Dalhousie Chinese Studies, in conjunction with the King’s EMSP/CTMP/HSTC course “Asia & the West: Centuries of Dialogue,” presents a public lecture by Dr. Douglas Berger on “Degrees of Willing: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Buddhist Thought.” The lecture will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 4:05 pm in the KTS Lecture Room and will be followed by a reception.


Both nineteenth century German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, though for different reasons, took the early South Asian tradition of Buddhist thought as a serious challenge to prevailing trends of philosophy in the West. Given the centrality of the notion of will in both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, their assessments of Buddhism focused on what they believed was the Buddhist orientation toward willing. Schopenhauer, who went as far as to call himself a Buddhist late in his life, took early Buddhism, through its ascetic practices and ideas of “nothingness,” to represent a perfect example of his own pessimistic advocacy of the ultimate “denial of the will to live” in our ever-contested and violent world. Though Nietzsche agreed with Schopenhauer’s “life-denying” representation of Buddhism, and though Nietzsche admired what he took to be Buddhism’s “a-moralistic” and “atheistic” perspectives, he sought for a formula of ultimate “life-affirmation” and warned against the onset of a new “European nihilistic Buddhism.” In this discussion, we will examine Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s assessment of the role of willing in Buddhist philosophy and practice, as well as ask how a Buddhist might, in response, evaluate Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s systems.

Speaker bio:

Douglas L. Berger is Professor of Comparative Philosophy and Director of the Centre of Intercultural Philosophy at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has written dozens of essays on South Asian and East Asian traditions of philosophy and cross-cultural theories of interpretation, as well as two monographs, ‘The Veil of Maya:’ Schopenhauer’s System and Early Indian Thought (Global Academic Publications, 2004) and Encounters of Mind: Luminosity and Personhood in Indian and Chinese Thought (SUNY Press, 2015). He has also co-edited, with JeeLoo Liu, an important collection of essays entitled Nothingness in Asian Philosophy (Routledge, 2014) and is the current editor of the University of Hawai’i book series Dimensions of Asian Spirituality. He has also served as the former president of the international Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy. He had the privilege of being a Visiting Faculty at both King’s College (2014-15) and Dalhousie University (2012, 2014-15) in Halifax and is always happy to return to Nova Scotia.