Logic, Buddhism, and all that

gp1by Graham Priest

In “Graham Priest on Buddhism and Logic” [1]  Massimo Pigliucci recently commented on a piece I wrote on logic and Buddhist metaphysics, “Beyond True and False” [2]. In this, he explained why he was not persuaded. In an admirable spirit of open-mindedness, he invited me to comment on his thoughts. So, in a similar spirit, this is what I’m doing.

First, let me say that Massimo and I agree on more than we disagree. I agree, for example, that the point of philosophy is to come to a reasoned — and of course, fallible — evaluation of truths about metaphysics, ethics, and so on. That was just not my aim in the piece I wrote, which was to show how the techniques of modern logic can help to understand certain Buddhist views. To evaluate, one must first understand. Secondly, I agree on the virtue of clarity, and abhor obscurantism as much as he does. But, again, having said that, many issues in mathematics and the natural sciences are complex and difficult. One should not expect that they can be spelled out in a way that can be understood without a lot of hard work. Philosophy is no different.

So let me turn to the things about which we disagree. First some general comments. Let us start with logic. Massimo claims that one cannot be wrong in logic since it is purely formal. I find this ahistorical view surprising from someone who has such a grasp of the history of science. Logic (in one of the many senses of the word) is a theory about what follows from what. Western logicians have been producing such theories for about two and a half thousand years. The received view has changed over time, and later views often hold earlier views to be false. Thus, for example, some of the syllogisms Aristotle took to be valid are not held to be so by contemporary logicians. Aristotle held that contradictions do not imply everything; most modern logicians would disagree. One of the great early Medieval logicians, Abelard, held that any conditional of the form ‘if A then it is not the case that A’ is false; most modern logicians would disagree. In the 1960s most logicians held that the conditional ‘if the theory of evolution is false, people have evolved’ is true; few would now subscribe to this view. Are we at the end of history in the process of revising our views about logic?

Second, Buddhism. There is no one thing which is Buddhism, any more than there is one thing which is Christianity. Theravāda Buddhism is very different from Tantric Buddhism, which is very different from Zen Buddhism, and so on. And each of these, in turn, is many things. Each is a religion, a set of meditative and disciplinary practices, an organizational structure, a player in political structures. But each also endorses various philosophical views. It was some (and only some) of these views which were the concern of my article. Next, Buddhist philosophy — as engaged in by its notable historical practitioners — is no different from Western philosophy. For over two thousand years, Buddhist philosophers have been putting forward different views of metaphysics, ethics, and arguing with each other about which is right. Of course, if one’s only knowledge of Buddhism comes from contemporary popular works, one will not see this. One has to read the philosophers themselves, such as Candrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, Fazang — though I would not advise anyone to jump into this literature without a guide, any more than I would do this with Aristotle, Kant, or Wittgenstein [3].

In fact, Buddhist thought is one of the most rationalistic of views connected with a religion. There is no god, and so one is not expected to believe something simply because god is supposed to have revealed it. There is no distinction between natural and revealed thought, as there is in Christianity. Indeed, in the Kālāma Sūtra, the Buddha himself urges people not to believe something simply because some authority figure tells them (an attitude many contemporary Western philosophers would do well to take to heart). A person should accept something only if it makes sense to them.

Third, mysticism. The word is thrown around in a multitude of ways, but my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

  1. The opinions, mental tendencies, of habits of thought and feeling, characteristic of mystics.
  2. Belief in the possibility of union with the Divine nature by means of ecstatic contemplation.
  3. Reliance on spiritual intuition as a means of acquiring knowledge of mysteries inaccessible to the understanding.

(1) is obviously not very helpful; (2) does not apply to Buddhism, since there is no god; and as for (3), spiritual intuition — whatever that is — plays no role in debates in Buddhist philosophy (as opposed to meditative practices). It is true that most Buddhists hold that one can have knowledge by acquaintance of certain aspects of reality. There is nothing very shocking in this. One could cite, here, the taste of a peach. They also hold that the content of some of these experiences cannot be captured in conceptual thought. That being so, one can hardly argue about the content of such an experience. One can certainly argue about whether there is such a thing, however. Debates concerning this matter are, in fact, a perennial theme in those parts of Western philosophy which concern the limits of our language or our concepts. One finds it — with a positive answer — in Plato, Anselm, Kant, Wittgenstein, Heidegger.

