A Sellarsian solution for the self?


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The conflict between Buddhism and qualitative individualism is a major difficulty for my own philosophy. In addressing that conflict, there is one approach that has repeatedly stuck out at me. I don’t think it actually solves the problem, but it may be a step towards a solution.

That step is to build on the similarities between the Buddhist conventional/ultimate distinction and Wilfrid Sellars’s distinction between the manifest and the scientific image. Both of these dichotomies are focused on the human person or self: at the conventional (sammuti/vohāra) or manifest level, selves and their differences are real and important, and stories can be told; at the ultimate (paramattha) or scientific level, selves disappear, reduced to smaller particles that form a more fundamental level of explanation.

We may note here a key way that Sellars departs from at least Buddhaghosa’s Buddhism. He agrees with Buddhaghosa’s view that the ultimate/scientific level is an important respect truer than the conventional/manifest. But the further difference is very important: for Sellars, the manifest image is necessary for ethics (and probably aesthetics and politics.) Continue reading

Ten years of Love of All Wisdom


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I opened Love of All Wisdom to the public, with three first posts, on 1 June 2009. That was ten years ago today.

In the span of the history of philosophy, ten years is the blink of an eye. In the span of the blogosphere, however, ten years is an eternity. A lot happens in that time. Ten years ago, Instagram, Snapchat and Lyft did not exist; Uber, Airbnb, the Chrome browser and the Android operating system were less than a year old. Continue reading

Conventional teaching wrongly taken as an equal


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I demonstrated last time why Buddhaghosa believes the ultimate (paramattha) to be higher and truer than the conventional (vohāra or sammuti). But this is not to say that he finds the conventional unnecessary. Charles Hallisey rightly points out its value in his important “In defense of rather fragile and local achievement“. Hallisey notes that the conventional is essential for pedagogical purposes, and those purposes matter. The conventional is at least as important as the ultimate – but the ultimate, as I noted last time, remains truer. If it were not truer, there would be no need for it; the conventional would simply be superior, since it is more effective at teaching and persuading people.

In The Forerunner of All Things – a generally strong book of which I stand by my previous praise – Maria Heim claims that in that same article Hallisey argues “the Theravādins do not see ultimate (paramattha) teachings as truer than conventional (sammuti) teachings”, following this up with her own comment that “They have different purposes but are equally truthful ways of describing the world, and the Theravāda sources do not place them in a hierarchy.” (Forerunner 90)

But that is not quite what Hallisey says in the chapter at issue. Continue reading

Mere convention vs. seeing correctly


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Continuing my response to Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, I want to turn back now to the original point of contention with which our exchange first began: the role of conventional (sammuti/vohāra) and ultimate (paramattha) in Buddhaghosa’s thought. First and foremost, I am deeply puzzled by Ram-Prasad’s claim in his comment on my previous post that “Buddhaghosa does not use the locution ‘merely’ (matta) in reference to conventional language”, when one can find this passage on page 1094 of his and Heim’s own article:

At XVIII.28, [Buddhaghosa] says that “there comes to be the mere common usage of ‘chariot’” (ratho ti vohāramattaṃ hoti) from its parts but that an ‘examination’ (upaparikkhā) shows that ultimately there is no chariot.” Likewise, when there are the five aggregates of clinging, then there comes to be the mere common usage of ‘a being’, ‘person’”… Continue reading

Podcast interview on qualitative individualism


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Stefani Ruper interviewed me for her video podcast a while ago, and the interview is now live. It focuses on the topic of qualitative individualism, elaborating on ideas from my earlier series of posts. It gets into some topics that are a bit more intense than I’ve covered on the blog in recent years, but I’m pleased with it. Thanks to Stefani for this opportunity.

I’ve embedded the video above, so you can watch it here, and I also highly recommend you check out Stefani’s excellent philosophy podcast in general:

iTunes: http://stefaniruper.com/listen

Spotify: http://stefaniruper.com/listenspotify

Youtube: http://stefaniruper.com/watch

Stream & other outlets: http://stefaniruper.com/podcast



There is only name and form


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I now begin my responses to Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad on the thought of Buddhaghosa. Let me first reiterate a point I made early on: what I refuse is the interpretation that Buddhaghosa’s understanding of ultimate, conventional and the aggregates are merely phenomenological and not ontological. That is, I reject Heim and Ram-Prasad’s claim that “Buddhaghosa does not use abhidhamma as a reductive ontological division of the human being into mind and body, but as the contemplative structuring of that human’s phenomenology.” Emphasis added. I am not, and never was, denying a phenomenological element to Buddhaghosa’s ideas; I would have no objection to the claim that Buddhaghosa uses abhidhamma categories as both an ontological division of a human being and as a structuring of that human’s experience (contemplative or otherwise). As far as I can tell, the ontology/phenomenology distinction is not one that Buddhaghosa employs; in Heim and Ram-Prasad’s article I do not see any evidence that Buddhaghosa makes such a separation.

