THE COLUMBIA SOCIETY FOR COMPARATIVE PHILOSOPHY
OWEN FLANAGAN (Duke University)
Please join us at Columbia University' Department of Religion on November 9, 2012 at 5:30 for his lecture entitled,
"Buddhist Quietism about Free Will"
With responses from Rick Repetti (Kingsborough Community College)
Were I charged with being benevolent dictator of philosophy I would forbid using the words "free will" in anything like the libertarian sense, which is required to get the debate going. Nothing good comes from discussing the philosophical problem of free will. It is the black hole of philosophy, a pseudo-problem caused by philosophers taking "language on holiday," a pathological detour from clear thinking engendered by the invention of a heavenly Father in the West. Aristotle never discusses free will, although he does discuss the differences between voluntary and involuntary action. And so it is with Buddhism. There is action, wholesome and unwholesome, and how a life goes depends on the ratio of wholesome action to unwholesome. But Buddhism has no need for the concept of free will. This is a great advantage. Some smart philosophers, Mark Siderits, Rick Repetti, and Sam Harris, are trying to draw Buddhism into the Western conversation about free will. This is good (I guess) insofar as it engenders cross-traditional verstehen. And it is good if it forces the Western problem to dissolve or evaporate. But it is unfortunate if the agenda is to introduce the concept of free will into Buddhism or to claim that it can be extracted from Buddhism. Buddhism doesn't have the concept of free will and it doesn't need it. It is like the old song "Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now." I'll explain.
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