Next, a comment on the philosophers Massimo cites with approval and disapproval. Philosophy is written in many ways and styles: Plato’s is quite different from Aquinas’, which is different from Hume’s, which is different from Kant’s, which is different from Wittgenstein’s (two styles), which is different from Heidegger’s (two styles), which is different from Quine’s. And some philosophers are much better literary stylists than others. However, we do not read philosophers for their literary style, but for the content of the ideas and arguments. And this means that one often has to work at getting to grips with the ways in which they express themselves — which includes some understanding of the culture in which they are embedded.  Eastern traditions of philosophy are no different from Western traditions in this regard.

Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamkakārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way) — a book, incidentally, full of arguments, objections and counter-replies — is indeed cryptic, and a hard work to understand. A major reason for this is simple. Nāgārjuna was operating in a largely oral culture. Tracts were written in verse so that they could be more easily memorized. In teaching, students would recite the verses, and then the teacher would explain and comment on these. These discourses were called “autocommentaries,” and are much less cryptic. In the case of a number of Indian Buddhist texts, we have the autocommentary. In the case of the Mūlamadhyamkakārikā, this is, sadly, lost to us.

Next, Kant. The Critique of Pure Reason has one of the most appalling styles of any important philosophy book. It would be more than fair to describe the style of expression as obscure. Not that Kant had to write like that: Prolegomenon to any Future Metaphysics is much less indigestible. The Critique certainly fails Massimo’s “to hell with it” test. It’s still a great work of philosophy. Naturally, interpreting any philosopher of significance is going to be a contentious matter (my interpretation of Nāgārjuna included), but I find Massimo’s interpretation of the aspect of Kant’s thought at issue in my article unsustainable. He takes Kant’s claims about the noumenal realm as epistemological: we cannot know anything about it. And to be fair, Kant does express himself in this way sometimes. But if one looks at the reasons that Kant gives as to why we can know nothing, they are that one can say nothing. To say anything one has to apply the categories, and these do not apply to objects in this realm. Still, I do not expect to settle matters of Kantian interpretation here.

Next, Wittgenstein (who I think Massimo is prepared to tolerate) and Heidegger (whom he is certainly not). Matters are complicated here by the fact that each has an earlier and a later style, which are quite different. However, the Tractatus of the earlier Wittgenstein is gnomic and elusive in a way that Sein und Zeit of the earlier Heidegger is not. Wittgenstein’s later Philosophical Investigations is written in plain Anglo-Saxon — something one cannot say of some of Heidegger’s later writings. Does this make it easy to understand? Absolutely not. It is full of observations and remarks the point of which are never spelled out. I remember as a young philosopher reading the Investigations. I could make neither head nor tail of it till a colleague who was a Wittgenstein expert helped me to understand. Colleagues have also helped me understand Heidegger. I might say that, arguably, both Wittgenstein and Heidegger had philosophical reasons (unlike Kant) for their (later) philosophical styles; but this is not the place to go into the matter.

Having cleared the undergrowth, let me turn at last to the central point of disagreement. The point of my article was to show how certain aspects of Buddhist metaphysics may be understood better with the help of some modern developments in logic. The logical framework of early Buddhist thought is the catuṣkoṭi. This allows for four possibilities: true, false, both, and neither — unlike the two of Aristotle in the Metaphysics — or the three of De Interpretatione. But this framework makes perfectly good sense given the techniques of modern non-classical logic. The formal logic is highly relevant to understanding what is going on in Buddhist metaphysics. It certainly increases the clarity and precision of the views in question — true contradictions notwithstanding — in a way of which both Massimo and I approve.

My article was not about contradiction in general, however, but about a very particular one: the contradiction that arises when one tries to explain why there are certain things one cannot say anything about, hence saying something about them. One can make sense of even this contradiction using the techniques of modern logic. (The article shows how. I will not repeat it here.) This is an aporia one is faced with whenever one engages with the issue of the limits of language, as do not only Buddhist philosophers, but also Kant, Wittgenstein, et al. It even occurs  in the heartland of contemporary logic and set theory. König’s paradox concerns a realm of objects (the ordinals) many of which cannot be referred to, and the fact that, at least prima facie, one can, nonetheless, say something about some of them. We are dealing with exactly the same phenomenon in both cases: the situation that arises when one tries to understand the limits of our language. If this is not obvious to superficial appearances, all I can say is, look beyond the superficial to the structure of the philosophical problematic here [4].