Indeed that very distinction of phenomenology from ontology seems to me to depend on a distinction between subject (the topic of phenomenology) and object (the topic of ontology). Such a split seems to me one that Buddhaghosa is unlikely to want to make, given his commitment to deconstruct the self/subject. And I think the refusal of such a split may be lent support by Heim and Ram-Prasad’s article itself, on points which I did not refer to because I suspect I am in agreement with them: namely, that Buddhaghosa makes no significant split between mind and matter. Continue reading

The importance of reading Buddhaghosa closely


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A while ago, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad made a thoughtful reply to the last of my post series on Buddhaghosa. I thank Ram-Prasad for that reply; I appreciate his willingness to engage with my rather cheeky attempt to reply to an article before it was even published. Now that his and Maria Heim’s article has reached publication (in Philosophy East and West 68(4), October 2018), I think it is time to take that reply back up again. Continue reading

On translating out of order


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Last time I expressed my gratitude and praise for Matthew Dasti and Stephen Phillips’s much-needed recent selective translation of the Nyāya Sūtras and commentaries. I stand by all of it – and also noted that the book drives me crazy.

Why? Dasti and Phillips made two decisions that I think are characteristic of an analytic approach to Indian texts. One was to publish selections and excerpts  – probably the right choice, as discussed last time. The second one, however, was to publish those selections entirely out of order. Continue reading

On new translations in Indian philosophy


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One of the immediate frustrations one faces in teaching Indian philosophy is that good translations are sorely lacking, certainly into English and I suspect into any Western language, perhaps even any non-Sanskrit language. A Source Book of Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, has been one of the most frequently used works since its publication – in 1957. Radhakrishnan and Moore have been dead for decades. And their work leaves much to be desired, filled with so many ellipses that one feels like one is reading Radhakrishnan’s and Moore’s ideas rather than those of the original authors; the ellipses are disruptive enough that the reader can spend more time wondering what was omitted than learning the original.

And yet with respect to some texts at least, Radhakrishnan and Moore still have yet to be surpassed. Continue reading

Does Aristotle believe in a monotheistic God?


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Many scholars of Aristotle regard him as a monotheistic theologian, one who sees humanity’s ultimate end as tied to a divine First Explanation. They do not go so far as to say Aristotle actually was an Abrahamic monotheist – that would be a very strange historical claim to make – but they see him as having anticipated that sort of monotheism in the fundamentals of his philosophy. The God at issue here would be very much the “God of the philosophers”, the God identified by medieval theologians from multiple Abrahamic traditions (ibn Rushd, Aquinas, Maimonides) who all considered themselves Aristotelians, and read Aristotle very much in this light. Their reading is shared by contemporary Aristotelian thinkers I greatly respect, like Alasdair MacIntyre and James Doull. This theistic approach to reading Aristotle, in short, has a long and noble pedigree.

Doull, for example, says that Aristotle’s unmoved mover, his originating metaphysical principle, turns out to be “a God who knows himself in natural necessity” (Philosophy and Freedom page 50). MacIntyre says of someone who reckons with the theoretical claims of “Aristotle and such Aristotelians as Ibn Roschd, Maimonides, and Aquinas” :

What their arguments will perhaps bring home to her is that her and their conception of the final end of human activity is inescapably theological, that the nature of her practical reasoning and of the practical reasoning of those in whose company she deliberates has from the outset committed her and them to a shared belief in God, to a belief that, if there is nothing beyond the finite, there is no final end, no ultimate human good, to be achieved. So she may complete her reasoning by discovering that what is at stake in her decisions in moments of conflict is the directedness of her life, if not toward God, at least beyond finitude. (Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity 55-6)

Yet their approach is also very strange just on the face of it. Continue reading

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