Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind.

Author:Mc Allister, Patrick
Position:Book review

Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind. By Dan Arnold. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Pp. xiv+ 311. $50.

Arnold's book constructs a dialogue between fourth to eleventh century Indian intellectuals and recent as well as contemporary philosophers in Western traditions, aiming to show that many thoughts found in old Indian philosophy can be read in a way that makes them relevant to modern discussions. The book's central question is--can intentionality be reduced to a cause-effect relation or is it an irreducible mark of mental events? This question is discussed from three perspectives: two cognitivist ones, which both take intentionality to be reducible to a causal description but are divided over their idea of causality into physicalists and antiphysicalists, and a transcendental one, which says intentionality is irreducible and the defining mark of mental events. Arnold makes many voices heard in this dialogue: loudest for the first position is Jerry Fodor's, followed by Dennet's. Arguments for the second position are inspired by Arnold's reading of Dharmakirti, the seventh-century Indian Buddhist widely recognized and studied as a major force in Indian logic and epistemology. For his own arguments towards intentionality's irreducibility, Arnold makes use of a broad range of thinkers: Kumarila, Candrakirti, Hume, Kant, Brentano, Sellars, and McDowell, to name just the most prominent ones.

Dharmakirti is at the center of three out of the book's six parts. First, Dharmakirti's proof of rebirth is considered. This results in the mentioned subdivision of the cognitivist project: Arnold points out that Dharmakirti's and Fodor's concepts of a mental event's causal properties differ significantly, since Dharmakirti insists that these events happen within a causal chain that is independent of a physical body. Fodor's cognitivism is at the center of the second part. Quoting widely from Fodor's work of over thirty years, Arnold discusses mainly two elements in Fodor's thought: the separation of a mental event's content and its causal characteristics (which belong to the mental event only insofar as it is a neurophysical event) on the one hand, and, on the other, a methodological solipsism that Fodor has to countenance if he admits, as he did especially in his later work, that content features among the causally relevant properties of a mental event.


To continue reading