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Author: John Spackman

Abstract

The claim that meditative states are nonconceptual plays a central role, both epistemologically and soteriologically, in much Buddhist philosophy. In its simplest form, this claim is subject to important objections. I follow Forman in distinguishing, in principle, between meditative experiences that have representational content (e.g. meditative experiences of everyday objects) and those that do not (e.g. “pure consciousness experiences”). If enlightened beings maintain their meditative practice throughout everyday life, this type of practice will be contentful. But if this practice is wholly nonconceptual, how can these beings make the perceptually-based discriminations necessary to daily life (e.g. between wholesome and harmful food), since such discriminations are usually thought to require the application of concepts?

One response to this challenge would be to say that enlightened beings have special access to a level of perceptual discrimination that is nonconceptual. But I argue against such a view, and in order to develop a different response I distinguish two different senses of nonconceptuality. What is primarily at stake in recent debates about nonconceptualism, I suggest, is what I call supervenience nonconceptuality. To say meditative experiences are nonconceptual in this sense is to say that they do not supervene on the subject’s conceptual capacities, that is, that it is metaphysically possible for there to be differences in the subject’s meditative experiences without any differences in their conceptual capacities. Against the above response, I argue that any experience with representational content must be conceptual in this supervenience-based sense, so we must accept that contentful meditative experiences are conceptual in this sense. However, I argue that contentful meditative experiences are nonconceptual in another, “occurrent,” sense. To say such experiences are nonconceptual in this sense is to say that the subject does not actively employ concepts in thought while undergoing them, which I argue must ultimately be cashed out in terms of the fact that the subject does not identify as the thinker of those thoughts. I argue further that if there are such things as pure consciousness experiences, they would be nonconceptual in both senses.

In: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness
Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness brings Buddhist voices to the study of consciousness. This book explores a variety of different Buddhist approaches to consciousness that developed out of the Buddhist theory of non-self. Topics taken up in these investigations include: how we are able to cognize our own cognitions; whether all conscious states involve conceptualization; whether distinct forms of cognition can operate simultaneously in a single mental stream; whether non-existent entities can serve as intentional objects; and does consciousness have an intrinsic nature, or can it only be characterized functionally? These questions have all featured in recent debates in consciousness studies. The answers that Buddhist philosophers developed to such questions are worth examining just because they may represent novel approaches to questions about consciousness.
In: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness
In: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness
In: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness
In: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness