Can there be Buddhist physicalism?

Can there be Buddhist physicalism?
Three lectures by
Mark Siderits
Professor of Philosophy
Seoul National
Faculty of Theology and
Michaelmas 2023
Thursday, 30th November 2023, 14.00-15.30: “Confronting the Obstacles to a Buddhist Physicalism”
While some claim that the Buddhism is one of the few religious traditions that could be
‘naturalized’ or made consistent with the findings of the natural sciences, others dismiss this
claim as the result of a variety of confusions about the Buddhist tradition. One frequently
cited roadblock is that naturalizing Buddhism would require adopting a physicalist
metaphysics, something allegedly incompatible with key elements of Buddhist thought and
practice. I explore several of the purported obstacles and examine what might be lost, and
perhaps gained, by trying to develop a physicalist Buddhism.
Friday, 1st Dec 2023, 10.30-12.00: “The Problem of Ownerless Consciousness”
One reason classical Buddhist philosophers rejected physicalism is that it would mean that
consciousness is not strictly speaking real. A difficulty for those philosophers, though, is that
it is not clear what an ultimately real consciousness might be like if, as all Buddhists claim,
there is no such thing as a self or subject of consciousness. I examine this difficulty as a
possible source of support for a Buddhist physicalism.
Friday, 1st Dec 2023, 14.00-15.30: “A Buddhist Physicalist Dissolution of the ‘Hard Problem’?”
Physicalists claim that all the facts about the mind and its states can in principle be explained in purely
physical (including neurophysiological) terms. The alleged difficulty known as the hard problem is that
it seems one could know all the purely physical facts and still not know what it is like to have the
experience of seeing blue. Buddhist physicalists would respond by claiming that the conscious mental
state of seeing blue is no more than a useful fiction. What would such a response look like, and could it
All lectures will take place in the Old Library, Lady Margaret Hall.
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