Kwan Tze-wan , The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Phenomenological Distinctions and the Buddhist Doctrine of Two Truths

This paper attempts to put two separate issues into contrast: “phenomenological distinctions” and “Buddhist doctrine of two truths.” Why should we precisely compare these two? This is because they are the most fundamental distinctions with important bearings on the ultimate concerns respectively of phenomenology and Buddhism, and a parallel treatment of them might reveal theoretical subtleties that are otherwise not readily manifestable. Instead of being a comparison of contents, what is at stake in this paper is a comparison of forms. The paper starts with a brief account of the various attempts of the Buddhist distinction of Two Truths. It is shown that the distinction itself is mainly of heuristic value, the purpose of which is to lead people to the expedient insight that the two truths, if understood separately, could easily fall prey to the two “extremes”; the two truths should rather be combined to yield the “first truth of the middle way.” The paper then proceeds to a brief discussion of major conceptual distinctions put forth by Kant, Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger, or four “phenomenologists” in a very broad sense of the term. By comparing the different strategies behind these distinctions (and by way of the formal comparison with the Buddhist distinctions), this paper argues that while the strongly subjectivistic philosophies of Hegel/Husserl on the one side and the “tautological” thinking of the late Heidegger on the other might constitute two “extreme” philosophical positions, it is the more modest Kantian approach of empirical-transcendental dualism that manages to approximate most closely the philosophical position of the “middle way.” On this ground the author argues for the sustained value of the Kantian program in the face of criticisms launched by his influential epigones.

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