Colloquium - Dr. Sean Smith

February 27, 3:15pm - 3:15pm
Mānoa Campus, Sakamaki Hall C-308

Affect and Sentience in Theravāda Buddhist Philosophy
In this talk, I provide a reconstruction of some canonical Pāli texts of Buddhist Tipiṭaka and their commentaries from the early twentieth-century Burmese monastic tradition. For all their diversity, Buddhist philosophical traditions are united in the view that thinking of the subject as a self or ātman is unskillful. In the absence of an unchanging self, the Buddhists have developed novel ways of thinking about what it means for the mind to be continuous over time. I will explore one such account arguing for a distinction between two concepts of continuity in early Indian Buddhism. Call these two forms of continuity 'diachronic' and 'affective-motivational' continuity. Diachronic continuity is the kind of continuity had by mental events merely in virtue of their presence in a temporally continuous stream of experience, caused in the right way by a functioning perceptual system. By contrast, affective-motivational continuity is the way in which one’s feelings and motivations condition subsequent experience. I explore these two kinds of continuity by examining two different accounts of the functional role of a special kind of mind-moment called the 'bhavaṅga citta' in the Pali Abhidhamma commentarial tradition. I argue first that Buddhaghosa’s canonical view of bhavaṅga citta only focuses on diachronic continuity and is thus incomplete. I then offer a reconstruction of Ledi Sayadaw's view of bhavaṅga citta and show that it fares better than Buddhaghosa's. The talk concludes with the claim that the Buddhist view I reconstruct gives us good reason to say that phenomenal consciousness has a special causal connection to our orientation and disposition to act or respond to the world.

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Philosophy, Mānoa Campus

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