Sonam Kachru

"The Elusive Mark of the Mental: Philosophy of Mind with Vasubandhu"
2012

In the most workman-like terms, I hope in the coming year to be stimulated by conversation to the point of completing a draft of my dissertation. I am writing a dissertation devoted to reconstructing the views of a Buddhist philosopher of the fifth century, one Vasubandhu of the city today called Peshawar, (then, 'the City of Man'), preserved for us in texts authored by him and written in diverse genres, from elegant essays on individual concepts such as 'action' and 'persons' to his encyclopedic reconstruction of the views of Buddhist scholars preserved in one of the largest philosophical encyclopedias ever written. I am particularly keen on presenting some of his core insights concerning ways we can and ought to talk about minds, attempting also to follow Vasubandhu's concern to show that learning how to re-describe minds in line with his views can have drastic consequences for the kinds of persons we are. Vasubandhu's concerns are theoretical, to be sure, but of moral consequence and therapeutic instigation. Some of his problems are still with us, and some of his concerns ought to inform the problems we claim to be uniquely the problems of our intellectual climate. I would like to think that my concerns, if not the details of the work, can find traction in cross-disciplinary conversation. I hope so, for I take it that concepts as fundamental as minds and persons, even if informed by debates not to be found in the histories we write of ourselves in European languages, ought to inform what we take to be yet possible. My academic work, broadly construed, is an instance of the history of philosophy practiced as philosophy, unapologetically, if informed by philology, historians of Early Modern and Classical European philosophy, the history of ideas and even literary criticism. I should like to learn from practice what attempts to bring into view the history of non-European, and non-modern philosophy can involve. For being normatively committed to the belief that the work of a fifth century Buddhist philosopher who wrote in Sanskrit is, on his own terms, relevant to us as philosophy, involves questions and concerns to be handled with egg-shell care. I believe that my work can only be improved by allowing it to be occasioned in part by cross-disciplinary and cross-thematic exchanges. I can think of few forums as challenging and welcoming as this.

Area of study: Philosophy of Religions