Friday, July 19, 2019
Identity, Perception, Action and Choice in Contemporary and Traditional :: Philosophy Philosophical Essays
Identity, Perception, Action and Choice in Contemporary and Traditional "No-Self" Theories ABSTRACT: The ego is traditionally held to be synonymous with individual identity and autonomy, while the mind is widely held to be a necessary basis of cognition and volition, with responsibility following accordingly. However Buddhist epistemology, existential phenomenology and poststructuralism all hold the notion of an independent, subsisting, self-identical subject to be an illusion. This not only raises problems for our understanding of cognition (if the self is an illusion, then who does the perceiving and who is deluded) and volition (who initiates acts), as well as for the notion of responsibility (in the absence of an independently subsisting subject there appears to be no autonomous agent). For Buddhism, no-self theory raises serious problems for the doctrine of reincarnation (in the absence of a self, who is responsible for failing to overcome desires and attachments; furthermore, who gets reincarnated?). Arguing for such "no-self" theories, the paper attempts to demonstr ate how such difficulties can nevertheless be resolved. The self is traditionally held to be synonymous with individual identity and autonomy, while the mind, which is closely associated therewith, is widely held to be a necessary basis of cognition and volition, and the responsibility following therefrom. However Buddhism, Existential Phenomenology and Postsructuralism all point out that we have neither direct empirical experience of, nor sufficient justification for inferring, the existence of an independently subsisting self. Buddhists for instance point out that, careful attention to the empirical evidence reveals that all the experiences we have of human subjectivity per se may be characterized in terms of five skandhas or aggregates. These are 1) Form; understood as the Body, including the sense-organs, 2) Feelings and Sensations, 3) Perceptions, 4) Mental Formations (or volitional tendencies) including habits and dispositions etc., and 5) Six Consciousnesses, consisting of the consciousness or awareness of sensations emanating from each of the five senses, plus a consciousness of non-sensory or purely mental experiences. Noting the changing nature of each of these skandhas, they conclude that there is no adequate justification for the common inference that these constantly changing phenomena are changing appearances of a persistent, independently subsisting self or ego. Nor, as Phenomenologists and others have pointed out, do we experience a mind as such, Ã¢â¬â which much Western Philosophy regards, if not as synonymous with, then certainly essential to, individual identity and autonomy, Ã¢â¬â independent of the constantly changing sensations, perceptions, feelings, thoughts and ideas etc.