• Founded
  • Seminar Number

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

Verena Meyer

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

10/09/2020 Online Meeting
6:00 PM
Mind Only Thought as Metapraxis, Mind Only as Diagnosis
Joy Brennan, Kenyon College


In this talk I outline the features of an interpretation of mind only Buddhist thought as a form of metapraxis. Metapraxis refers to the systematic study of reality where both conceptual and existential priority is granted to the path as understood within Buddhist thought broadly, which refers to the process of transformation from suffering and delusion to freedom from them. The mind only school of Buddhist thought is often likened to various forms of epistemological or ontological idealism drawn from the early modern philosophical tradition in Europe. In focusing on mind only thought as a form of metapraxis, we better see the strengths and weaknesses of this position. In specific, the metapractical framing makes clear that one of the fundamental claims of this school of thought, the eponymous claim that our worlds and experiences of "mind only", is not a static claim about the way things are, but a diagnosis of a condition to be overcome.

11/06/2020 Online Meeting
5:30 PM
Zhuangzi's Robber Zhi: A Discussion
Stephen Walker, University of Chicago


This session will focus on the celebrated 'Robber Zhi' (盜跖) dialogue from the Miscellaneous Chapters (雜篇) of the Zhuangzi. In the dialogue, Kongzi (or Confucius) tries to persuade Robber Zhi to abandon his marauding ways and lead a more conventional life. While the character of Robber Zhi is obviously brutal, and a person few of us would want to emulate (or interact with in any way), he's also strikingly insightful about human needs and frailties, and attentive to the more covert kinds of brutality we endure simply by living in organized societies. Not only does he raise the possibility that attempts to morally reform individuals might produce more harm than good, but he also embodies, in his own person, the pointlessness of making appeals to powerful persons who don't value morality at all. The presenter will spend about 15 minutes summarizing the dialogue, and the discussants will spend about five minutes each raising points for discussion. The rest of the session will consist of Q&A. Those planning to attend are strongly encouraged to read the dialogue before the session begins.

Discussants:, Timothy Connolly (East Stroudsburg University), Tao Jiang (Rutgers University), Qianyi Qin (CUNY Graduate Center), Hagop Sarkissian (CUNY Graduate Center & Baruch College)

12/11/2020 Online Meeting
5:30 PM
Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra: A Discussion
Barbra Clayton, Mount Allison University


Śāntideva is considered perhaps the most significant Indian Mahāyāna thinker on ethics, and his most famous work, the Bodhicaryāvatāra (BCA), or Guide to the Bodhisattva Practice, has been the subject of much commentary and analysis, by both historical and contemporary Buddhists, as well as contemporary scholars. In this training guide for monks, Śāntideva incorporates philosophical argument, prayer and meditation to outline the steps to take and qualities to develop in order to become a bodhisattva, the altruistic spiritual virtuoso that became the focus of the Mahāyāna. The path as conceived by Śāntideva centers on the altruistic aspiration to achieve awakening for the sake of all beings (bodhicitta), and entails the cultivation of six virtues or “perfections” (pāramitā-s). While virtues such as patience (kṣanti), diligence (vīrya) (meditation (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā) receive independent, chapter-length treatments, the virtue of giving or generosity (dāna), is summarized in one verse, which identifies the perfection of this virtue with the mental attitude of “relinquishing all that one has to all people, together with the fruit of that act” (BCA 5.10). The aim of our seminar is to explore the implications of this claim about the nature of generosity for our understanding of Buddhist ethics. Does this apparently encompassing focus on motive undermine the claims and concerns of socially engaged Buddhists? What are the implications for how we classify Buddhist ethics? What are we to make of Śāntideva’s equation (at BCA 3.11) of the attitude of relinquishing with awakening itself?

Discussants:, Douglas Duckworth (Temple University), Katie Javanaud (Princeton University), Stephen Jenkins (Humboldt State University), Amod Lele (Boston University)