Category: Philosophy

BuddhismPhilosophy

Buddhism, Marxism, and Negating Self-centeredness — Preliminary Remarks on the Philosophy of Neville Wijeyekoon

summary — In 1943, S.N.B. (Neville) Wijeyekoon published a book under the pseudonym Leuke aiming to compare Buddhism and Marxism. It starts out doing so indeed, but the second half of the book presents his own philosophy focused on achieving mental harmony by negating self-centeredness through “merging one’s self in social welfare”. Wijeyekoon’s wrote two more books, and in one of those he further developed aspects of this idea, while eliminating the overt Buddhist and Marxist influence. This long blog post summarizes and comments on two of Wijeyekoon’s books (namely, his first and third). I do not have access to...
Philosophy

Davidsonian Pragmatism

Donald Davidson didn’t like being called a pragmatist. He associated pragmatism with William James’s definition of truth as that what works (or something similar), which he rejected for a number of reasons. Davidson’s understanding of pragmatism and how it contrasts with his own view is probably most clearly expressed in a passage from “Truth Rehabilitated”: Truth is not a value, so the ‘pursuit of truth’ is an empty enterprise unless it means only that it is often worthwhile to increase our confidence in our beliefs, by collecting further evidence or checking our calculations. From the fact that we will never...
BuddhismPhilosophy

Atrekic Buddhism

To be clear, atrekic Buddhism is not a variety of Buddhism. It’s not un-Buddhist either, I think, but we’ll get to that later. The term “atrekic Buddhism” works in a similar way as “methodological anarchism” (famously proposed by Feyerabend) or “metaphilosophical anarchism”. The latter is a – more or less – anarchist approach to doing philosophy. It isn’t anarchism per sé (i.e., anarchism as political ideology), but can be thought of as something like anarchism about philosophy. That said, it could be argued that (political) anarchists should also be metaphilosophical anarchists (but not necessarily the other way around), which doesn’t...
Philosophy

The Jaina Doctrine of Anekāntavāda

In part II of A Buddha Land in this World, I proposed a variety of perspectival realism based on, among others, Yogācāra and the philosophy of Donald Davidson. The term “perspectival realism” refers to a loose collection of theories that are realist, in the minimal sense of recognizing the existence of a mind-independent, external reality, but that reject the idea that there is just one “right” way of describing reality. Rather, descriptions or understandings of or views on reality are perspectival, that is, they are views from particular perspectives, or constructions due to particular conceptual schemes. And because there is...
BuddhismPhilosophy

Pop-Stoicism as Ideology

Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC. Stoic philosophy consisted of logic, (meta-) physics, and ethics. There has been a bit of an upsurge of interest in stoicism recently among widely different segments of society, ranging from right-wing extremists and male supremacists to Secular Buddhists and self-help gurus. Typically, this resurgent “stoicism” ignores most of Stoic philosophy and focuses on a simplified version of selected ethical doctrines. (And that selection, moreover, depends on the interests of the group that does the selecting.) The most prominent doctrine of this “pop-stoicism” is the idea...
Philosophy

What is Real? (New Paper)

Published yesterday in Organon F: International Journal of Analytic Philosophy (30.2: 182−220). abstract: Two of the most fundamental distinctions in metaphysics are (1) that between reality (or things in themselves) and appearances, the R/A distinction, and (2) that between entities that are fundamental (or real, etcetera) and entities that are ontologically or existentially dependent, the F/D distinction. While these appear to be two very different distinctions, in Buddhist metaphysics they are combined, raising questions about how they are related. In this paper I argue that plausible versions of the R/A distinction are essentially a special kind of F/D distinction, and...
Philosophy

Some Remarks on the Notion of “Cartesian Dualism” in Continental Philosophy

In the beginning of the 20th century, Western philosophy split into two main schools, analytic and continental philosophy, that – barring exceptions – neither read nor understand each other. My own work and influences are mostly within, or closely affiliated with, the analytic school, but occasionally I read some continental philosophy (as well as some non-Western philosophy). One peculiar term I encountered several times in such reading across scholastic boundaries is “Cartesian dualism”, most recently in Saito Kohei’s Marx in the Anthropocene. To be more precise, it is not the term itself that struck me as peculiar – you’ll find...
Philosophy

Making Sense of “the Meaning of Life”

Most of this article was written in 2017. I never finished it, but rather abandoned the project halfway §12 for reasons explained below. Until the horizontal line separating old from new, the following is the unchanged text of the 2017 draft. §1. There is a common idea that philosophy is concerned with figuring out the meaning of life. Although there are exceptions, such as James Tartaglia, most academic philosophers will deny this. But when I ask my students during the first day of class of my “Introduction to Philosophy” course what philosophy is about, then “the meaning of life” is...
Philosophy

On Hedgehogs, Koalas, and Other Animals

Outside academia, Isaiah Berlin is probably best known for his distinction between “foxes” and “hedgehogs” based on Archilochus saying that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. When I first encountered a reference to this distinction I assumed that it had something to do with broad versus narrow knowledge or learning, with the Renaissance/​Enlightenment ideal of the homo universalis (or polymath) versus the academic (hyper-) specialist, or with Thomas Aquinas’s fear of “a man of one book” (homo unius libri), that is, someone who knows one book/​thing really well, but doesn’t know much else. I...
BuddhismPhilosophy

A Buddha Land in This World (New Book)

My new book, A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy, Utopia, and Radical Buddhism, has just been published. Here is the abstract/back cover blurb: In the early twentieth century, Uchiyama Gudō, Seno’o Girō, Lin Qiuwu, and others advocated a Buddhism that was radical in two respects. Firstly, they adopted a more or less naturalist stance with respect to Buddhist doctrine and related matters, rejecting karma or other supernatural beliefs. And secondly, they held political and economic views that were radically anti-hegemonic, anti-capitalist, and revolutionary. Taking the idea of such a “radical Buddhism” seriously, A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy,...
Philosophy

Mythos, Wisdom, and Scavenger Philosophy

According to Karl Jaspers, philosophy arose in the “Axial Age” as a kind of critical reflection on myth and tradition. Nowadays, there is widespread agreement among historians of ideas that the notion of an “Axial Age” is itself a myth, but I think that the other part of Jaspers’ idea is right, that is, philosophy indeed originates in critical reflection on myth and tradition. This doesn’t mean that this defines the scope and purpose of philosophy, of course – as a “mature” discipline, philosophy mostly reflects on itself – but I believe that reflection on this idea about the origins...
BuddhismPhilosophy

On Selfish and Selfless Readings of Buddhist Scripture

In Indian religions and philosophy, mokṣa – the escape from the cycle of death and rebirth (saṃsāra) and, thereby, the liberation from suffering (dukkha) – is (typically) the ultimate goal of (one’s/my/your) life. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other schools of thought disagree about various details – Buddhists prefer the term nirvāṇa instead of mokṣa, for example – but all accept a version of the doctrine that right (non-) action leads to good karma, which leads to better rebirth, and ultimately to mokṣa. That ultimate goal is a selfish goal, however – the ultimate aim of my right (non-) action (regardless...