Was the Buddha a Philosopher?

| January 29, 2018 | 1 Comment

The Buddha had some very interesting things to say, but was he a philosopher? Justin Whitaker and I recently wrote a paper on this topic, which I’ll discuss here.

Justin’s great blog, American Buddhist Perspectives

Ted’s podcast with Justin and me: Reading the Buddha as a Philosopher

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Doug Smith

About the Author ()

Doug is Study Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. He has a PhD in Philosophy, with a minor in Buddhist philosophy and Sanskrit. In 2013 he completed the year-long Integrated Study and Practice Program with the BCBS and NYIMC. A long time scientific skeptic, he pursues a naturalized approach to practice. He is also interested in scholarship about the Tipiṭaka, and the theoretical and historical origins of the dhamma. He posts videos at Doug's Secular Dharma on YouTube. Some of his writing can be found at academia.edu.

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  1. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Just an aside — Perhaps skepticism about “Buddhist philosophy” is not only fueled by a mistakenly narrow definition of philosophy, but also by a mistaken notion of what Buddhism is about. Kalupahana suggested that too many discussions of Buddhist thought “labor under the old cliche” that Buddhism concerns “transcendental consciousness, beyond the reach of linguistic expression.” Sounding rather pessimistic, he wrote:

    “If the techniques of Buddhist psychology were to reveal an “ineffable” ultimate reality, then it would have nothing to do with philosophy which, according to James, is very talkative. Thus, Buddhist psychology not only becomes mystical or spiritualist, but also loses its claim to be genuine philosophy. Under these circumstances, neither the psychologists nor the philosophers could be blamed for not recognizing Buddhism as embodying a genuine psychological analysis or a viable philosophical method. While Buddhism thus loses its passport to the sacred domains of both psychology and philosophy, its appeal to so-called students of religion also dwindles the moment it is described as a form of non-absolutism, for religion becomes almost meaningless for most people unless it recognizes an Absolute or Ultimate Reality. Buddhism therefore becomes an enigma.” (David Kalupahana, Principles of Buddhist Psychology (Preface))

    Perhaps truer in 1987 when this was written than now, but me thinks some prejudice, based on suspicion that Buddhism is at heart just ancient mysticism, remains.

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