Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Ontology and Subjectivity in Gilles Deleuze and Dōgen Kigen

This research cross-culturally examines the particular ways both the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925 – 1995) and the Japanese Zen Buddhist master Dōgen Kigen (1200 – 1253) considered ontology and one's conception of subjectivity as concretely interwoven with the existential question of life and ethical questions of how one conceives and relates to the world and thereby chooses to act within the world, and consequently to the practical question of how these conceptions of the world and subject can be cultivated/transformed in order to host a stronger ethical awareness towards self and others.

The significance of ontology and metaphysics for such practical concerns for ethical self-cultivation or the "technology of the self" has been largely overlooked by the consequential course the major history of Euro-American philosophical debate had taken in the past several decades which had favoured a "linguistic turn" which shifted the focus of philosophical inquiry almost exclusively to epistemology and language with the expense of concern for practical philosophy and metaphysics.

In addition, the Euro-American philosophical tendency to distinguish and to harshly contrast matters of human experiences, aesthetics, values, worldviews from "rational" philosophical inquiry has also been instrumental in philosophy's walk away from the concerns of life and ethical practicality. In order to look beyond the limitations of the Euro-American course of philosophy, this research does not hope to settle with a mere comparison of two thinkers in the style of classicist Orientalist comparative philosophy, but rather through their co-insights, reinterpretation and synthesis, create a new perspective concerning the pragmatic utility of ontology in relation to a particular form of practical ethical philosophy that willingly transgresses the exclusivity of Euro-centric debates in philosophy via insights taken from Dōgen's Buddhism.

This "new perspective" on practical ethical philosophy or what I call “spiritual pragmatism” is based on the strong emphasis of a point evident in both Dōgen and Deleuze's thought, that is the fundamental realization that "what we think is what we are," in other words the way we come to perceive, conceive and decide about our selfhood, and the world is un-detachably co-influential on the way we come to nurture our ethical sensitivity and actions in the world.

Thus spiritual pragmatism conceives of ontology as not only involving the creation of worldviews and concepts, but inclusive of a pragmatic function as tools for actual self-transforming practices significant in perceiving the un-detachable nature of ethics and life through an emphasis on "technologies" of self-observance/critique to nurture the ability to constantly be able to observe, and evaluate those worldviews that have been left unproblematized in the self and others to which we have been habituated to accept through our socio-historical contingency to certain values and paradigms subsumed by power; to be able to continuously re-conceive of the world and self in ways that can more efficiently realize/maximize our life’s potentials in more ethical and happier ways other than the clichéd images of self and the world that has been reiterated as “common sense” under these past paradigms of power.

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