Past Events

Past Events

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Moral Responsiveness in Buddhist philosophy: Buddhist Ethics and the Transformation of Experience (Jay Garfield, Smith College)
Thursday, February 27, 2020, 10:00am
Contact Tao Jiang (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

This talk is jointly sponsored by Philosophy and Religion Departments, hosted by Religion Department.



The Buddhist approach to ethics rejects the image of an autonomous self independently giving rise through mysterious free agent causation to actions.  We are physical organisms whose most interesting properties are not our simple physical properties, but the norm-governed properties we acquire in virtue of our participation in a network of discursive and social practices, including those of moral cultivation and criticism. We are constituted as the persons we are in part by the continuum of processes on which we supervene, in part by the social complexes in which we figure and which shape us, and in virtue of conventions of individuation and ascription of ownership and responsibility.  Who we are emerges not from any individual essence, but from the network of dependencies that constitute our being as persons, as those who occupy roles. We cultivate ourselves and each other on this model in order to improve our efficacy as interdependent members of a common lifeworld, and the practices of cultivation cause us to see the world in a more salutary way and to act in it in a more salutary way. These modes of being or comportments are more salutary not because they serve a transcendent value, but because they more accurately reflect the reality of our lifeworld and because they make us more successful both in realizing our own aims or purṣārthas, and in facilitating others’ realizing their aims.  On the Buddhist account, we are expressing a rationally grounded comportment to the world and others based in the recognition of our interdependence, and in the consequent attitudes of impartiality, benevolence, care and sympathetic joy that emerge naturally from that realization.


Jay L. Garfield chairs the Philosophy Department at Smith College. He is also visiting professor of Buddhist philosophy at Harvard Divinity School, professor of philosophy at Melbourne University and adjunct professor of philosophy at the Central University of Tibetan Studies.

Garfield’s research addresses topics in the foundations of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind; the history of Indian philosophy during the colonial period; topics in ethics, epistemology and the philosophy of logic; methodology in cross-cultural interpretation; and topics in Buddhist philosophy, particularly Indo-Tibetan Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. Garfield’s most recent books are Minds Without Fear: Philosophy in the Indian Renaissance (with Nalini Bhushan, 2017), Dignāga’s Investigation of the Percept: A Philosophical Legacy in India and Tibet (with Douglas Duckworth, David Eckel, John Powers, Yeshes Thabkhas and Sonam Thakchöe, 2016), Engaging Buddhism: Why it Matters to Philosophy (2015), Moonpaths: Ethics and Emptiness (with the Cowherds, 2015), and Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals? (co-edited with Jan Westerhoff, 2015).

He is currently working on a book with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest and Robert Sharf, What Can’t Be Said: Paradox and Contradiction in East Asian Philosophy; a book on Hume’s TreatiseThe Concealed Operations of Custom: Hume’s Treatise from the Inside Out; a large collaborative project on Geluk-Sakya epistemological debates in 15th- to 18th-century Tibet following on Taktshang Lotsawa’s 18 Great Contradictions in the Thought of Tsongkhapa and empirical research with another team on the impact of religious ideology on attitudes toward death. 

Location Religion Department Conference Room (64 College Ave., 1st floor)