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Buddhist Meditation and the Possibility of Free Will

Buddhist Meditation and the Possibility of Free Will

Rick Repetti

Department of History, Philosophy & Political Science, Kingsborough Community College, 2001 Oriental Blvd., D-223, Brooklyn, NY 11235, 718-368-5226, USA.


I argue that an analysis of Buddhist meditation theory and practice may be used to ground a model of the possibility of free agency that stands up against four powerful arguments for free will skepticism in contemporary analytic philosophy: Peter van Inwagen’s consequence argument, which asserts that if choices are lawfully necessary consequences of prior events, then they are unfree; Derk Pereboom’s two arguments for hard incompatibilism: the manipulation argument, which asserts that manipulated choices are unfree, determinism is functionally equivalent to manipulation, and thus determined choices are unfree; and the randomness argument, which asserts that we cannot claim authorship
over random neural events; and Galen Strawson’s impossibility argument, which asserts that choices are always conditioned by mental states, so unconditioned free will is impossible. Although Buddhism sees the entire process that begins with beliefs and desires and culminates in actions as an ultimately impersonal, agentless process, Buddhism is nonetheless capable of formulating the diametrical opposite of Strawson’s impossibilism and Pereboom’s hard incompatibilism, what I call possibilism or soft compatibilism, the view that free choices and actions can emerge from conditioned or unconditioned mental states, independently of whether the world is deterministic. This is not to suggest that Buddhism contains or endorses a theory of free will, but that Buddhism may formulate such a theory.


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Science, Religion and Culture


Vol. 5, Sp. Iss. 1 Pages 1-82


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