Monday, October 19, 2015

Three Types of Historian

Some of my friends and students must be tired of hearing this: “We do philology because we have to. We do philosophy because we want to.” Those of us who love to do Buddhist philosophy of the past have no choice but to do Buddhist philology as well. Because, in my view, there can be no (textual) Wortphilologie without (contentual-contextual) Sachphilologie, and no Sachphilologie without Wortphilologie, philology must necessarily be an academic discipline that deals with both and one that seeks to gain a diachronic and synchronic views of the texts and ideas. As such philology is inextricably linked his history. A philologist is necessarily also a historian of ideas. But what kind of a historian are we talking about? This reminds me of the typology of historian proposed once by Edward Conze. According to him, there are three types of historian: scientific, humanistic, and transcendental. I quote (Conze 1967 = 2000: 28): “The first studies a butterfly after killing it and fixing it with a pin into a glass case, where it lies quite still and can leisurely be inspected from all angles. The second lets it fly in the sun, and looks wonderingly at its pretty ways. The third assures us that a man will know a butterfly only if he becomes one.” Using the idea of intellectual deconstruction (i.e. rigs pas gzhig pa) and physical destruction  (i.e. gnyen pos gzhig pa), I would like to propose that what a historian of ideas usually seeks to do is to pursue analytical dissection but not a physical one, and hence one actually does not have to kill the butterfly. Or, after having analytically dissected the object of study with one’s prajñā, one can, out of one’s karuṇā, assemble all the parts and put them back to its original form.

Buddhist Philosophy on actus reus and mens rea?

Here is a random thought that just popped up in my mind. It is said that the expressions actus reus and mens rea were developed in English Law and were derived from the principle stated by Edward Coke, namely, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea (“an act does not make a person guilty unless (their) mind is also guilty”). Hence the general test of guilt is said to be one that requires proof of fault, culpability or blameworthiness both in thought and action. I know that we have been repeatedly warned of the pitfalls and perils of comparing Eastern and Western ideas. Nonetheless, I cannot help thinking of the Buddhist idea that the wholesomeness, unwholesomeness, or neutrality of an action is always determined by the wholesomeness, unwholesomeness, or neutrality of intention or motivation. It also seems worth bearing in mind that an action or deed (which, by the way, must be by definition volitional) can only then be considered karmically efficacious or potent if it has been committed with the right gzhibsam pasbyor ba, and mthar thug. Thus one speaks of byas la bsags pa’i las (“committed-and-accumulated karmic deed”) and byas la ma bsags pa’i las (“committed-but-not-accumulated karmic deed”). There is thus the possibility (also in Buddhism) for making a difference between, for example, “murder” and “manslaughter.” Suppose I have accumulated tons of negative karmic deeds but what would happen to my karmic loads if I were to suddenly attain Arhatship and pass way into the restless nirvāṇa? (Note that negative karmic deeds need not necessary bar one to attain Arhatship.) That would be a bad luck for my karma! In German, one would say: “Karma hat eben Pech gehabt!”