Does Time Flow? Stuart Kurtz, PhD @ The New York Academy of Sciences, flr 40
Apr 1 @ 1:15 pm – 3:00 pm

Physicists and philosophers question the validity of one of the most observed and seemingly obvious appearance in our world: that time flows. Many in the physics and philosophy communities contend that the flow of time is not a fundamental feature of the world, nor even a fact of the world, but is an illusion. As a case in point, we will consider Brian Greene’s view of time in his PBS exposition “The Elegant Universe” holding that time may not flow, the past may not be gone, the future may already exist, and that now is not special. Most people, as observers of time’s passage, might agree with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who expressed the idea that all is change and that change occurs with the flow of time. I will explore some of the motivation and reasons given for these positions and contrast the arguments made for each viewpoint.

The schedule: a short presentation on topic of 3-D Printing, and then Stuart’s presentation for about 1 hr. plus time for questions.  It is necessary to register beforehand to be admitted.

CV: Stuart Kurtz graduated from MIT with an SB in Chemical Engineering and from Princeton with an MS degree in Polymer Engineering and an MA and PhD. in Chemical Engineering.  He taught at RPI and in Brazil as Professor Titular in Materials Engineering.  This was followed by a research career in industry accumulating around 30 patents and publishing at least a few good papers.   He now focuses on Philosophy of Science and Physics and climbing mountains because they are there. He has spoken to the Lyceum Society many times; most recently in January, 2018  he spoke on the topic: Lessons from Science Lysenko, Velikovsky and the Demarcation Problem; In February, 2018 he spoke on Geoengineering for Climate Change Mitigation.  In December, 2018 he reviewed the Nobel Prize in Physics for that year.

Buddhism and Politics in Korea @ International Affairs Building, Room 918
Nov 8 @ 1:00 pm – 5:30 pm


“Giving as Spending and Spending as Giving: Buddhism and the Politics of Spending during the Chosŏn Dynasty”
Juhn Ahn, University of Michigan

The impact of the Koryŏ-Chosŏn transition on the Buddhist establishment in Korea is generally understood in current scholarship to have been a negative one. It is all too often assumed that Buddhist monasteries, who enjoyed great economic prosperity under Koryŏ’s culture of giving, were forced to undergo a radical reduction in size and number and their wealth confiscated to replenish the empty royal fisc. There is also a tendency to assume that this systematic restructuring of the Buddhist establishment, often dubbed its “decline,” was orchestrated and executed by a small group of reform-minded Neo-Confucian scholar-officials who saw Buddhism as an economic parasite and cause of unnecessary spending. It is true that the Buddhist establishment never again enjoyed the kind of wealth that it once did during the Koryŏ, but this paper argues that we should not take this as a sign of decline or the necessary outcome of state suppression. Instead, this paper will turn its attention to the politics of spending that continued to shape and reshape the Chosŏn court and show that the politics of spending provided the Buddhist establishment with an opportunity—an opportunity that it did in fact use—to redefine the conditions of its existence.

“Court Lady Ch’ŏn Ilch’ŏng (1848 – 1934) in the Making of Modern Korean Buddhism”
Hwansoo Kim, Yale University

In this talk, I will introduce the work of a forgotten Korean Buddhist laywoman who served as one of the highest-ranking ladies in the court of the late Chosŏn dynasty. I will demonstrate that Court Lady Ch’ŏn (1848 – 1934) was as integral to modernizing Korean Buddhism during the pre-colonial and colonial era as the Korean Buddhist monastics with whom she worked. By examining Ch’ŏn’s seminal role in the incipient stage of modern Korean Buddhism, the history of female Buddhist leadership can be extended.

Ch’ŏn primarily worked with the Korean monk and leader Yi Hoegwang (1862-1933), drawing on a wide network of relationships both inside and outside the court to help him establish the first modern institution of Korean Buddhism, build the first modern temple in central Seoul, and open a Buddhist clinic. However, because Yi was later condemned by historiography as the worst of Buddhists who had collaborated with Korea’s colonizer, Ch’ŏn’s leadership and legacy were likewise stigmatized and sidelined. This talk seeks to restore Ch’ŏn’s centrality as a Buddhist modernizer, thereby giving balance to a largely male-centered and ethno-centric history and lengthening the lineage of lay female leadership in the transformation of Korean Buddhism in the early twentieth century.

“Buddhism and State Violence in Modern Korea”
Jin Y. Park, American University

Historically, Korean Buddhism has been known as “State Protection Buddhism” (護國佛敎). The seemingly positive character of this description also points to the limitations of Korean Buddhism’s role in the broader context of society. A state should exist to protect its members, but history has witnessed that the state can and did exercise its power against its members. Which members did the Korean government support, and which were sacrificed in the process? What role did Korean Buddhism play in the unfolding of that history?

This presentation deals with Buddhism’s response to state violence in modern Korea. Through an analysis of a specific instance of state violence and Korean Buddhism’s response, the presentation tries to gauge Korean Buddhism’s capacity to engage with the socio-political milieu of human existence.