Is the application of techniques of modern logic to Buddhist philosophy anachronistic? Of course it is. But contemporary philosophers frequently apply the techniques of modern logic in trying to understand and analyze the views of their historical predecessors, as can be seen by looking at various commentaries on Plato, Ockham, Hume, Kant, et al. And quite rightly so: we have learned a lot about logic since they were writing. In virtue of this, we can, in a sense, understand the content of their views better than they did. This is certainly not to say that we are better philosophers. Time has just given us a better understanding of some matters than they had. In exactly the same way, we understand Euclidean geometry better now than did Euclid.

Let me draw together these comments. Massimo says at the start of his article:

  1. “My thesis is that the parallels that Graham sees between logic and Buddhist philosophy are more superficial than he understands them to be and,
  2. more importantly, that Buddhism as presented in his essay, is indeed a type of mysticism, not a philosophy, which means that logic (and consequently argumentation) are beside the point.
  3. Moreover, I will argue that even if the parallels run as deep as Graham maintains, Buddhism would still face the issue — fundamental to any philosophy — of whether what it says is true of the world or not,
  4. an issue that no mystical tradition is actually equipped to handle properly.”

My replies, in summary:

  1. Absolutely not: the techniques of contemporary logic can be applied with advantage to help understand most historical philosophers — East and West. And the aporia concerning the limits of language is important to both traditions.
  2. False. Buddhist philosophy is not mysticism. Argument and counter-argument are central to it. Appeal to mystical intuition — whatever that might be — is not.
  3. Agreed, but that was not the point of the essay.
  4. Maybe; maybe not. That, however, is beside the point here.

I have been a philosopher long enough to know that philosophers do not always see eye to eye, even after careful discussion. That, I think, is the nature of philosophy. But I hope that what I have said will have assuaged at least some of Massimo’s concerns. For the rest, I look forward to continuing discussions.


Graham Priest is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, and Boyce Gibson Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne. His latest books is One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness.

[1] Scientia Salon, 11 August 2014.

[2] Aeon, 5 May 2014.

[3] For three very different guides, one can try: M. Siderits, Buddhism as Philosophy, Ashgate, 2007; A. Carpenter, Indian Buddhist Philosophy, Acumen, 2014; J. Garfield, Engaging Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 2014.

[4] I defend the matter at length in my Beyond the Limits of Thought, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2002.


178 thoughts on “Logic, Buddhism, and all that

  1. Johsh,
    from buddhist point of view, we can transform our-self into a state of self-less “view of the world”.

    I like that perspective. When the ‘self’ disappears it means our focus has moved from selfish, egotistical concerns to selfless other centred concerns. We lose awareness of ourselves because our awareness is dominated by otherness.

    But I don’t think that is Harris’ argument. He seems to be maintaining there really is no self. I suppose I will have to read his book to find out what he really means and what his arguments really are. Sigh.


  2. Robin,
    ” If not then how does one know the self disappeared?”

    Or, for that matter, when the self reappeared.
    To use my face analogy. As I was writing this, all awareness of my face disappeared. In fact I haven’t seen my face this morning(just as well!) I paused to take a sip of my cup of tea and awareness of my face reappeared. I was reassured to find my face was still there 🙂


  3. All this leaves me wondering what Sam Harris’ broader game plan is. He is an enthusiastic atheism advocate(I’m trying to be polite) who is trying to advance the cause of atheism. Fair enough, let there be competing ideas. To do this he must overcome certain objections and the most formidable objection is the lack of an ethical framework for atheism. His Moral Landscape was a first stab at this but was a dismal failure. It was incoherent and lacked motivating appeal.

    A useful belief system cannot be based on negation of the beliefs of others. That only appeals to the angry minority. A productive belief system needs to offer the following:

    1) a workable ethical framework that is motivating. Moral suffering is a reality we all experience.
    2) beliefs and practices that inculcate resilience. This is a hard world.
    3) hope. We all need a sense of hope and purpose that gives us meaning.

    Atheism per se can offer none of the above. It is just negation. I am guessing here, but I sense that Sam Harris’ project is to supply an alternate framework along the above lines that can give atheism some substance and therefore make it a viable competitor to traditional religion. Some people have tried out humanist churches but that wishy-washy project was doomed from the start.

