The term people of colour has been around since at least the 1980s, but in those days it was typically treated as something of a joke, a silly prettified euphemism. In the 2010s, in the US at least, it has now become a widely used term to group together people who are not racially white. This may be in part for the valid reason that the old term “minorities” is no longer appropriate, given that in some places like California and Texas, white people are now themselves a minority. Nevertheless, I do not think that the adoption of “people of colour” is a good thing. Continue reading
As mindfulness meditation practices become ever more popular and widespread, their claim to be a “non-sectarian technique” takes on progressively greater importance, just as it does with yoga. By claiming their practices to be secular techniques, teachers not only can promote the practices to adherents of Abrahamic traditions; they can also aim to avoid the legal restrictions placed on “religion” –though they can then also be taxed, and even treated as a competitive sport.
But that’s not the only problem. Continue reading
The term mindfulness is ubiquitous in English-language discussions of Buddhism – and beyond, in secular meditation techniques. When I first encountered Buddhism in Thailand, the English word “mindfulness” was central to my understanding of the tradition. My journals in 1997 described mindfulness as “the Buddhist virtue”, and identified it with “detachment from negative emotions, the ability to sit back and go ‘Y’know, there’s really no reason to be pissed off about this here.’” It was not a word I encountered anywhere outside my own study of the tradition.
Seventeen years later, I realized that “mindfulness” had become mainstream when my hospital had prescribed mindfulness meditation for my insomnia. It has already become considerably more mainstream in the few years since. A couple years ago I participated in a new and popular mindfulness program through my employer, Boston University. I should stress that this program had nothing to do with the religion or philosophy departments, the Center for the Study of Asia, the Buddhist students’ organization, or any other such Buddhism-related part of the university. No, it was offered through Information Services and Technology, as part of my day job assisting professors to teach with technology – whether they are professors of chemistry, public health, hospitality administration, or anything else. Continue reading
I am not entirely sure that I agree with the argument I am about to make. However, I do find it at least plausible and I have not seen it made before. I think this argument is worth somebody making, and I think it is worth doing here.
That is: I would like to make a Buddhist argument against rebirth. An argument against rebirth on Buddhist grounds. Continue reading
20th century, academia, Catharine MacKinnon, gender, Georg Simmel, Hans-Georg Gadamer, identity, Immanuel Kant, interview, John Locke, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Monty Python, music, qualitative individualism, race, Romanticism, Stefani Ruper, United States, virtue ethics
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:
Stream & other outlets: http://stefaniruper.com/
20th century, Anthony Woodiwiss, autobiography, Charles Taylor, Existential Comics, generations, Jayant Lele, Jim Wilton, Karl Marx, modernity, qualitative individualism, Students for a Democratic Society, United States
When I first started reading Charles Taylor on qualitative individualism in my 20s, my Marxist father complained that Taylor paid too little attention to material conditions. I didn’t really get the criticism at the time, but I do now, for reasons that go well beyond reading and writing.
Taylor’s discussion of qualitative individualism (or “expressivism” or the “ethics of authenticity”) takes place largely in the realm of ideas, as mine also has so far. I have tried to trace the history of the ideas of qualitative individualism. But such a history is incomplete. Continue reading
What name should we give the ethical ideal I spoke of last time, the pervasive idea that you should “be yourself, no matter what they say”? The answer to that question isn’t easy.
I initially started thinking of this ideal simply as “Romantic”. But “Romantic”, with a capital R let alone a small one, refers to a range of ideals considerably wider than this. I asked my friend Andrew Warren, a Romanticism expert, to define Romanticism, and he responded that Romanticism resists definition. (I recall him once having given the stronger answer that “Romanticism is that which resists definition”, though that isn’t his own recollection.) Continue reading
My project on disengaged Buddhism has now been submitted to a journal. It’s undergone several revisions by this point. One of the most important such revisions was suggested unanimously by BU’s magnificent CURA seminar. In an earlier draft I had attempted to emphasize the contemporary constructive significance of disengaged Buddhism by noting how its ideas were corroborated by some contemporary psychological research. The seminar participants thought that discussion of psychology did not strengthen the paper because I didn’t have the space to defend them fully; the paper would stand best discussing disengaged Buddhists’ claims in their historical context and letting those claims stand on their own.
I think they were right, and I removed the psychology discussion from the paper – a little sadly, as I thought the psychological case for disengaged Buddhism was worth making. Fortunately, I have another place to make it: here. Continue reading
Last time I looked to find a middle ground in philosophy of science, between Francis Bacon’s historically untenable inductivism and Paul Feyerabend’s irrationalism. I noted then that I think Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos all attempt to stake out a position somewhere in this ground, with varying degrees of sucess. I turn to them now.
Karl Popper rightly acknowledges the scientific importance of fallibilism and uncertainty: science is powerful not because its conclusions can be proved right, but because it can acknowledge when they are proved wrong. Popper notes that science in practice advances more by falsification than by induction: the role of empirical data is not to ground generalizations, but rather to disconfirm them. One can legitimately formulate a theory in abstraction that says all swans must be white; the important thing is that one reject it when one observes a black swan.
But Popper’s critique of inductivism does not go far enough. Continue reading
I have found myself thinking more and more lately about the philosophy of science, and finding it increasingly important for the rest of philosophy. There are multiple reasons for this. Perhaps the most important is simply the prestige (or normative weight) we attach to scientific knowledge, a prestige I take to be deserved. I would agree that to the extent that it is fair to say that “science has established” that human consciousness is not reborn after death, then it is true that human consciousness is not reborn after death. Science, in that respect, is what classical Indian philosophers would have called a pramāṇa, a reliable means of knowledge.
A second, related, reason is that it turns out that that very nature of something’s being scientifically established turns out on closer glance to be quite complex, itself its own kind of philosophical question – and one with bearing on philosophical questions well outside the natural sciences. Studies of the history of science – what science has actually been in practice, not what it is supposed to be in theory – show us a process much messier than an account in the standard mold of “build your theory by generalizing from the empirical evidence”. Often the theoretical insight comes first and the observations supporting it come only later. So Copernicus built his heliocentric model mathematically and only later would Galileo demonstrate it with a telescope, just as Einstein began with an “intuition” of the theory of relativity that was only later empirically verified. The way actual science – including the science of our greatest scientific heroes – has proceeded, turns out to be considerably messier than the standard account tells us it is supposed to be.