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  • Determinism, Responsibility, and Asian Philosophy
  • Mark Siderits

The essays included here grew out of an international conference on East-West comparative philosophy held at Seoul National University on 15-16 October, 2010. The topic of the conference was "Determinism, Moral Responsibility, and Asian Philosophy." The problem of determinism and moral responsibility has been much discussed in recent Western philosophy, but as yet there is no agreement on how to resolve it. Most fundamentally the problem concerns the compatibility of determinism about mental states with the sort of freedom that is thought to be required for agents to be morally responsible for their actions. Suppose it is true that all our psychological states, including our beliefs, desires, and intentions, are caused by prior events. If psychological determinism were true, would it be justifiable to praise or blame agents for their actions? Could anyone then truly be morally responsible for the actions they perform? In recent decades there has been a great deal of work on this question, but there is still no consensus as to what the solution might be.

The aim of the conference was to explore this issue using resources from the Asian philosophical traditions. While the problem of determinism and responsibility has a long history in Western philosophy, it is often said that this issue is essentially unknown in Asian philosophy. An initial question is to what extent this is true. It is possible, for instance, that some components of the issue are discussed by Asian philosophers, but in ways that simply make its presence less than fully transparent. But even if the issue is essentially unknown in both South Asian and East Asian traditions, it is still possible that important lessons can be learned from this comparative silence. For instance it might be that by looking for the source of this silence we would find reasons to reject some of the assumptions that the issue rests on. Or it might be that we would stumble across resources that make possible a hitherto unknown solution to some part of the problem. These are the sorts of questions the conference was meant to examine.

Two of the conference participants were individuals who have made important contributions to the recent debate over determinism and moral responsibility: Ishtiyaque Haji (Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary), and Kenton Machina (Department of Philosophy, Illinois State University). They were invited in order to lay out the details of the current discussion for scholars of Asian philosophy, and to provide feedback concerning suggestions about ways that Asian traditions might be said to approach the issues involved. The remainder were scholars working on the East Asian and South Asian philosophical traditions. The consensus was that all the participants learned much that was new. But, as with any conference, further study, reflection, and discussion were needed if any new glimmerings were to bear fruit. [End Page 1]

The five papers included here represent some of the fruits of that process of refinement. The following are the contributors to this special issue.

Kyung-Sig Hwang is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Seoul National University. His research interests lie principally in virtue ethics and the theory of justice.

Myeong-seok Kim is an assistant professor in the Academy of East Asian Studies at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul. He trained in Chinese philosophy at Seoul National University and the University of Michigan. His Ph.D. dissertation was on the development of the ethical theory of emotions in the Analects and the Mencius, and he is interested in ethics and moral psychology in Chinese philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy, and the early modern British moralists.

Eun-su Cho is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Seoul National University. Her research interests revolve around East Asian Buddhism, including such topics as the philosophical thought of Wonhyo and the role of women in the Buddhist monastic order.

Duck-Joo Kwak is an associate professor in the Department of Education at Seoul National University. Her research interests are, broadly speaking, existentialism and education, as well as the work of Stanley Cavell.

Hye-chong Han is a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation in Seoul. Her research...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 1-3
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-20
Open Access
No
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