    As it turns out, Buddhism does (1), (2) and (3) and the added benefit(from Harris’ point of view), is that secular Buddhism has nothing that resembles God. Aha, he must have exclaimed, I have found the answer, but he is a little late to the party. And there is no self. What a bonus, we can now finally dispel the appearances of dualism. However, his brand of aggressive, angry advocacy faces a bigger problem in that it runs contrary to the spirit of The Noble Eightfold Path.

    Well, I have amused myself by speculating about Harris’ motivation and speculation is often misguided. If I am right it is a welcome change in direction from Harris.


  4. The four views are ‘extreme’ because they are partial. All partial views can be refuted. The fifth view would be the enlightened or true view.

    It would be Aristotle’s logic that would ‘stem from the gap’. But, of course, no logic can actually cross the gap. By using the dialectic to refute the four extreme views we reveal that there must be another view. This would be Nagrarjuna and the Buddha’s view. Logically it is Aristotelian, but it would transcend logic in the sense that it would take us beyond the categories on which logic must operate. It is not a novel logic, but a novel interpretation of its result. It would not be alogical or illogical, but transcendent to logic. It goes beyond what we can learn from logic, but takes full account of what we do learn from it.

    Hmm. I see this is rather a waffly response. Sorry about that. I have to rush off now for a few days so cannot keep up a discussion. Maybe we can get back to this later.


  5. I’m sorry Labnut, but I do not understand what you are talking about. I can only say again that your superstitious friend is not an example of mysticism and seems to be cited only in order to express your scepticism. I have not even read your discussion with Massimo and it seems irrelevant to my point. But I won’t labour it.


  6. I hope to clarify things a little: intuitions about “Anatta” (not-self) have the specific goal to diminish (and, if we believe in the tradition, when you became a Buddha to end) clinging/craving about things, thoughts and sensual pleasures that are impermanent by nature and so are the cause of mental suffering by the Buddha’s analysis of reality (the four noble truths).

    Everything you crave/desire is unsatisfactory since it inevitably ends or change. If you realize this, you will understand that to be not-attached to things and ideas can bring freedom, ease, mental clarity and joy. That is not to say that you can’t enjoy company of loved ones or when you taste a good food you somehow have to convince yourself that it is horrible, but if after enjoyment follows craving for more or for not-change, here the cycle of suffering starts. Even for little things.

    But food is not the real problem about life and nobody will go into a retire to meditate about that, the clinging about “the self” is the real problem since we always make stories like “I am a looser”, “I can’t have it so i am a failure” and so on. It is a strong mental habit of many of us and it is out-of-question that this habit can ruin our life (what we think, we become the Buddha said). Realizing that the self is just an aggregate of many conditioned things (and you have no control about conditioned things) like form, perceptions, mind, consciousness and thoughts helps you realize that clinging to it is the cause of suffering, and it can be abandoned to find real happiness and peace.

    For Buddhist, the self as a practical thing that allows normal human interaction is perfectly fine. To steal your car using the argument that you are not-self is not an option here. The insight of Anatta means that you don’t cling anymore to the thoughts that arise in your consciousness, since you are aware that they are conditioned and “you” are not the author of them (and that is why Sam Harris has spent time about Free Will, since Free Will is linked to the idea of a self), you are aware that they are impermanent and the cause of your mental stress. There’s more to say about how Anatta automatically brings loving-kindness and compassion to other beings, but this is the basis of no-self as I understand it from the Pali canon, monks and scholars. At the question “There’s a self?” the Buddha (wisely) never responded. Because Anatta is not a dispute about how to define the self and negate it or not in accordance to the definition, but the realization of the suffering that the clinging on an idea like the self brings to you. The next “step” is abandon it and obtain a different state of mind.

    Maybe this is simply not true or it is true in principle but it is not possible (even if I can testimony how my life changed for the better thanks to Buddhism), but I have to add that I fail to see the mysticism about it.


  7. Well, I reject the first of the Truths. I don’t think “life is suffering,” contra either the Buddha or Scott Peck. My much more existential take is that “life is.”


  8. PeterJ,
    your superstitious friend is not an example of mysticism and seems to be cited only in order to express your scepticism.

    Sorry, there is a real misunderstanding. Thomas Jones pointed this out to me as well. No, I was not expressing scepticism about mysticism but rather a particular view of its function. I used an unduly broad definition, hence the unfortunate example.


