A Buddhist Debate and Its Contemporary Relevance

Project overview

This project is concerned with one of the central debates in Tibetan philosophy concerning truth, realism and epistemic justification. It begins with Daktsang Lotsawa's charge that Tsongkhapa, one of Tibet's most influential philosophers, was guilty of "18 great contradictions" in his presentation of the two truths (conventional and ultimate), and it then explores the responses by Tsongkhapa's followers up to the present day. It examines the implications of this debate for subsequent Tibetan thought and for contemporary Western analytic philosophy. 

At its heart is a fundamental dispute regarding how, given that the experience of our senses is mistaken with regard to the nature of the objects they perceive, is it possible to speak of "truth" in relation to sense data? What sort of epistemic warrant is required in order to have confidence in our understanding of the world? Can discussion of epistemic warrant even be made coherent given that according to Buddhist philosophy all ordinary experience is permeated by fundamental ignorance? 

These issues are also at the heart of much of Western philosophy, and our research seeks to place this aspect of Buddhist thought in conversation with global discussions of epistemic warrant and perceptual error.

How do we know what’s true? How can we prove it, given that sense data is often wrong? These are the big questions of this project.

Professor John Powers

Research Professor, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation

Our team

Chief Investigators
Professor John Powers
Dr Sonam Thakchoe, University of Tasmania

Professor Jay Garfield, Smith College, Harvard University
Doris Silbert Professor of Humanities

Dr Douglas Duckworth, Temple University

Professor José Cabezón, Dalai Lama Endowed Chair of Tibetan Buddhist Studies, University of California

Professor Tashi Tsering, Central University of Tibetan Studies, India

Emeritus Professor Geshe Yeshes Thabkhas, Central University of Tibetan Studies

Dr Thomas Doctor, Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Nepal

Project funding

This is an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP 160100947)