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The Comparative Philosophy Seminar seeks to advance constructive philosophical projects by bringing together scholars with training in diverse areas of Asian (mostly Buddhist) thought and Western Philosophy. Comparison in this context is not employed to loan authority to one set of obscure discoveries by revealing its resonances with the works of others, deemed less obscure. Nor does it sociologize philosophy in search of general laws of human cultural and intellectual development. Rather, the intent is to explicate, and employ, the fullness of an expanded philosophical toolset—and see how that works. The seminar ordinarily invites respondents who are versed in the relevant field of philosophical inquiry, but who are not necessarily specialists in Asian thought. In order to facilitate an ongoing conversation, seminar meetings for a given year are loosely organized around a very general theme, which speakers are asked to address when possible. In past years, the themes have been “Personal Identity” (2007–2008) and “Meta-Ethics” (2008–2009).

Professor Jonathan C. Gold

Professor Hagop Sarkissian

Lucilla Ines Martorana

Meeting Schedule

09/30/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Buddhist Conventional Truth and Ontological Pluralism
Laura P. Guerrero , William & Mary


Buddhist philosophers often draw a distinction between two different kinds of truth: conventional truth (saṃvṭi-satya) and ultimate truth (paramārtha-satya). Abhidharma Buddhists philosophers typically understand this distinction in terms of an ontological distinction between two different kinds of entities: ultimately real entities (paramārtha-sat) and conventionally real entities (saṃvṛti-sat). Similar to contemporary philosophical discussions about ordinary objects, Buddhist philosophers debate the ontological status of conventional entities and the semantics of discourse concerning them. Mark Siderits (2015, 2021, 2022) has influentially argued for an eliminitivist position he calls “Buddhist reductionism” that interprets the Abhidharma position as one that denies conventional entities exist but that retains discourse involving apparent reference to them. However, in a recent article Kris McDaniel (2019), a prominent defender of ontological pluralism, challenges that view by proposing that the Abhidharma Buddhist distinction between conventional truth and ultimate truth be “defined up” from a more basic distinction between two different ways an entity can exist: conventionally or ultimately. In this paper I argue that Saṃghabhadra’s account of conventional reality and truth does lends itself well to McDaniel’s proposal but I will also argue that the account of conventional and ultimate truth that results differs in important ways from the models he offers. I will end by offering a modification of McDaniel’s account of conventional truth that is derived from Saṃghabhadra’s pluralist ontology. That view will, unlike the views suggested by both Siderits and McDaniel, allow for there to be ultimate truths about what is conventionally true.

Mark Siderits , Illinois State University

10/14/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
How to nurture compassion?—Some lessons from Asian philosophical traditions
Sin yee Chan, University of Vermont


Recent philosophical discussions on compassion focus on the value and the nature of compassion as an emotion. Ancient Asian philosophical traditions such as Confucianism and Buddhism, however, emphasize compassion as a character trait that should be nurtured. This paper examines the insights drawn from these traditions to help inform the nurturing of compassion. For example, is empathy a necessary tool? What is the role of love and care? Does self-reflection contribute to the process?

Timothy Connolly, East Stroudsburg University

11/01/2022 Zoom
5:30 PM
Vows without a Self
Monima Chadha, Monash University


Vows play a central role in Buddhist thought and practice. Monastics are obliged know and conform to hundreds of vows. We argue that Buddhist vows have two important roles to play. First, as is widely recognized, many of the vows are thought to help practitioners on the path to enlightenment. However, when we look at the wide range of vows that monastics undertake, it’s implausible that all of the vows aim at enlightenment. A second function of the vows, we argue, is to facilitate group harmony and cohesion. However, the prominence of vows in the Buddhist tradition seems at odds with another central part of the tradition. For vows, like other promises, seem to involve representing a persisting self as the individual who undertakes the vow. And to explicitly appeal to a persisting self conflicts with one of the most important philosophical commitments of Buddhism – the no self view. We argue that once we articulate the details of how vows generate behavior that conforms to them, we can see that in most cases, no appeal to the self is required to internalize and act on vows.

