Antoine Panaïoti

Postes occupés

2010-2011 à 2011-2012 Chercheur-se postdoctoral-e,


I. General Research Interests

My principal academic interests cover both European and South-Asian intellectual history in relation to a cluster of philosophical issues at the crossroad between metaphysics and moral psychology. I am mainly interested in conceptions of the self, or ego, in both philosophical traditions and, more specifically, in controversies surrounding the ‘self’ as they relate to issues in moral psychology, but also in epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of language. I take a particular interest in the early Buddhist doctrine of anātmatā (‘lack of self’) and its development into the Classical Indian doctrine of universal svabhāvaśūnyatā (‘emptiness of essence’), and in analogous Western ‘no-self’ views (as may be found, for instance, in the work of David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and, more recently, Derek Parfit). My work at the CRÉUM focused on the relation between what I take to be a very common pre-reflective ontological commitment to the existence of one’s ‘self’ and the subject’s behaviour and attitudes, especially toward others (see ‘Current Research,’ below).

II. Academic Background and Teaching Experience

Between 2003 and 2006 I pursued a joint honours degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies at McGill University. In 2006 I received the McGill Faculty of Arts’ Moyse Travelling Scholarship as well as a Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Bursary, allowing me to take up a MPhil in South-Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. During this year of research, I worked on the Madhyamaka critique of essentialist ontology in the principal works of the 2nd-3rd century Classical Indian philosopher Nāgārjuna. In 2007, I was awarded a Gates Cambridge Trust Scholarship to complete a PhD at Cambridge under the co-supervision of Prof. Raymond Geuss of the Philosophy Faculty and Dr. Eivind Kahrs of the South-Asian Studies Department. Over the next three years, I worked on Friedrich Nietzsche’s engagement with early Indian Buddhism (see ‘Doctoral Research,’ below). During the 2009-2010 academic year, I held a Temporary Lectureship in Sanskrit and Classical Indian Literature and Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. In this role I taught the Intermediate Sanskrit class, read Classical Indian poetry and philosophical literature with students of the South-Asian Studies Department and presented an introductory lecture series on the History of Indian Philosophy in the Faculty of Philosophy. In 2010, I was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship to take up a two-year research position at the CRÉUM.

III. Doctoral Research

My PhD dissertation, The Bodhisattva and the Übermensch: Suffering and Compassion after the Death of God, is a piece of philologically grounded comparative philosophy on Nietzsche and Indian Buddhism. Many key features of Nietzsche’s thought reflect his engagement with and response to early Buddhism. In my dissertation, I set up a comparative framework to explore two key themes germane to both Nietzsche and Buddhist studies, namely that of suffering and that of compassion. The study is founded on the affinities between Nietzsche and early Indian Buddhism (which, in this context, stands for the early Buddhism of the Pāli Nikāyas and early Madhyamaka) with regard to the inexistence of the soul/self/ātman and the corollary rejection of substantialist metaphysics. The study culminates in a significant problematization of the Nietzschean life-affirmation/life-negation, or health/sickness, dichotomy involving new ways of understanding some aspects of Buddhist moral psychology and, of course, of understanding Nietzsche’s thought.

IV. Postdoctoral Research

Over the course of my tenure at the CRÉUM, I explored the psychology of compassion from the standpoint of no-self views as articulated in both Indian and Western philosophical circles. While contemporary philosophers have found much to write on the ethical implications of reductionism, especially since Derek Parfit developed a strong no-self view in Reasons and Persons (1984), the discussion has not as of yet turned toward the psychology of compassion. Parfit used his view that so called personal identity is, precisely, not a matter of identity, but only of relations of psychological continuity, to 1) defend consequentialism from the Rawlsian critique that it does not take the distinction between persons seriously enough and 2) advocate for such principles as paternalism and redistributive justice. An important part of the debate has since turned to the question of self-concern, with opponents of Parfit — consequentialist and non-consequentialist alike — claiming that the no-self view does not sit well with the special concern moral agents should have for themselves. Meanwhile, the closely connected question of the relation between no-self reductionism and concern for others has remained little explored. This is where it becomes interesting to consider the case of Buddhist philosophy. Indeed, my study of the Buddhist critique of the ego and of Buddhist moral psychology has led me to suspect that there is an intimate link between no-self views and the emphasis on the moral primacy of compassion and altruism so characteristic of Buddhist ethics. The hypothesis I explored is that an important feature reductionism might be, precisely, that it deflates the special concern for oneself so characteristic of typical human behaviour. An agent less ensconced in the ego-delusion, I suggest, may be an agent more capable of and prone to genuine altruism. I thus wish to shift the debate surrounding reductionism from ‘self-concern’ to ‘concern for others’. The goal, ultimately, is to develop a new theory of compassion, and especially of its psychology. More precisely, developped an account of the moral psychology of compassion founded upon the principle of no-self. I thus examined the possibility that a pre-reflective ontological commitment to the existence of the ‘self’ might affect human attitudes and behaviour toward oneself and others, and that the cultivation of genuine compassion might involve the in-depth revision of such a commitment.

Selected List of Publications

  • Panaïoti, A. (2006). Reductionism, Buddhism and the Myth of Personal Indentity: A Buddhist Response to Parfit’s Critics.” Philosophic Fragments 22: 6-20.
  • Panaïoti, A. (2009). “Wrong View, Wrong Action in Buddhist Thought.” Uneasy Humanity: Perpetual Wrestlings with Evils: 9-23. Edited by N. Norris and C. Balman. Oxford, Inter-Disciplinary Press.
  • Panaïoti, A. (2010). “Universalisme et droit international : une relation nécessaire ?” Les cahiers du Cérium. Edited by P.L. Déziel. Montréal, CÉRIUM:
  • Panaïoti, A. (in press). “Anātmatā, Moral Psychology and Soteriology in Indian Buddhism.” Puspikā: Tracing Ancient India through Text and Traditions. Contributions to Current Research in Indology. Volume I. Edited by N. Mirning. Oxford, Oxbow Book Press.