Vilius Dranseika (Vilnius University, Lithuania) “Psychological Essentialism in Selecting the 14th Dalai Lama: One More Alternative Account”


Eye-witness reports indicate that the 14th Dalai Lama was selected because when given a choice between several identical or similar objects (rosaries, canes, quilts), he chose the ones that belonged to the late 13th Dalai Lama and also handled those objects in a distinctive fashion (Wangdu 1941; Gould 1941). In a recent exchange (Bloom & Gelman 2008; White et al 2014) two alternative psychological accounts of the process of selecting the 14th Dalai Lama were offered. Paul Bloom and Susan Gelman proposed that common-sense psychological essentialism as applied to objects could explain the selection process. Claire White and her colleagues, on the other hand, claimed that common-sense psychological essentialism as applied to personal identity is a better explanation.

In this paper I present an alternative explanation. My claim is that attributing essentialization of personal identity to Buddhist bureaucrats is an uncharitable interpretation. It assumes “theological incorrectness” (Barrett 1998; Slone 2004) of the professionals where an alternative doctrinally acceptable interpretation is available. Namely, there is an alternative explanation that does not require the preservation of personal identity through reincarnation while still accepting preservation of contentful memory states. In Western philosophical terminology such states are called quasi-memories (Stalnaker 1970) – memories that do not presuppose personal identity between the current holder of those memories and the person who formed these memories. Assuming that there are detectable differences between the objects (either of usual or occult nature), nothing above the recognition of such quasi-memories is needed to account for the selection process. In particular, no assumption of personal identity.