Agentless agency: the soft compatibilist argument from Buddhist meditation, mind- mastery, evitabilism, and mental freedom
As Maria Heim has argued somewhat convincingly (2014), the basic orientation of Buddhist philosophy is significantly orthogonal to the sort of thinking associated with Western philosophical theorizing about free will. In this chapter, however, I argue for the view that, despite a lack of explicit theorizing about free will, the Buddha himself was implicitly committed to elements of a free will theory, and his teachings contain a rich set of resources that may be employed in the construction of such a theory. This is not to say that Buddhism has a theory of free will, but that it can have one-one powerful enough to at least hold its own against the most powerful form of free will skepticism in analytic Western philosophy. According to (most) Buddhist philosophy, nothing that constitutes us forms a whole, maintains its identity throughout the changes it undergoes, or lasts long enough to constitute a self (MN.I.230-235; SN.I.135, III.66; M.25).1 Buddhism denies the ultimate reality of the self, but acknowledges the validity of conventional person-involving discourse (SN.I.14; Itivuttaka 53; Sutta Nipata 937; MN.III.31; Aronson 2004; Adam 2010; Siderits 2003 and this volume; see also Federman 2010; Harvey 2007 and this volume; Meyers 2010, 2014, and this volume). If there is no self, as Goodman insists, there cannot be an autonomous self (2002; cf. Repetti 2012b; Meyers, this volume; and Harvey, this volume). Buddhism has remained mostly silent on free will, with the exception of the Buddha. For these and related reasons (Heim 2014; Gowans, this volume), some think Buddhist discussion of free will is misguided (Garfield and Flanagan, both this volume). I have reviewed several extant Buddhist theories of free will (Repetti 2010c, 2012a,b, 2014, and the Introduction, this volume), and argued that there ought to be a Buddhist theory of free will (Repetti 2010b, 2015, and in Chap. 2 of this volume). In this chapter, I focus on articulating arguments for the theory of free will I find most consistent with Buddhism and contemporary Western discussions: soft compatibilism, the view that evitabilism, self-regulative ability, and mental freedom (sufficient for moral responsibility) are possible independently of whether the world is deterministic or indeterministic, and, in the case of Buddhism, independently of whether the self is ultimately illusory (the latter of which constitutes a Buddhist variant of ‘semi-compatibilism’). The question
whether Buddhist causation is deterministic or not, both, or neither technically does not matter to my view. I leave it to others to dispute such ultimately empirical (Balaguer 2009) matters (e.g., Story 1976; Rāhula 1974; Gómez 1975; Kalupahana 1992, 1995; Garfield 2001; Goodman 2002, 2009; Siderits 2003; Gier and Kjellberg 2004; Harvey 2007 and this volume; Federman 2010; and Wallace, this volume).