Co-sponsored by
The Academy of Korean Studies, Seoul Korea; Weatherhead East Asian Institute; the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures; The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; The Department of Religion;  The Center for Buddhism and East Asian Religion

A Case against Simple-mindedness: Śrīgupta on Mental Mereology. Allison Aitken, Columbia @ Faculty House, Columbia U
May 13 @ 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm


Welcomes you to an IN-PERSON meeting:

Allison Aitken (Columbia University)

« A Case against Simple-mindedness: Śrīgupta on Mental Mereology »

With responses from Alexander Englert (Princeton University)

ABSTRACT: There’s a common line of reasoning which supposes that the phenomenal unity of conscious experience is grounded in a mind-like simple subject. To the contrary, Mādhyamika Buddhist philosophers beginning with Śrīgupta (seventh-eighth century) argue that any kind of mental simple is incoherent and thus metaphysically impossible. Lacking any unifying principle, the phenomenal unity of conscious experience is instead an ungrounded illusion. In this talk, I will present an analysis of Śrīgupta’s “neither-one-nor-many argument” against mental simples and show how his line of reasoning is driven by a set of implicit questions concerning the nature of and relation between consciousness and its intentional object. These questions not only set the agenda for centuries of intra-Buddhist debate on the topic, but they are also questions to which any defender of unified consciousness or a simple subject of experience arguably owes responses.

Buddhist Conventional Truth and Ontological Pluralism. Laura P. Guerrero (William & Mary) @ Faculty House, Columbia U
Sep 30 @ 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

With responses from Mark Siderits (Illinois State University)

ABSTRACT: Buddhist philosophers often draw a distinction between two different kinds of truth: conventional truth (saṃvṭi-satya) and ultimate truth (paramārtha-satya). Abhidharma Buddhists philosophers typically understand this distinction in terms of an ontological distinction between two different kinds of entities: ultimately real entities (paramārtha-sat) and conventionally real entities (saṃvṛti-sat). Similar to contemporary philosophical discussions about ordinary objects, Buddhist philosophers debate the ontological status of conventional entities and the semantics of discourse concerning them. Mark Siderits (2015, 2021, 2022) has influentially argued for an eliminitivist position he calls “Buddhist reductionism” that interprets the Abhidharma position as one that denies conventional entities exist but that retains discourse involving apparent reference to them. However, in a recent article Kris McDaniel (2019), a prominent defender of ontological pluralism, challenges that view by proposing that the Abhidharma Buddhist distinction between conventional truth and ultimate truth be “defined up” from a more basic distinction between two different ways an entity can exist: conventionally or ultimately. In this paper I argue that Saṃghabhadra’s account of conventional reality and truth does lends itself well to McDaniel’s proposal but I will also argue that the account of conventional and ultimate truth that results differs in important ways from the models he offers. I will end by offering a modification of McDaniel’s account of conventional truth that is derived from Saṃghabhadra’s pluralist ontology. That view will, unlike the views suggested by both Siderits and McDaniel, allow for there to be ultimate truths about what is conventionally true.


Dinner will be kindly offered by the Columbia University Seminars. 

RSVP is required for dinner. Please email Lucilla with eating requirements at lm3335@columbia.edu. 

How to nurture compassion? Some lessons from Asian philosophical traditions. Sin Yee Chan (U Vermont) @ Faculty House, Columbia U
Oct 14 @ 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

With responses from Timothy Connolly (East Stroudsburg University)

ABSTRACT: Recent philosophical discussions on compassion focus on the value and the nature of compassion as an emotion. Ancient Asian philosophical traditions such as Confucianism and Buddhism, however, emphasize compassion as a character trait that should be nurtured. This paper examines the insights drawn from these traditions to help inform the nurturing of compassion. For example, is empathy a necessary tool?  What is the role of love and care?  Does self-reflection contribute to the process?


Dinner will be kindly offered by the Columbia University Seminars. 

RSVP is required for dinner. Please email Lucilla with eating requirements at lm3335@columbia.edu. 

Philosophy of Crisis and a Question of Solidarity. Jin Y. Park (American) @ Faculty House, Columbia U
Mar 3 @ 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic is said to be a once-in-a-century incident, and it brought to us a sense of crisis at various levels. What is a crisis, though? Can any unnerving moment or period be called a crisis, or are there different dimensions of a crisis to which we need to be attentive? Is solidarity possible after experiencing a crisis like Covid-19? Can Buddhism make any contribution to facilitating solidarity? This presentation explores the meaning and nature of a crisis and our responses to it by drawing on modern Korean political thinker Pak Ch’iu’s (1909–1949) analysis of crisis and feminist-Buddhist thinker Kim Iryŏp’s (1896–1971) Buddhist philosophy. By doing so, this presentation considers what social, political, existential, and even religious meaning we can draw from our experience of crises, and what questions these insights present to us.

With responses from Karsten Struhl (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY)


RSVP is required for dinner. If you would like to participate in our dinner, a $30 fee is required. Please contact Lucilla at lm3335@columbia.edu for further information.