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Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear of Death, and the Consolations of Science

Finnigan, Bronwyn (2022) Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear of Death, and the Consolations of Science. [Preprint]

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Abstract

There is much scientific interest in Buddhist views about emotions and their regulation. There is also mounting scrutiny of popular claims that Buddhism is a science, is compatible with science or is proven true by science (Thompson, 2020). This article contributes to this discussion by critically examining Thich Nhat Hanh’s attempt to interface Buddhist views about fear with science. Thich Nhat Hanh (2014) claims that (1) all fears are rooted in a fundamental fear of annihilation, which arises at birth and is adaptively inherited from our ancestors (at least in part). He submits that this view is supported by science. He also argues that (2) this fear is undermined and thereby overcome by the Buddha’s teaching of no-self and basic laws in physics. This article first critically engages (2), and argues that the appeal to physics is misapplied and that the Buddha’s teaching is not necessarily consoling. It then positively engages (1), charitably suggesting ways it might align with views in mainstream science and philosophy of mind, as well as central ideas in Yogācāra Buddhist philosophy of mind. It goes onto argue, however, that problems and inconsistencies emerge when the details of Thich Nhat Hanh’s view are scrutinised. This is not to deny the possibility of productive dialogue between Buddhist views on fear and science. Rather, it identifies key issues that would need to be addressed and illustrates the need for more critical reflection.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Finnigan, Bronwyn0000-0003-4241-8408
Keywords: Buddhism, karma, emotions, dispositions, mindfulness, consciousness, physicalism, causal closure of the physical, dualism, adaptive inheritance
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Consciousness
General Issues > Science and Religion
Depositing User: Dr Bronwyn Finnigan
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2022 00:32
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2022 00:32
Item ID: 20226
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Consciousness
General Issues > Science and Religion
Date: 2022
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20226

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