No-self and the phenomenology of agency

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The Buddhists philosophers put forward a revisionary metaphysics which lacks a “self” in order to provide an intellectually and morally preferred picture of the world. The first task in the paper is to answer the question: what is the “self” that the Buddhists are denying? To answer this question, I look at the Abhidharma arguments (as presented in Chapter 9 of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa-bhāsya) for the No-Self doctrine and then work back to an interpretation of the self that is the target of such a doctrine. I argue that Buddhists are not just denying the diachronically unified, extended, narrative self but also minimal selfhood insofar as it associated with sense of ownership and sense of agency. The view is deeply counterintuitive and the Buddhists are acutely aware of this fact. Accordingly, the Abhidharma-Buddhist writings are replete with attempts to explain the phenomenology of experience in a no-self world. The second part of the paper reconstructs the Buddhist explanation using resources from contemporary discussions about the sense (or lack thereof) of agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-205
Number of pages19
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Abhidharma-Buddhism
  • No-self doctrine
  • Phenomenology of agency
  • Sense of agency

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