I was honoured to see Elisa Freschi’s post reviewing my recent article on Śāntideva’s metaphysics and ethics. I have a lot to say about both the post itself and the comment threads that followed it. I’ve said some of it in those threads already, but I’d like to pull them together and express a way they relate to more general ideas. Continue reading
The article is entitled “The Metaphysical Basis of Śāntideva’s Ethics“. Buddhists do a lot of theoretical philosophy that sometimes seems irrelevant to the project of freeing ourselves from suffering, and this article aims to show why it isn’t. I’ve been wanting to probe the theoretical foundations of ethics more, and this article is one exploration into that. I presented it at the SACP a few years ago and have now finally made it available. Have a look!
Last time I began exploring the history of the concept of rights (as in human or civil rights), through the works of Michel Villey and Brian Tierney. I noted that the concept as we now understand it has its roots in Latin ius, which had a meaning more like law and one’s proper share than like rights. How did this concept become the concept of individual rights that we now have today?
Villey lays the blame (and for him it is blame) on one key thinker, William of Ockham (or Occam). Continue reading
A while ago I referred to Śāntideva’s thought as “ethics without morality” – a deliberately provocative formulation based on Shyam Ranganathan’s eccentric definition of morality as that which conduces to anger. (I don’t agree with Shyam’s definition myself, but putting matters in those terms for the sake of argument helps us to make an interesting and important point.) The idea for Śāntideva is that because everything has a cause, no one is truly to blame for their actions, and therefore we should not get angry at them.
Mark Siderits, in a 2008 article in Sophia, has called this view “Buddhist paleo-compatibilism”: “compatibilism” meaning roughly that while Śāntideva thinks it morally significant that everything has a cause, he still thinks it appropriate to blame people for bad actions.
I don’t think that that is what Śāntideva means, based on a reading of the Sanskrit text of Bodhicaryāvatāra chapter six. I think Siderits reads a great deal into verse 32 that is not actually there, and that is at odds with Śāntideva’s explicit argument in verses 22-33. But I won’t expand on that particular point here, because overall I find the detailed textual argument less interesting than the more general constructive argument. Continue reading
In the previous two posts I tried to show how I came to the best definition I could find for ascent and descent. Namely, ascent is an attempt to transcend the particular human condition, in the name of a higher and better universal; descent is the attempt to embrace the particular human condition without regard to such a universal. This time I’m going to try to spell out just what I mean by that. Continue reading
For reasons I discussed last time, I’ve found it important to categorize philosophies using the ideal types of ascent and descent – but have not yet been able to specify them as clearly as an ideal type should be. I had thought I had drawn the concepts from Martha Nussbaum as well as Ken Wilber, but Nussbaum’s use of the ascent-descent dichotomy turned out to be implicit at most.
Wilber is not exactly clear on the topic himself. In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, the most systematic presentation of his ideas, he does not offer a definition as such. He does present us with a more detailed description of what he’s getting at, speaking of the movements of a quasi-Hegelian Spirit (with a capital S): Continue reading
A strange coincidence surprised me as I designed this spring’s course in Indian philosophy – but one that I suspect is quite significant. The coincidence resulted from three of my primary concerns in selecting content for the course syllabus, and I’ll start with those. One of those was, whenever possible, to focus on primary texts – texts actually written by Indian philosophers.
A second primary concern was to stress the connections between theoretical and practical philosophy. Too often, Indian epistemology and metaphysics are seen as purely abstract activities with little relation to one’s ethical conduct or even one’s ultimate liberation, and Indian reflection on practical matters is taken to have little background in that theoretical work (as in Damien Keown’s needlessly pessmistic reflection that there is no such thing as Buddhist normative ethics). It is no wonder that Indian philosophy is so little studied when even those who study it sometimes think its questions tend not to edification.
My reading of Śāntideva convinced me that this is absolutely not the case. Metaphysics is a pervasive concern of his most celebrated text (and one of the most widely read works of Buddhist ethics), the Bodhicaryāvatāra – not only in the ninth chapter, which focuses on it, but in the other more widely read chapters as well. (I gave a talk on this topic at the SACP a few years ago, and am planning on expanding it into a paper for publication soon.) I have come to believe that this is the case more widely in Indian philosophy as well. It’s not always easy to see what the practical implications of Indian theoretical thought are, but I think that they are there, and it was hugely important to me that my course bring them out.
My final primary concern was to bring in modern Indian philosophy, in order to excite student interest and let them know it is not a dead tradition. 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
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