The Ethics of Empty Beliefs: Chinese Buddhist Philosophy in the ‘Period of Disunity’


Is it ethical to believe? CHINBUDDHPHIL will explore this basic yet troubling question by reconstructing what is a hitherto largely unstudied yet highly original philosophical conception of how belief relates to ethical action. Substantively, this project will constitute a major contribution to the historical and systematic study of Chinese Buddhist philosophy. It will accomplish this end through specialist research on the unduly neglected Sanlun school: A foundationally important movement active during a seminal period in the epochally transformative history of Buddhism in China. This will be the first comprehensive elaboration of Sanlun philosophy in any Western language. By placing Sanlun into debate with its Indian antecedents, later elaborations within Chinese Buddhism, and analogues in Western philosophy, this project will also forge multiple disciplinary innovations. Thus, within philosophy it will transform our understanding of philosophically valuable traditions by demonstrating that Chinese Buddhist philosophers merit consideration not only as historical artifacts but as genuinely interesting and insightful contributors to live philosophical problems. It will likewise redress the preponderant exclusion of Chinese perspectives from philosophically-oriented scholarship in Buddhist studies, and do so in a manner that bridges it with philologically-oriented Buddhology. And by investigating both the transmission of Indian Buddhist thought into China and its transformation once established there, it will revise the standard chronology of Chinese Buddhist philosophy, theorize India-China as a globalized sphere of dynamic intellectual interaction within trans-cultural Asian studies, and inform scholarship on cultural appropriation and assimilation, enculturation, and acculturation – all from a distinctly non-Eurocentric perspective. Methodologically, CHINBUDDHPHIL will use synchronic hermeneutic-philosophical as well as diachronic text-historical methods.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon research and innovation programme (2022 Starting Grant agreement No 101077136).

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