UPDATE: Today’s Columbia Seminar on Comparative Philosophy meeting, with Jonathan C. Gold and Robert Wright, is CANCELLED due to blizzard forecasts in New York City. We are planning to reschedule for NEXT Friday, February 15. Full details to follow.
Welcomes, JONATHAN C. GOLD (Princeton University)
Please join us at Columbia University’ Department of Religion on February 8, 2013 at 5:30 for his lecture entitled,
Accepting the Conditions: “The Ethical Implications of Vasubandhu’s Buddhist Causal Theory”
This paper presents a view that I call “Buddhist Causal Framing,” which is characterized by the following four doctrines: (1) the reality and significance of entities or events are indexed to their roles in causal series; (2) causality itself is a relativistic mode of explanation, since it is only known via framing structures that reflect the interests and capacities of the knower; (3) entities judged “substantial” by causal criteria are thus ultimately subjective constructions; and yet (4) entities judged “substantial” by causal criteria are not entirely unreal, for, in a properly formulated causal explanation, the subjective frame allows one to test for objective patterns of dependence. Buddhist Causal Framing is an abstracted and formalized version of the philosophical position advocated in works attributed to the great 4th/5th century Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu, and the paper locates this view within Vasubandhu’s Abhidharma arguments and the Yogācāra doctrine of The Three Natures. The main focus of the presentation, however, is on the philosophical significance of Buddhist Causal Framing itself.
The paper argues that Vasubandhu’s view, which is fundamentally bound to the interpretation of scripture, resembles the view of James Woodward, a modern philosopher who theorizes causal explanation on the structure of a scientific experiment. This similarity, it is argued, accounts for certain oft-noted resonances between Buddhism and a modern scientific worldview. An ethical consideration of the relativity of frames helps to explain the well-known Buddhist discomfort with moral absolutes and justice-talk. It is argued that the requirement that substantial significance be granted only to events with causal consequences within subjective frames amounts to a Buddhist moral ground for the social sciences. Such a view would in principle counter (disprove) dogmatic and ideological positions that are inconsistent with their own historical/conceptual-constructedness (such as nationalisms and essential rights). It would also seek to “right” moral wrongs through carefully uncovering, explaining, and intervening in their causes and conditions, rather than seeking retributive punishment.
The respondent to Jonathan C. Gold’s paper on February 8 will be:
Robert Wright, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and and prize-winning author of best-selling books about science, evolutionary psychology, history, religion, and game theory, including The Evolution of God, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, The Moral Animal, and Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information.