UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Parfit's use of the Buddhist view on personal identity Samarasinghe, Aruni


The fundamental questions raised in Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons are 'what persons are?' and 'how they continue to exist?'. In discussing the concept of a person, Parfit considers these three questions: (1) What is the nature of a person? (2) What makes a person at two different times one and the same person? and (3) What is necessarily involved in the continued existence of each person over time? Parfit then distinguishes these two views about the nature of a person. * That persons are separately existing entities distinct from brains and bodies and their experiences. They continue to exist, although we know of their continuity because of thoughts, sensations and experiences that they have. * That persons are not separetely existing entities, distinct from our brains and bodies. The existence of a person, during any period, just consists in the existence of his brain and body, and the thinking of his thoughts, and the doing of his deeds, and the occurrence of many other physical and mental events. Parfit has not gone into a detailed discussion about the Buddhist view. My concern is that Parfit draws out of context from Buddhism and claims that the above second view to which according to him the Buddha would have agreed is true. Parfit's belief is that this is the truth about ourselves. But, coming to this view, Buddhism has considered not just the missing personal identity view. Buddhism talks about the 'being'. "All living beings are mortal and all forms are to disappear". Buddhism has an ontological view which grasps not only human beings but all other living beings in terms of impermanancy. It is the second, Reductionist view, that Parfit finds liberating and consoling which makes him less concerned about his own future, and his own death, and more concern about others. Here, the difference between the Buddha and Parfit is in what they do with the philosophical proposition once they arrive at it. For Buddha, realisation of this true belief is the starting point in practising the moral disciplinary path to attain the final goal of Nirvana, the cessation of suffering. My aim here will be to question Parfit on his understanding of Buddhism and how he has used Buddhist quotations to support his theory. My method will be to collect contexts in the early Buddhist texts in which the self is talked about, and to consider the various translations and commentarial explanations to see what makes the best sense of the concept of self that Parfit talks about in those contexts.

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