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Buddhist Critique of the Notions of Personal Identity and the Self
──According to the Saṃyuktāgama- Sūtra──
personal identity,Self,dependent co-arising,emptiness,middle way,karma,
|Publication Year :||2009|
This thesis attempts a Buddhist critique of the notions of personal identity and the Self. Based on the Buddhist theory of anātman (non-self) , this research scrutinizes and criticizes key notions of personal identity and the Self in Western tradition of philosophy.
According to observation on and theorization of the empirical world, Buddhist scriptures propound the law of pratītya-samutpāda (dependent co-arising） in order to explicate their understanding of anitya (impermanence), śūnyatā (emptiness) and madhyamika (middle way). Through this process of speculation, Buddhist scriptures propose the anātman theory which further rebukes the notion of the subjectivity of the Self derived from the fallacious dichotomy of subject / object. From the stance of metaphysics, Buddhist scriptures contend that the subjectivity of the Self, as a non-observable substantial entity, is an ontological construction. Furthermore, from the epistemological position, Buddhist scriptures reveal the difficulty in explaining the cognitive process with the assumption of the subjectivity of the Self. Additionally, the assumption is supposed to face the theoretical difficulties derived from incapable of observing the Self.
Notions of personal identity and the Self are inextricably intertwined with each other. In terms of the Cartesian perspective, the Self, as the essential part of the person, is regarded as the foundation on which the person can maintain his/her sense of identity after experiencing temporal and spatial changes. However, I argue that the basic problem of personal identity is its one-one relationship, which lies in the hypothetical nexus among the conceptions of personal identity, individuality and existence. The underlying metaphysical assumption completely deviates from the dynamic flux of reality, so the issue of personal identity is in fact a deceptive and empty question.
Personal identity and the subjectivity of the Self are conventionally regarded by Western philosophy as responsible for individual behavior. In contrast, the Buddhist scriptures provide an alternative notion, namely the continuity of karma, to explicate the issue of individual responsibility. The Buddhist notions of anātman and karmic continuity are both based on the law of pratītya-samutpāda coherently. By means of these two notions, the Buddhists account for the mutable flux of life and solve the issues of saṃsāra and nirvāna, guiding the sentient beings to the ultimate enlightenment.
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