I was delighted to see Justin Whitaker responding to my post on the Sigālovāda Sutta – both in a comment and in a separate post of his own. Justin and I first found each other long ago over our shared interest in Pali Buddhist ethics, and he was one of my more frequent interlocutors in the early days of Love of All Wisdom, so it’s great to see him back around. I recall Justin citing the Sigālovāda favourably several times in earlier conversations, so perhaps it’s not surprising that my broadside against it is what brought him out of the woodwork!Continue reading
The Sigālovāda Sutta might be my least favourite sutta in the Pali Canon.
There is relatively little that the Pali texts say on “ethics” in a modern Western sense of interpersonal action-guiding; much of the specific instructions on action are found in vinaya, legal texts for the conduct of monks. The Sigālovāda is relatively unusual in providing guidance for action to lay householders. For that reason, a number of secondary writers on Buddhist ethics regard it as as a valuable guide for Buddhist ethical conduct.
I do not.Continue reading
It appears that the trolley problem is, as they say, having a moment. Possibly due to its newfound relevance to autonomous cars and other robots – a relevance that would have been entirely science-fictional when Philippa Foot formulated the modern version of the problem in 1967 – it is now making multiple appearances in popular culture. In that respect it is a notable counterpoint to the claim I made years ago that analytic philosophy doesn’t make for good visual media.
Two years ago I noted how the problem is the focus of an excellent episode of Michael Schur’s The Good Place. The Wikipedia entry on the trolley problem lists several other appearance from the past decade. Perhaps most entertainingly of all, the writers of the webcomic Cyanide and Happiness have released a hilarious party game (in the matching style of Apples To Apples or Superfight) called Trial By Trolley.
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
In the previous post I noted that I am completely unimpressed by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty. What I know of the rest of his work, at least the Philosophical Investigations, has done little to impress me either. (Most of what I read serves to convince me more strongly that he is wrong.)
I suppose I’ve long been predisposed against Wittgenstein because of the unfortunate ways his thought is used in religious studies. Continue reading
In the past few years I’ve become involved in live-action role-playing (usually known by the acronym LARP, or “LARPing”): a cross between long-form improv theatre and tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. This hobby is often maligned, partially because it looks very strange to those not involved (especially on video), and partially because of its association with the kind of intelligent but socially awkward “geeky” subcultures that develop around Star Trek, comic books, collectible card games, Japanese animation and the like. But as I’ve been a part of those subcultures all my life, this is hardly a barrier to my participation. (I hope you didn’t expect that someone who blogs about Sanskrit philosophical texts was one of the popular kids in high school.)
LARPing for me is genuinely a hobby. It’s not an avocation, a “neither career nor hobby” passion like I intend this blog to be; it’s just for fun. Still, lately I’ve been noticing its philosophical implications, largely because of a splendid game I play called Seven Virtues. Continue reading
A little while ago, I wrote about the paradoxes of hedonism and consequentialism: if you try too hard to be happy, it may stop you from being so; more generally a belief in always achieving the best consequences may itself stop you from achieving the best consequences. I said a little bit in the earlier post about Peter Railton‘s defence of consequentialism in spite of this paradox, but there’s more to be added. I’ve talked before about how consequentialism requires us to lie to ourselves; Railton is rightly concerned with the further problem that consequentialism requires us to lie to ourselves about consequentialism.
Railton distinguishes between “subjective” and “objective” consequentialism, which works something like the distinction between act- and rule- utilitarianism. A subjective consequentialist examines each decision according to the question “which action in this case will bring about the best overall consequences?” and acts accordingly. The subjective consequentialist, according to Railton, can be subject to a paradox: a person who always thinks this way may actually end up with worse consequences. (A possible example: each time one lies to murderers at the door may individually seem like it produces a better consequence, but if one does it repeatedly, one may no longer be believed, in a way that makes one less likely to achieve future good results.) An objective consequentialist tries to get around the paradox by following the pattern of behaviour that would on the whole bring about the best consequences, even if that means not thinking about each action in consequentialist terms.
Railton gives a helpful example of a simpler case that, I think, both illustrates and undermines his point: Continue reading
Heath White of PEA Soup has an interesting new post up called The Ethics of Santa. White argues that parents and educators should not teach their children the myth of Santa Claus, for three major reasons:
- It involves a lot of lying and deception practiced on credulous people.
- It tends to foster greed in children and contributes to their false impression that one’s happiness is determined by one’s material possessions.
- In telling children that the quantity and quality of one’s gifts are a function of one’s behavior, when actually they are a function of one’s socio-economic standing and parental temperament, it induces moral complacency in well-off children and false feelings of moral inferiority in less well-off children.