- Response to Monima Chadha and Sean M. Smith Reviews of Attention, Not Self
I thank Sean Smith and Monima Chadha for their reviews of Attention, Not Self and for their commentary. It has been rewarding to think through the issues they have raised, and I am grateful to both.
Let me begin with the methodological principle that Sean Smith endorses at the beginning of his review. Smith says this: "My main argument is that Ganeri attributes views to Buddhaghosa that the latter does not hold. Embedded in this complaint is the assumption that we should try to get a thinker right and on their own terms as a precursor to seeing how their views interface with those of others. It is an assumption I will rely on throughout." Let me call this the Exegesis First assumption. The assumption takes the form of a prescriptive rule governing intellectual engagement with historical texts, the rule being that philological exegesis should precede philosophical engagement. Now I do think there are intellectual disciplines for which Exegesis First supplies a governing constraint. Most historians of philosophy will endorse it, I believe. The leading historian of philosophy, Peter Adamson, for example, has formulated twenty "Rules for History of Philosophy," and he comments that "With all these worries about avoiding anachronism, you may have gotten the impression that I am only worried about 'getting the text right,' and in fact I do think that is a first step in dealing with any historical source material." So Smith's claim that I am guilty of violating this rule would have application if Attention, Not Self were a work in the discipline of history of philosophy.
However, it is not. My book is, rather, a contribution to a newly emerging sub-discipline within philosophy, one that has been variously designated "cross-cultural philosophy" (Garfield, Thompson), "cosmopolitanism in philosophy" (Ganeri), and "philosophy without borders" (Chakrabarti). I state this clearly in the Introduction, and devote the Postscript entirely to setting [End Page 1151] out the contours of the new field. As Arindam Chakrabarti puts it most eloquently, "instead of preserving, quoting, and juxtaposing [one's sources], one picks up a concept, a line of reasoning or some, however minor, point arising out of years of imaginative rearrangement and cross-fertilization of the ideas retrieved from different cultures, periods, texts, and disciplines" (2015, p. 231). The borderless philosopher thinks with past historical figures, and not just about them. In Attention, Not Self my ambition was to develop a radically reoriented philosophy of mind, one that is anti-Cartesian and non-Aristotelian, and deeply inspired by historical figures like Buddhaghosa. Just as we can now discuss, if we wish, whether the historical Descartes was in fact a Cartesian, or how neo-Aristotelian was the historical Aristotle, someone may wonder about how much of the view I develop would have been endorsed by Buddhaghosa had he been alive today. That's an interesting question, but it wasn't mine in writing this book. Mine, as I state on the last page, was to "draw on a rich theoretical vocabulary in Pāli of terms for concepts about the mind, and demonstrate a way in which that vocabulary can be transformed into a philosophy of mind with the assistance of tools, techniques, and empirical findings from the cognitive sciences."
So Smith is guilty of an old fallacy—of using weighing scales to measure air quality. Let me nevertheless address, one by one, the specific points he raises.
Phenomenal consciousness and cognitive access. Smith is correct when he notes that I see an "overlap" between the distinction, well attested in contemporary philosophy of mind, between phenomenal consciousness and cognitive access and the system of five aggregates (a system, which though endorsed by all Buddhists, is one whose exact content is the subject of considerable disagreement between Buddhist thinkers). However, he misrepresents my view and his criticisms therefore miss their mark. Smith says "I conclude that Ganeri's attempt to construe vedanā as being primarily responqsible for phenomenal character and denying that viññāṇa has anything to do with phenomenal character is unsuccessful." I made no such attempt. My attempt was to locate a...