Seminar on Indian Philosophy (MT 2023)

Convened by Dr Jessica Frazier

This series of regular seminars brings together scholars and students working on Indic philosophies and religions. It focuses on topics of current research: in each session, two people will present a context they are investigating for 20min, and then open it for discussion on key questions. All researchers, graduates and finalists in all areas are welcome to join.

Week 2 (Wednesday, 18 October) 4.30pm-6.00pm

Prof. Alex Watson: Dharmakīrti, Rāmakaṇṭha and Galen Strawson on the existence of selves
My OCHS lecture on Wednesday of Week 1 looked at how the Buddhist can easily respond to the Naiyāyika argument for a self, but faces a more difficult challenge from Rāmakaṇṭha’s arguments. Today I introduce Galen Strawson’s Buddhistic position and consider which of Rāmakaṇṭha’s arguments present a difficulty for it.


Brett Parris: The metaethics of Patañjali’s yoga
Metaethics may be characterised as the philosophical framework in which a tradition’s implicit normative ethical theory and its practical ethical precepts are embedded. Patañjali’s Yogasūtra is grounded in the dualist Sāṃkhya system and was influenced by early Buddhism. The Yogasūtra’s ethical precepts, as well as ‘the Lord’, Īśvara, play important roles for Patañjali. I argue that Patañjali’s Yoga emerged from early theistic Sāṃkhya, resisted Buddhist idealism, and yields a moral realist metaethics which may be understood as a form of natural law theory, but one quite unlike anything found in the Western traditions.

Week 8 (Wednesday, 29 November) 4.30pm-6.00pm

Prof. John Nemec: On the effects of causes and causes that could have an effect: The Śaiva theory of the eternality of what is produced
This presentation explores the manner of manifestation and non-manifestation of objects of cognition in a Śaiva satkāryavāda explanation.  The problem is that if the effect preexists its manifestation in the form of its identity with its cause, then it should be perceptible even before it is manifested.  In an argument against the Sāṅkhya, Somānada offers the “sadāsatkāryavāda” or doctrine of the perpetual real existence of the effect.  In looking at the text, we will find that it has a nice conceptual twist and turn to it.


Jacob Mortimer: The canonical roots of Buddhist phenomenalism
This presentation argues that there is a substantial overlap between the Yogācāra doctrine of vijñaptimātra (‘mere representation’) and expressions of phenomenalism found in early Buddhist texts such as the Sabba Sutta. I argue that the phenomenalism of early Buddhism offers a justification of key doctrines such as no-self and the denial of a creator god, and that it might furthermore be an implicit assumption of later schools of Buddhist philosophy including Abhidharma and Madhyamaka. This theory suggests that the innovations of Yogācāra are more subtle than previously thought; it also suggests that philosophical challenges that have until now been considered unique to Yogācāra (particularly the threat of solipsism) might be faced by other Buddhist schools.