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Buddhism as Philosophy - PHI00139H

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jamie Buckland
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This module introduces students to the study of Buddhism as philosophy. In particular, students will consider the ethical, metaphysical, and epistemological implications of the central teachings of the Buddha and associated Buddhist traditions.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

  • To explore some key philosophical issues in Buddhism.

  • To provide a research-led approach to understanding and participating in contemporary debates in Buddhist philosophy.

  • To develop students' abilities to apply philosophical concepts, views, and arguments, in order to advance the understanding of intellectual problems.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should be able to explain:

  • Key teachings of the Buddha and the major schools of Buddhism.

  • The philosophical problems they give rise to.

  • Assess whether these problems can be solved using the concepts, views, and arguments of analytic Western philosophy.

Students should be able to evaluate these solutions using a cost/benefit analysis with reference to Buddhist scripture, tradition, and reason (philosophical, scientific, and other secular sources of knowledge). Finally, students should be able to argue for their preferred solution, or that there is no satisfactory solution.

Students should be able to explain the concepts, views, and philosophical material. They should be able to critically engage with these concepts, views, and arguments, and defend their own position.

Module content

The module will explore issues associated with Buddhism as philosophy. In this module, we will:

  • Explore arguments for the claim that there is no self, and that the person is a conceptual fiction.

  • Examine ethical consequences of Buddhist reductionism about persons.

  • Study the formal structure of Buddhist ethical theory, and whether or not it can be said to align with any Western traditions (e.g., utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics).

  • Look into the metaphysics and epistemology of the Nyaya School of orthodox Indian philosophy and consider the metaphysics of ‘empty persons’.

  • Examine the Mahayana tradition as distinct from Abhidharma.

  • Examine Yogacara arguments for the non-existence of physical objects, the soteriological consequences, and explore arguments for the claim that all things are empty and how that should be understood

  • Consider Dinnaga’s account of the means of knowledge and its metaphysical and epistemological implications.


Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • Students will receive verbal feedback on formative work via a one-to-one meeting (either via Zoom or in-person once the world is normal again). Written feedback will be provided for those who request it specifically.
  • Written feedback on summative work will be available within four weeks of submission. There will also be the opportunity to discuss this feedback verbally.

Indicative reading

  • Siderits, M. [2007] Buddhism as Philosophy. Ashgate.

  • Carpenter, A. [2014] Indian Buddhist Philosophy. Routledge

  • Garfield, J. L. [2015] Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy. OUP

  • Gowans, C. W. [2003] Philosophy of the Buddha. Routledge.

  • Edelglass, W. & Garfield, J. L. [2009] Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings. OUP

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.