PP2BP-Buddhist Philosophy

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2016/7

Module Convenor: Dr Shalini Sinha

Email: shalini.sinha@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:
Buddhist traditions have exercised immense social and cultural influence historically and regularly challenged philosophical orthodoxy. This module will focus on the conceptual and theoretical claims of a range of Buddhist philosophers on fundamental metaphysical and ethical issues. There is no such thing as a self! Persons are just bundles of properties! There is a primitive continuity between waking consciousness and the states of dreaming, dreamless sleep, and dying! Meditation is not apart from reasoning, argument, and discriminating insight! Truth, illusion, and reality are conceptual constructions! Suffering lies in the metaphysics of ordinary reality and happiness in overcoming cognitive error and living an ethical life! Karmic causation operates inexorably! The conceptual and practical scope of ethical values is pervasive, even constitutive, in human life and the world we inhabit! We will discuss the arguments Buddhist philosophers offer in support of these claims and the positions they adopt under pressure from their Brahmanical opponents.

The course encourages students to philosophically examine some of their beliefs about who they are and the world they live in. It develops the ability to use innovative philosophical concepts and ideas in approaching philosophical problems often of practical concern. It cultivates skills in oral and written argument and presentation and encourages students to gain competency in very different ways of ‘doing’ philosophy.

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of this module students will gain an overview of some of the foundational problems and issues in Indian Buddhist philosophy. They will develop the ability to read and engage critically with Buddhist philosophical texts and develop the ability to identify, summarise, and criticise, in an intellectually sensitive way, the philosophical positions of these texts and relate them to issues and debates in contemporary Western philosophy. Students will learn skills of argument and presentation, and understand what counts as ‘Philosophy’ in Indian traditions. They will come to acquire skills of research and enquiry by designing their seminar presentations, and undertaking research for coursework essays, and will learn to critically appraise what they learn. Students will also learn to communicate effectively on a one-to-one basis, and in seminars and lectures using a range of means from speaking to precis-writing, essay-writing, presenting and designing slides. They will learn to reflect critically on their progress, their strengths and weaknesses, and the goals they wish to achieve.

Additional outcomes:
This module gives students an opportunity to increase their intercultural competencies by increasing their awareness of, and sensitivity to, multicultural values through the study of philosophy and philosophical problems from a Buddhist perspective. Students will be encouraged to learn values of inclusiveness and diversity and to approach social and civic responsibility through an appreciation of multicultural values. Students will learn how to apply concepts from very different cultures and traditions to contemporary philosophical issues, and reflect critically on current thinking on these problems.

Outline content:
This module introduces the core concepts, theories, and controversies in Buddhist philosophy in India from its beginnings around 500 BCE to the present day. We will discuss the fundamental metaphysical and ethical questions that occupied Buddhist philosophers: (1) What are selves and persons? (2) What do freedom and happiness consist in? (3) How can we lead an ethical life? (4) Are karmic consequences inevitable? (5) What is the nature of consciousness and what is the epistemic and ethical scope of meditative techniques? (6) What light do philosophical and meditative investigations shed on dream states and dreamless sleep, (7) and on death and dying? (8) Can these first-personal investigations withstand philosophical scrutiny and the findings of neuroscience? (9) Are reality and illusion both constructions albeit of different sorts? We will study the discourses of the Buddha, the Buddhists Vasubandhu and Nagarjuna, and 20th century Buddhist philosophers, and see how their philosophical positions came to be defined under pressure from Brahmanical and Hindu critiques and influences ranging from the Upani?ads to Yoga and Vedanta, and Gandhi.

Sample Reading List:
Amber Carpenter. Indian Buddhist Philosophy (Durham: Acumen 2014),
Jonardon Ganeri. The Concealed Art of the Soul: Theories of Self and Practices of Truth in Indian Ethics and Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)
Jay Garfield. Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2015),
Jay Garfield. Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation
Mark Siderits. Buddhism as Philosophy (Ashgate/Hackett, 2007)
Evan Thompson. Waking, Dreaming, Being (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014),

Global context:
This module will situate students’ understanding of ‘Philosophy’ in a global context and introduce them to alternative ways of ‘doing’ philosophy. It will substantially enhance the resources students have for understanding and developing their own thought and practice in an increasingly globalized world. It will develop their intercultural competencies by encouraging a sound understanding of alternative philosophical perspectives on fundamental issues in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars during the term in which it is provided. All students are required to write two module essays from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor and to give one seminar presentation. In addition, in weeks in which a student is not giving a presentation, they will be asked to write a reading response related to the topic under discussion in a given seminar class and to submit essay plans for feedback. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the course.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 60
Written assignment including essay 30
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Other information on summative assessment:
2 x 1,500-2,000 word essays worth 15% each.
1 group presentation worth 10%

Formative assessment methods:
Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class in which they are not doing a presentation. Feedback will be given on essay plans and oral presentation outlines.

Penalties for late submission:

Penalties for late submission will be in accordance with University policy.
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.
  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:
    2 hours

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Written Examination only; lasting 2 hours, requiring answers to 2 questions

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 9 January 2017

    Things to do now