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A Buddhist Analysis of Affective Bias

  • Sean M. SmithEmail author
Article

Abstract

In this paper, I explore a debate between some Indian Buddhist schools regarding the nature of the underlying tendencies or anusaya-s. I focus here primarily on the ninth chapter of Kathāvatthu’s representation of a dispute about whether an anusaya can be said to have intentional object. I also briefly treat of Vasubandhu’s defense of the Sautrāntika view of anuśaya in the opening section of the fifth chapter his Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam. Following Vasubandhu, I argue against the Thervādin Abhidharmikas that the underlying tendencies (anusaya-s) can be identified with their active manifestations (pariyuṭṭhāna). Etymologically, the notion of anusaya denotes a kind of latency, dormancy or otherwise ‘below the surface’ propensity. It can literally be translated as ‘that which lies or dwells beneath or alongside’. I will translate the term as ‘underlying tendency’, but philosophically speaking, it is most important to understand that the notion of anusaya refers to dispositions that condition current experience in a tacit way. The task of a philosophical account of the anusaya-s is to explain how their implicit conditioning influence shapes occurrent mental activity. The Indian Buddhist philosophers exercised an enormous amount of energy in attempting to explain this relation. A thorough examination of this dialectic has two important fruits to bear. The first is that the Buddhists can help us explain in precise detail how the mind is affectively layered. That is, they have a plausible account of how the mind is both responsive in real time to the objects it encounters in the world, while at the same time being tacitly conditioned by its own history of affective bias. Indeed, as we will see, the Buddhists were deeply concerned with how processes of affective bias were operating at the deepest levels of the mind and how we ought to conceive of their influence on our ordinary processes of perception and cognition. Second, this local position within the Buddhist milieu is indicative of a wider propensity in Buddhist philosophy to blend analyses of affectively-biased intentions and causation. I submit that this blending could be helpful in a more global for contemporary discussions of the mind in philosophy and science.

Keywords

Anusaya Buddhaghosa Affective bias Theravāda Buddhist Philosophy Consciousness Sentience 

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Hawai’i at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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