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Global Philosophy Research Interest Group Talk (Sean M. Smith, Hawai’i)

Thursday September 7, 2023, 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

The Global Philosophy Research Interest Group is delighted to welcome as guest speaker Sean M. Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Dr. Smith earned both a bachelor’s and a doctoral degree at the University of Toronto. His research is focused on the intersection of Indian Buddhist philosophy (with a particular emphasis on the Pāli tradition) and contemporary philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and moral psychology. Specifically, his work addresses the connection between embodied affect, consciousness, and attention. In particular, he is trying to understand how affective biases shape perceptual salience and what kind of normative obligations we might be under in light of that shaping process. Other related interests include pain and suffering, animal consciousness, and the nature of the self. His research has been published in the Journal of Indian PhilosophySophiaReview of Philosophy and Psychology, and Philosopher’s Imprint. Dr. Smith was the recipient of the 2022 College of Arts, Languages & Letters Excellence in Teaching Award at UH Mānoa.

Talk Title

Pain, Suffering, and the Time of Life: A Buddhist Philosophical Analysis

Talk Abstract

In this paper, I explore how our experiences of pain and suffering structure our experience over time. I argue that pain and suffering are not as easily dissociable, in living and in conceptual analysis, as philosophers have tended to think (Klein 2015). Specifically, I do not think that there is only a contingent connection between physical pain and psychological suffering. Rather, physical pain is partially constitutive of existential suffering. That is, when one experiences physical pain, one endures suffering of an existential sort. The argument I will defend in this paper is as follows:

  1. Pains are homeodynamic affects.
  2. Homeodynamic affects have horizonal and not just object intentionality.
  3. Homeodynamic affects are partially constitutive of existential suffering.
  4. Pains have horizontal intentionality and are partially constitutive of existential suffering.

I begin with some reasons for the claim that pains are homeodynamic affects. I then explore what Indian Buddhist philosophers have to say about the problem of pain and suffering, focusing on the work of Buddhaghosa, Vasubandhu, and the Pāli sutta material. I note the fluid way in which these concepts seem to shade into each other and how this conceptual blending is philosophically informative rather than a case of sloppy thinking (Gomez 2007). I then argue that pain’s intentional structure is informative, it tells us something about the world, which supports the second premise of my main argument. I then argue for premise three by claiming that it is very difficult to distinguish between pain and suffering when we understand pain as a homeodynamic feeling and take seriously the larger role that I interpret Buddhist philosophers as affording homeodynamic feeling in making us suffer. I conclude with some thoughts on what it might mean for a Buddhist to achieve the eradication of suffering. This is important because even fully liberated beings still feel physical pain. So, Buddhist views on the possibility of physical pain without suffering in the case of a fully liberated person constituted a prima facie objection to the view I will defend. I address this concern at the end of the paper.


The Global Philosophy Research Interest Group explores the benefits of drawing on diverse traditions of thought in approaching philosophical questions. These include novel insights into familiar problems, new questions and research directions, and fresh methodologies. We work to deprovincialize and decolonize all aspects of philosophy in the academy. The group currently has strengths in Sanskrit philosophy, and Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy in English, and classical Islamic philosophy.



Thursday September 7, 2023
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
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Global Philosophy Research Interest Group


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170 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2M8 Canada
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