There is a destructive pattern of behaviour I’ve observed too often which, in an amateur psychological diagnosis, I have come to call the bodhisattva complex. I thought of this term as a friend of mine – a young medical resident – described the behaviours she observed among her fellow medical residents and doctors, who think nothing of working 24- or even 48-hour shifts in order to help people in their care. One wonders: what kind of patient wants to be treated by a man or woman who hasn’t slept in 48 hours?
When I refer to the bodhisattva complex, I do not mean that actual bodhisattvas – ideal Mahāyāna Buddhist beings – are psychologically unhealthy. Some might make that argument (Martha Nussbaum has done so, more or less), but I would not at all. Rather, the bodhisattva complex refers to something which I think is far more common than actual bodhisattvas: you suffer it if you believe you are a bodhisattva, but aren’t. (continue reading…)
I have written before about Eric Schwitzgebel’s studies suggesting that professors of ethics are no more ethical than anybody else. Now what does this finding mean? A while ago, Schwitzgebel reflected some more on these studies – and on the reactions he found to them. (This reaction was recently referred to on the Philosophy Bites podcast and even in the Manchester Guardian.) He pointed out:
Philosophers rarely seem surprised or unsettled when I present my work on the morality of ethicists — work suggesting that ethics professors behave no differently than other professors or any more in accord with their own moral opinions (e.g., here). Amusement is a more common reaction; so also is dismissal of the relevancy of such results to philosophy. Such reactions reveal something, perhaps, about the role philosophical moral reflection is widely assumed to have in academia and in individual ethicists’ personal lives.
I think Schwitzgebel is quite right that the reaction is telling. Few, I think, would be surprised to hear that ethicists aren’t especially ethical. But similarly few even seem to consider this a problem – and that is what troubles me. (continue reading…)
My previous two substantive posts, on Thomas Kasulis’s intimacy/integrity distinction, went in opposite directions from one another. Two weeks ago I noted how the intimacy/integrity distinction seems to divide into two separate distinctions – an ontological one of internal vs. external relation between things, and an epistemological one of affective somatic “dark” knowledge vs. public self-reflective knowledge. Kasulis writes as if internal relation and affective somatic knowledge are all part of the same complex and vice versa, but Hegel and the Pali Buddhist texts seem to cross these divides, such that the Pali literature places external relation with affective somatic knowledge and Hegel the opposite.
Last week, though, I aimed to show that the connection Kasulis assumes between these aspects is a real one. What I pointed out was that an internal relation between existent things implies an internal relation between knower and known, and that this implies an affective somatic kind of knowledge – as an external relation between things implies an external relation between knower and known, and therefore a public and self-reflective kind of knowledge.
But if this is so, what do we do with the exceptional cases of Hegel and the Pali literature, which seem to involve one but not the other? (continue reading…)
I’ve just got a new article published in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. It takes up a theme that emerged in my dissertation writing but didn’t quite fit with the broader idea of the dissertation. I’ve touched on it here a couple of times, especially in writing about Śāntideva’s anti-politics. In the article I go into more detail about Śāntideva’s rejection of political institutions, and why other writers have missed it – leading into it with the curious question of why Śāntideva advocates that his readers give gifts of sex, drugs and weapons.
One of the reasons I chose the online-only JBE for this publication is that they are, wonderfully, entirely open-access. That means absolutely anyone with an internet connection can read it, whether or not they have an academic affiliation. Have a look!
Last week I submitted Thomas Kasulis’s dichotomy of intimacy and integrity worldviews to critical scrutiny. I pointed out the distinction between the epistemological element on one hand, in which intimacy knowledge is somatic and affective while integrity is self-reflective and public, and the ontological element on the other, in which intimacy sees the world as composed of internal relations and integrity sees it as made up of external relations. I noted Hegel appears to have an intimacy ontology and an integrity epistemology, while the Pali Buddhist texts appear to be the opposite – suggesting that rather than speaking of intimacy and integrity as a unity, perhaps we should break them up.
And yet while one can separate the two elements of these ideal types in this way, I suspect that one shouldn’t – because they turn out to have a deep logical relation to each other. It is one that I think Kasulis tends to leave unstated, partially because he doesn’t split up these two elements in the first place. (continue reading…)
Regular readers will have seen how fruitful I have found Thomas Kasulis’s distinction between intimacy and integrity worldviews. So it is worth interrogating that distinction further and seeing how well the categories stand up to more careful scrutiny. The next couple weeks’ posts will in some respects follow my own thought process in trying to understand how robust the integrity/intimacy distinction turns out to be.
In explaining the distinction between the two, Kasulis breaks down the intimacy-integrity distinction into five main characteristics or features of each worldview:
- Intimacy is objective but personal; integrity emphasizes objectivity as public verifiability.
- In an intimate relation, self and other belong together in a way that does not sharply distinguish the two; integrity emphasizes external over internal relations.
- Intimate knowledge has an affective dimension; integrity emphasizes knowledge as ideally empty of affect.
- Intimacy is somatic as well as psychological; integrity emphasizes the intellectual and psychological as distinct from the somatic.
- Intimacy‘s ground is not generally self-conscious, reflective, or self-illuminating; integrity emphasizes knowledge as reflective and self-conscious of its own grounds. (Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity, pp. 24-5 and 32)
I have begun to think that one of these things is not like the others – but is also, perhaps for that reason, more important than the others. (continue reading…)
When I use concepts like intimacy and integrity and ascent and descent on this blog, I very often refer to them as ideal types. So far I have explained what that means mostly in passing, and it’s time to provide a bit more detail.
Credit for the concept of an ideal type must go to Max Weber, the early twentieth-century German historian who is now retroactively regarded as one of the founders of sociology. Weber identifies the concept in his long and thoughtful piece “‘Objectivity’ in social science and social policy”; its English translation (by Edward Shils and Henry Finch) is easily found in the short collection The Methodology of the Social Sciences, available free online. Weber’s point is to argue for theoretical constructs that – much like Platonic forms – allow us to understand empirical reality even if they are never instantiated in that reality. He takes as an example the abstract mathematical constructs that characterize twentieth-century economic theory: (continue reading…)
Last week I examined the theology of Marcion of Sinope, who believed – as did many other early Christians – that there existed two gods, one good and one evil. I argued that Marcion’s theology is an ingenious way for a Christian to make sense of the atrocities in the Hebrew Bible. But this week I want to argue that the appeal of such a theology goes well beyond the interpretation of scripture in the West. Rather, it is also a way to help us understand the world, if we are to take theism seriously. (continue reading…)
For Augustine, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, as we would say cold is no more than the absence of heat. Not every contemporary Christian follows this idea exactly, but the majority would surely agree that the goodness of God is supremely powerful, with evil (whether personified as Satan or not) significantly lesser.
It was not always this way. Many early Christian factions – most famously the Manicheans, but also the Marcionites and many Gnostics – believed that there were two warring gods, one good and one evil. (continue reading…)
Goenka, born in Burma, was a pioneer – really the pioneer – of what is now known as vipassanā meditation. This term vipassanā (usually translated “insight”) is found in the classical Pali texts, and so is the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta from which Goenka originally drew the meditation technique. Notably, though, the term vipassanā does not show up in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta itself. And that detail, I think, is telling about Goenka’s whole project.
I recall Goenka claiming, like many other contemporary Buddhist teachers, that what he was teaching was not new; it was just the teaching of the Buddha. That statement is not false exactly, but it’s not the whole truth. (continue reading…)