Amit Chaturvedi: “Illusionism about consciousness in the ‘consciousness-only’ theory of Vasubandhu and Sthiramati” (Oct 28, 16:00 CEST)

Patrick McAllister's picture

The Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the Cultural and
Intellectual History of Asia is pleased to invite you to an online
lecture by Amit Chaturvedi:

“Is the mind a magic trick? Illusionism about consciousness in the
‘consciousness-only’ theory of Vasubandhu and Sthiramati”

Date and Time: October 28, 2021, 16:00--17:30 CEST

You need to register in advance for this lecture using the following


“Illusionists about consciousness boldly argue that phenomenal
consciousness does not fundamentally exist — it only seems to exist.
For them, the impression of having a private inner life of conscious
qualia is nothing more than a cognitive error, a conjuring trick put
on by the brain. Jay Garfield has recently endorsed illusionism about
consciousness by explicitly drawing support from the Yogācāra Buddhist
philosopher Vasubandhu. At first glance, this seems to fly in the
face of Vasubandhu’s defense of an idealist thesis that physical,
mind-independent objects cannot exist, and that fundamental reality is
just ‘consciousness only’ (cittamātra). But, Garfield points to a
more radical implication of Vasubandhu's Yogācāra commitments:
Abandoning the erroneous notion that consciousness presents a world
outside our minds also entails abandoning the illusion that there is
an inner subjectivity at all to which these objects are presented.

In this talk, I assess the degree to which Garfield’s illusionist
reading accurately captures Vasubandhu’s views in the Triṃś́ikā and
Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya, as well as Sthiramati’s comments thereon. As
it turns out, there are several striking parallels between
contemporary illusionists and Vasubandhu/Sthiramati, particularly
concerning their explanation of how unconscious, quasi-phenomenal
dispositions and sensations are cognitively constructed into
‘conscious’ representational states with apparently phenomenal
contents. Within their constitutive understanding of the mind as the
‘imagination of what is non-existent,’ I raise two candidates for what
might still seem to be real instances of consciousness — i.e.,
cognitive qualia and ‘intrinsic luminosity’ — and consider possible
responses on behalf of the illusionist interpretation. On balance, I
suggest that Vasubandhu and Sthiramati are not actually ‘strong’
illusionists who would deny the existence of phenomenality
wholesale. Thus, even given the extent to which they think that our
ordinary experience is massively illusory regarding ourselves and the
external world, they would qualify as illusionists about phenomenal
consciousness only in a ‘weak’ sense.”

Amit Chaturvedi is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the
University of Hong Kong. Currently, he is also a Visiting Fellow at
the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the Cultural and
Intellectual History of Asia.

For further information, visit

Categories: Announcement, Lecture
Keywords: Online Lecture