  9. dukkha is often interpreted incorrectly. May be unsatisfactory-ness is a closer one. And also, it doesn’t mean life is every instant in suffering or unsatisfactory-mode. Buddhism is about wisdom of one’s “self” behavior, and how it results in one’s life problems; we can atleast acknowledge everybody has life problems at some point in their lives.

    Buddhism also deals with mind-afflictions – habitual addictions, thought patterns, bias, character/moral implications. It encourages its adherents to use meditation, self-analysis, contemplation, discipline – to understand, overcome, and eventually transcend (even as much as transcending everything).

    any of us can simply say “life is” and ignore all this. It is our mind, our life, we can do what we want. Probably more than 50% of humans on this planet probably do not know much about buddhism, and probably as much as 80% knew little bit, but most probably miss the whole point. So over 80% (may be even more) of humans live without any of the above, and yet, life continues. As they say, to each his own.


  10. It is more than just an outlook. At any point, our thinking is heavily informed by our current personality (bias, maturity, knowledge, experience).

    For example, somebody who is physically able all his life deals with disability differently than someone who’s been with disability for a while. It doesn’t mean we all have to think about disability issues, it just means we have to be realistic about reality (grow wisdom). For someone to grow wisdom, one has to question anything and everything, examine the results of one’s actions, weed out all unrealistic thoughts/bias/expectations, become as much close to reality as possible. Buddha’s eight fold path is all about this.. All these 8 have a well reasoned analysis for why we need them (to grow knowledge/wisdom), they are not simple commandments given by god not to be questioned.

    A personality with such wisdom will slowly stop seeing one’s “self” as something special in this world. You are special, but not your “current self” which is heavily biased. Once somebody becomes a no-self (a buddha), he is almost like the kind of (his) world, the god-like (in the sense everything seems his creation). You start seeing your-self in everybody. You see how all the humans are no different than you. Empathy/compassion flowers. Reality is you.

    please see my reply below to @soc as well.


  11. do not know what harris meant, but “no self” is claimed in buddhist literature as well, and it usually means “self” is dependent and ever-changing thus doesn’t not exist (on its own as independent entity). I dont remember my “self” when i was born, i barely remember what it is in my childhood, it changed (influenced by harmones and other stuff) in teenage, more confusion in 20s, little bit maturity in 30s and on-and-on. I have a pet theory that 30s does something to humans 🙂 – buddha’s enlightenemnt was in 30s, some claim jesus was about there as well, muhammed started little late but probably formed his thoughts in his 30s; May be the harmones relax and make it easy for us to “let go” (unlike the teenage years, or 20s) 🙂


  12. Hi Peter J,

    I don’t think all partial views can be refuted, the refutation of one part of Euclidean geometry by Lobachevski, Bolyai, Gauss and Riemann doesn’t mind the whole refutation of Euclidean geometry.

    I have no idea about what logic would stem from the gap, but you say that it would be Aristotle’s logic. Then the Buddha crossed the gap leaving logic behind him and came back wearing the Aristotelian logic, what a curious journey!



  13. Labnut, transforming the mind is a subsidiary goal, yes. But, it’s subsidiary to improving one’s karma and getting a better reincarnation, which seem to be the ultimate goals. (Well, if there were a personal self, but since Buddhism claims there isn’t, there is no “I” to have ultimate goals. If there is, then according to Buddhism, I’m not reaching those ultimate goals!)


  14. From what I understand of Buddhism, I disagree that they’re just “byproducts,” johsh. Nice try, but I disagree. And, the Buddha himself, with the Four Truths and the Eightfold Way, I think also disagree. After all, is not the ultimate “liberation” the cessation of reincarnations?

    Per Wiki, on Nirvana:

    Nirvana (Sanskrit, also nirvāṇa; Pali: nibbana, nibbāna ) is the earliest and most common term used to describe the goal of the Buddhist path.[1] The literal meaning of the term in Sanskrit is “to be blown out” or “to be extinguished”. Within the Buddhist tradition, this term is typically glossed as the extinction of craving (tanha), or more broadly, the extinction of the fires of attachment (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidya).[1] In the Buddhist view, when these fires are extinguished, suffering (dukkha) comes to an end, and one is released from the cycle of rebirth (samsara).


