Dialogues: Philosophy in Comparative Perspective

Speakers: J.L. Shaw (Victoria University of Wellington)
Muhammad Ali Khalidi (York University)
R. Raj Singh (Brock University)
Michael Berman (Brock University)
Kenneth Dorter (University of Guelph)
Date: 9th April 2013 11:00am
Venue: Togo Salmon Hall 719


Meaning: Problems and Solutions from an Indian Perspective
J.L. Shaw
The aim of this paper is to focus on the relevance of Indian theories of meaning to contemporary Western philosophy, so that Indian philosophy can be integrated with the mainstream of Western philosophy. Hence I shall discuss: (1) how to reconcile some of the conflicting views in contemporary Western theories of meaning; (2) how to suggest better solutions to some of the problems of philosophy of language; (3) how to suggest solutions to some unsolved problems; and (4) how to add new dimensions to Western philosophy.

Scientific Dualism and Theological Materialism: Avicenna and the History of Philosophy of Mind
Muhammad Ali Khalidi
In standard accounts of the history of the philosophy of mind, dualism is often presented as the dominant view in the philosophical tradition. Moreover, dualism is generally thought of as the position closely allied with monotheistic theology while monism (materialism) is associated with the rise of scientific thought. I will argue that both assumptions are seriously mistaken, since many of the most influential philosophers in the "western" tradition were not straightforward dualists. Moreover, dualism was often associated with scientific thinkers, while materialist monism was the view of at least some orthodox monotheistic theologians. I will try to corroborate these claims with reference to the positions of Avicenna (c.980-1037 CE) and his debates with classical Islamic theologians.

Schopenhaur and Indian Thought
R. Raj Singh
It is well known that Schopenhauer studied and adopted into his own system many concepts of eastern thought. He was particularly drawn toward Indian systems of Vedanta and Buddhism. However the available secondary literature on Schopenhauer has offered only a few half-hearted accounts of the eastern sources of Schopenhauer’s thought. A lack of appreciation of the Hindu and Buddhist ways of thinking about human existence, which have deeply influenced Schopenhauer’s concepts of the will and its desired denial, the unsatisfactory nature of the world, eternal justice and asceticism, have led to a misunderstanding and oversimplification of his standpoints by several commentators. For this reason many of his seemingly non-western assertions have invited unfair and half-baked critiques in the secondary literature. This paper will offer a thorough assessment of Schopenhauer’s eastern sources as well as comment on the way he has pressed into service several classical eastern concepts to justify his radically pessimistic stance on human existence and its destiny. We will also examine whether Schopenhauer’s pessimistic reading of Vedanta and Buddhism is acceptable, despite his role as a first trans-cultural thinker of the west.

Indirect Unity: Merleau-Ponty and Nagarjuna on the Human and Non-human
Michael Berman
The nature of the non-human assumes an understanding of the nature of the human, which we may claim, having our experience as from within this latter realm, but this leaves the operant term, nature, at a distance. This essay will investigate this problem through Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s musings on human being and nature, and will compare these with Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamikakarika (The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way), particularly drawing upon the experiential notion of pratitya-samutpada (relational origination). The comparative approach herein will explain some of their key ideas, ranging them against each other, counter-pointing similarities and differences, and then finally demonstrating that through their shared perspectives there exists, what Merleau-Ponty calls, an indirect unity between these philosophers.

Non-Violent Warriors: Marcus Aurelius and The Bhagavad-gita
Kenneth Dorter
The Bhagavad-gita recounts the arguments by which Krishna overcomes Arjuna’s scruples against going to war against his cousins, friends, and teachers, by persuading him that not to attack them would be impious. Krishna consistently argues against dualistic thinking, insisting for example that it’s wrong to prefer pleasure to pain, or fame to infamy. But he never says it’s wrong to prefer non-violence to violence. In fact he consistently praises non-violence, ahimsa, literally “non-harm”, in the very context of urging bloodshed. We find the same paradox in Marcus Aurelius who writes, in the journal he kept while on his military campaigns against the enemies of Rome, e.g., “I have never intentionally given pain to another” (8.42). My paper attempts to understand how these spiritual writers reconcile forceful and even lethal activity with their principles against harming others.