, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 43–58 | Cite as

What is Debate for? The Rationality of Tibetan Debates and the Role of Humor

  • Georges B. Dreyfus


In this essay, I examine the mode of operation and aim of debates in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. I contrast the probative form of argument that was privileged by the Indian tradition to the more agonic practice favored by Tibetan scholastics. I also examine the rules that preside over this dialectical practice, which is seen by the Tibetan tradition as essential to a proper scholastic education. I argue, however, that the practice of debates cannot be reduced to this dialectical model, for it has an important performative aspect not easily encompassed by the rules. I examine this aspect of Tibetan debates, focusing particularly on the role of humor. I conclude with a few remarks on the type of rationality entailed by the importance of humor and of other rhetorical elements involved in Tibetan debates.


Debate Tibetan Buddhism Rationality Humor Dialectics 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ReligionWilliams CollegeWilliamstownUSA

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