NDPR review of Jonardon Ganeri’s Attention, Not Self

Review by Sebastian Watzl, University of Oslo

Why should we study the philosophical ideas of someone who lived many centuries ago, in a far-away part of the world, and in a highly different cultural context? One reason is to expand one’s philosophical horizon: to move beyond the narrow confinements of one’s own little neighborhood of the vast philosophical city (Priest 2011), and thus to approach the contemporary philosophical scene with newly gained humility on account of its limitations.

One educated in contemporary cognitive science and philosophy may have expected in Jonardon Ganeri’s book a confrontation with such a marvelously strange new neighborhood. It is, after all, a book largely on the philosophical ideas of the 6th century Indian philosopher Buddhaghosa, writing in the Pāli language in the Theravāda Buddhist tradition. As read by Ganeri, Buddhaghosa’s account of the mind, by contrast, is often strikingly familiar. Buddhaghosa comes across as stunningly modern, with a picture of the mind that meshes closely with the latest empirical studies in cognitive science and the latest discussions in the philosophy of mind. Ganeri’s book thus practices the “philosophy without borders” he advocates in the book’s postscript: it aims “to discover a fundamental theory true of the human mind as such” by considering “theories from a plurality of cultural locations.” (341)

Ganeri provides a substantial and novel account of the human mind by drawing on the “rich theoretical vocabulary” in the Pāli tradition, that is then “transformed . . . with the assistance of tools, techniques, and empirical findings from the cognitive sciences.” (347) The book is both an independent theory of the mind and an interpretation and textual analysis of Buddhaghosa’s writings. While some parts of Ganeri’s book mostly show that Buddhaghosa’s view fits the picture we get from cognitive science, the last part links some of that detailed investigation of mental processes in novel ways to broader questions about what it means to be human. The resulting picture is rich and interesting, and Ganeri’s writing is fluent and engaging.

Full review here: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/attention-not-self/

About Matthew Dasti

Matthew R. Dasti is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University.

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