Most famous for its theory of unchanging Forms, Platonism appears to be in diametrical opposition to Buddhist thought, which takes impermanence as a mark of existence—and yet Plato also recognised the fundamental transience of the sensible world, and the interdependence among Forms which the Platonist tradition underscored echoes, with variations, the interdependence some Buddhist philosophers took as the mode in which things exist. Platonist ethics shares with its Indian Buddhist counterpart the striking claim that knowing reality is the indispensable engine for fundamental moral transformation from essentially deceptive ordinary experience, with its attendant cares and concerns, towards an equanimous experience of real reality which reorders our priorities and desires. But where the Platonist tradition seems to engineer techniques to build a better self, the Buddhists consider selflessness to be the goal of and means to the kind of transformation they are after. Buddhist-Platonist Dialogues grow out of the friction created by these overlapping, competing, and fundamentally challenging ideas.
Neither Buddhist nor Platonist made their claims lightly, but rather as implications emerging from closely woven and carefully argued claims about the nature of mind, perception and thought; about the nature of reason and the sort of knowledge that can claim authority, and why; about action and causation and the reality within which these are configured; about what we have to do in order to become better, and what doing that does to us; about the psychology of desire and its implicit normativity. Bringing Platonist and Buddhist philosophies into precise conversation on these matters enables us to test the claims and the arguments of each against robust interlocutors, and brings out the contours of whole lines of thought more sharply. Relations between and implications of ideas come into focus in unique ways, enriching philosophical understanding—whether we are Platonist, Buddhist, both or neither.
This project brings together thirteen scholars and philosophers from around the world, each with their own entry-point for a specific philosophical conversation between Buddhist and Platonist. Much like Vasubandhu responding to a pūrvapakṣin (an opponent), or Plato’s Socrates questioning Meno, project participants are exacting in how they interrogate both traditions. With some of us trained in Greek philosophy and others more experienced in the Indian Buddhist tradition, we work to create a single philosophical conversation which does justice to each party (text and intellectual milieu), without favouring either.
One might call it an exercise in global philosophy.
Or one might simply call it philosophy.
If you’d like to join us in Buddhist-Platonist dialogue, be in touch: [email protected]. We are delighted to have more voices joining the discussion.