Buddhist Theories of Causation

Wed., Aug. 20th, 14:00-15:30

Can we be Humean about the Emptiness of Causation?

Bliss, Ricki (Kyoto University, Japan, Kyoto, JPN)

It has been suggested that one way we might understand the account of causation as empty, on the view espoused by Nāgārjuna, is in terms of a Humean regularity account of causation. According to this interpretation, for causation to be empty is for there to be constant conjunction between cause and effect. The assumption that there is any necessary connection between the two is a product of activities of the mind, and not of how the world is. There is something about this suggestion, however, that doesn't quite sit right: the Humean regularity account of causation follows from the principle that there are no necessary connections between wholly distinct existents. One way in which the suggestion that we understand the emptiness of causation in terms of a regularity account could be deeply problematic is if the principle that underwrites it - Hume's Dictum - is analytic. In this case, that cause and effect are wholly distinct from one another simply follows from denying that there is any necessary connection between them. And, of course, for cause and effect to be wholly distinct is what it is for them to fail to be empty.

In this paper, I explore Hume's Dictum, its relationship to the regularity account of causation and whether we have reason to prefer analytic or synthetic versions of it. I then apply these results to an investigation of the claim that we can be Humean about the emptiness of causation.


Buddhist Ethics in the Present: Anti-realism and Karmic Consequences

Davis, Jake (CUNY Graduate Center, Chilmark, USA)

Elsewhere I have leveraged recent quasi-realist (Blackburn 1998, Gibbard 2003) and Humean constructivist (Street 2012) accounts of ethical expressions in order to defend a modest claim for a certain circumscribed set of ethical universals (Davis 2013). This account, which I have called Acting Wide Awake, draws from empirical research on attention, emotion, and ethical judgment to defend in naturalistically plausible terms a proposal that lies at the heart of Buddhist ethics: that certain emotional motivations are skillful (kusala) and to be developed (bhavitabbaṃ), for any human being, that others are unskillful (akusala) and to be abandoned (pahātabbaṃ), and that we can come to discern the difference for ourselves (cf. AN.III.65). In this paper, I outline three applications of this approach. First, I defend attempts to develop naturalized versions of Buddhist ethics independent of metaphysical doctrines of karma and rebirth, such as my own, against Westerhoff’s (forthcoming) ‘suicide’ argument. I argue that if a motivation to kill oneself to end one’s own suffering is unskillful, that is because of the psychological suffering that characterizes such an aversive motivation in the moment of being so motivated, rather than because of future karmic consequences. Secondly, I note that in reconstructing a Madhyamika response to relativism about truth generally, Westerhoff (2009: 222ff) in fact develops a strategy for saving a form of mind-dependent but nonetheless sufficiently objective truth that parallels in many ways the strategy that I adopt in Acting Wide Awake as a response to moral relativism in particular. In conclusion, I attempt to reconcile my approach to ethical claims in the Nikāyas with Madhyamika-derived as well as more recent naturalist varieties of anti-realism in ethics, by recalling the Nikayas’ focus on dependent co-arising (paṭicca-samuppāda) in the world of experience (lokāsaññī). It is just within this world of experience that suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path to it are to be found (cf. AN.4.45; SN.12.44). In this way, the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings, including the ethical teachings, are experiential (sandiṭṭhiko)… a come-and-see-kind-of-thing (ehipassiko)… to be experienced by the wise for themselves (paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī).


The Salient Features of Causality in the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka

Thakchoe, Sonam (University of Tasmania, Hobart, AUS)

Some Tibetan philosophers claim that no causal thesis whatsoever could be attributed to the Prāsaṅgika. The fact that Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti categorically deny the possibility of all four alternative causal theses – from self, another, both and neither (causelessly) – stands to reason, they argue, that no causal thesis is acceptable for the Prāsaṅgika. Tsongkhapa however challenges the validity of this argument. He argues that the conclusion is not entailed in the premises. For Tsongkhapa the conclusion that follows from the premise – the denial of the four alternative causal theses – are twofold. First, it explicitly shows that Candrakīrti denies the foundationalist or essentialist type of causality, which, he argues, is antithetical to the Prāsaṅgika’s emptiness ontology. However, the argument does not show that Candrakīrti denies causality altogether. Second, the argument implicitly proves that Candrakīrti accepts a non-foundationalist or non-essentialist type of causality, the one which complements is core emptiness ontology. In this paper I seek to flesh out, from the philosophical works of Nāgārjuna, Candrakīrti and Tsongkhapa, certain concepts associated with causality which, in my view, decisively support the view that the Prāsaṅgika does have its own causal theory.



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