between the world of ordinary experience and the world as it is. Buddhist exegetes, scientists, and contemporary philosophers of science all have a lot to say about this, whether their answers are articulated in terms of the relation between conventional and ultimate truth, between appearance and reality, or between different conceptual schemes. It is also to ask about the structure of knowledge itself, and particularly about the nature of our knowledge of our own minds. Just how can we use minds that we do not understand to investigate and to come to a deeper understanding of those minds themselves? Is consciousness transparent or opaque? Few recent Western philosophers have addressed these questions with the depth and acuity of Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989).

For this reason, his philosophical work, which has had enormous influence in Western analytic philosophy of mind, epistemology, and philosophy of science, has recently attracted the attention of Buddhist philosophers as well. Two of his essays have proven particularly influential among those interested in Buddhism: “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” and “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.” This seminar will consider what those essays can contribute to Buddhist engagements with science. We will read the essays themselves as well as reflections on them by a range of contemporary Buddhist philosophers.

The first two sessions (April 14 and 16) will be devoted to “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man.” Our first session will focus on that essay, together with essays by Monima Chadha and Cat Prueitt, each of which asks about the degree to which Sellars’ distinction between the “manifest” and the “scientific” images of the world map onto the distinction between conventional and ultimate truth in Buddhist philosophy. In our second session, we will read papers by Douglas Duckworth, Tom Tillemans, and Sheridan Hough. These essays explore the idea of stereoscopic vision that might unite the two images, and that might provide a template for the unity of the two truths.

The last two sessions (April 21 and 23) will be devoted to “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.” (Start reading early!) In the first of these two meetings, we will work to get a clear sense of the structure and argument of this complex and rather beautiful essay. In the final session we will read essays by Dan Arnold, Keya Maitra, Sonam Kachru, and myself, each exploring different implications of this essay for the project of coming to know one’s own mind.

All those registered for the seminar will have access to a dropbox with the seminar readings.

Schedule: The four seminars will take place on April 14, 16, 21, and 23, from 5 pm to 7 pm, in 370 Dwinelle Hall.