Shaun Nichols, Cornell University

Jonathan Gold, Princeton University

12/09/2022 Zoom
5:30 PM
The Mind-Body Problem in Madhyamaka: A Discussion of Candrakīrti's comments on Ãryadeva's Catuḥśataka 10.5
Dan Arnold, University of Chicago


The tenth chapter of Āryadeva’s Catuḥśataka, which canvasses a range of Brahmanical conceptions of ātma ("self") is an especially rich resource for understanding what Buddhist refutations of ātma do and do not mean to reject. Accordingly, the Mādhyamika philosopher Candrakīrti has occasion, in his commentary on this chapter, to venture some uncharacteristically positive assertions by way of clarifying how Buddhist commitments can make sense of facts that ‘self’ doctrines fail to account for. Our discussion will focus particularly on Candrakīrti’s comments on CŚ 10.5, which tackle the question of why a Buddhist refutation of self does not also undermine the reality of thought. Candrakīrti’s comments here amount to a rare attempt, on his part, to address the mind-body problem; discussion of this unusual passage thus stands to shed some light on Candrakīrti’s views on the nature of mind.

Connie Kassor, Lawrence University

Sonam Kachru, Yale University

03/03/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Philosophy of Crisis and a Question of Solidarity
Jin Y. Park, American University


The COVID-19 pandemic is said to be a once-in-a-century incident, and it brought to us a sense of crisis at various levels. What is a crisis, though? Can any unnerving moment or period be called a crisis, or are there different dimensions of a crisis to which we need to be attentive? Is solidarity possible after experiencing a crisis like Covid-19? Can Buddhism make any contribution to facilitating solidarity? This presentation explores the meaning and nature of a crisis and our responses to it by drawing on modern Korean political thinker Pak Ch’iu’s (1909–1949) analysis of crisis and feminist-Buddhist thinker Kim Iryŏp’s (1896–1971) Buddhist philosophy. By doing so, this presentation considers what social, political, existential, and even religious meaning we can draw from our experience of crises, and what questions these insights present to us.

Karsten Struhl , John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

03/17/2023 Philosophy Hall, Columbia University
5:30 PM
From Conceptual Misalignment to Conceptual Engineering: A Case Study on Emotion from Chinese Philosophy
Wenqing Zhao, Whitman College

Andrew Lambert, College of Staten Island, CUNY


Conceptual misalignment is a pervasive phenomenon in the studies of Non-Western philosophy and the History of Philosophy (NW&HP). However, conceptual misalignment is often undetected, unsuspected, or seen as a hurdle that NW&HP materials need to overcome to contribute to contemporary discussions. Specifically, conceptual misalignment refers to the following: In the process of crystalizing NW&HP materials, a linguistic coordination of concepts is formed between the speaker, i.e., NW&HP, and its context of contemporary anglophone philosophy. However, in philosophically meaningful ways, the original NW&HP concept and its anglophone counterpart misalign. This misalignment is particularly intricate and hard to detect when it comes to emotion concepts, as they are thought to involve phenomenal and/or intentional features. Through investigating the concept of emotion in Chinese philosophy, I propose a refocusing on conceptual misalignment as a method of cross-cultural comparative and history of philosophy. Moreover, I argue that conceptual misalignment is an important resource for contemporary conceptual engineering and amelioration projects.

03/24/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Śrīharṣa on the Indefinability of Knowledge
Nilanjan Das, University of Toronto


In Sanskrit epistemology, philosophers are preoccupied with the notion of pramā. A pramā, roughly, is a mental event of learning or knowledge-acquisition. Call any such mental event a knowledge-event. In A Confection of Refutation (Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya), the 12th century philosopher and poet Śrīharṣa argued that knowledge-events are indefinable. Any satisfactory (and therefore non-circular) definition of knowledge-events will have to include an anti-luck condition that doesn’t appeal back to the notion of learning or knowledge-acquisition itself. But there is no such anti-luck condition. What is novel about Śrīharṣa’s argument is that it is motivated by his commitment to a certain “knowledge first” approach to epistemology: the view that knowledge-events are epistemically prior to other non-factive mental states and events. On this view, when we are trying to determine whether an agent has undergone a knowledge-event, we don't initially ascribe to them some other non-factive mental event, and then check if that event meets some further conditions (like truth or reliability) necessary for it to count as a knowledge-event; rather, we treat certain mental events by default as knowledge-events until a defeater comes along. Surprisingly, Śrīharṣa argues that this kind of “knowledge first” epistemology should give us reason to doubt whether our ordinary attributions of knowledge-events are reliably tracking any sui generis psychological kind. In this talk, I reconstruct Śrīharṣa's position.

Rosanna Picascia, Swarthmore College