    So, again, sorry, better reincarnation, or ultimately, escaping reincarnation entirely, is the ultimate goal. Better karma, better reincarnation that help that ultimate goal are important proximate goals; they’re not “byproducts.”


  15. I can buy your semiotics, EJ; that said, that’s what I’ve been saying about Buddhism — it’s semiotics may not lead to a god, but they do lead to metaphysical principles. The tenets of Buddhism are about becoming better aligned with these principles to achieve the ultimate metaphysical principle, annihilation of one’s own (sic, even though there’s allegedly no person behind it all) metaphysical non-self.

    This in turn gets me back to Graham, Johsh, etc., and saying that I consider Buddhism, on this core issue, as illogical as any Western religion.


  16. Labnut gets where I’m at on this. I understand Buddhism not in that way. Rather, if the Buddha truly is the Buddha and not dead, he doesn’t answer the knock, knock. “He” doesn’t answer anything.

    Per Massimo, maybe he’s a p-zombie!

    HAHA! (Ducking, now.)


  17. Posting this way up top, to be seen by all. Conversations with Johsh, especially, and somewhat with Ezwinner and others, have made me come to the conclusion that:

    Achieving Buddhahood is the same as becoming a … wait for it, wait for it …

    A p-zombie! 🙂 Let the fun begin. (Massimo, is he at NYU right now? Would you like to invite him by to comment?)


  18. >>The data excludes the way believers feel about their own belief system because we can assume they will have uniformly positive confirming beliefs about their own system.<<

    Not necessarily; I've met plenty of Catholics (for instance) who were unhappy with their own belief system. (This is not a criticism of Catholicism, merely an example that people may believe something that makes them unhappy)
    .Again, I believe I am going to die one day, but that doesn't usually make me happy.


  19. Socratic

    The tenets of Buddhism are about becoming better aligned with these principles to achieve the ultimate metaphysical principle, annihilation of one’s own (sic, even though there’s allegedly no person behind it all) metaphysical non-self.

    This in turn gets me back to Graham, Johsh, etc., and saying that I consider Buddhism, on this core issue, as illogical as any Western religion.

    Yes, standing on your baseplate of philosophical naturalism it would appear illogical. There may be a denial of God but they are making an unverifiable metaphysical claim that lies in that neighbourhood. Standing on my baseplate the claim does not look so illogical. I think you will reply that my baseplate is sinking in the mud 🙂 Even so, I am happy with the view from my baseplate. It is all a matter of perspective.


  20. Socratic, your sense of humour is wicked!
    The existence of a persistent self that is recycled and finally terminated under certain difficult to attain conditions(ceasing to be a self) might be thought of as the axioms of Buddhism.

    Whether these axioms are really true is beside the point (I can hear a collective gasp of horror). The point is that they serve to justify and motivate the three goals I listed earlier:
    1) ethical behaviour;
    2) resilient behaviour;
    3) hope.
    If these goals are achieved we will have a flourishing society.
    I am certain to hear, in reply, the stale, re-treaded arguments that a scientific outlook cannot exist alongside a religious outlook. I vigorously challenge that assertion. I maintain the opposite, that a scientific outlook, by itself, is a sterile, self defeating one that is leading society into the quicksands of obese consumerism, tended by a rapacious oligarchy.

    See this sparkling review of ‘The Culture and the Death of God'(Terry Eagleton) by Jonathan Sacks(Nostalgia for the Numinous, http://bit.ly/1CYNlRf), who makes the point rather better than I can.

    We are meaning-seeking animals. And if we can no longer believe in God we will find other things to worship.

    Postmodern consciousness, in Perry Anderson’s phrase, is “subjectivism without a subject.” Eagleton calls it “depthless, anti-tragic, non-linear, anti-numinous, non-foundational and anti-universalist, suspicious of absolutes and averse to interiority.”

    Not only is there no redemption, there is nothing to be redeemed. We are left, Eagleton writes, with “Man the Eternal Consumer.”

    The real trouble—and here Eagleton is surely right—is that the West no longer has a set of beliefs that would justify its commitments to freedom and democracy. All it has left is “a mixture of pragmatism, culturalism, hedonism, relativism and anti-foundationalism,” inadequate defenses against an adversary that believes in “absolute truths, coherent identities and solid foundations.” The West has, intellectually speaking, “unilaterally disarmed at just the point where it has proved most perilous for it to do so.”

    The substitutes for God turned out not to be substitutes after all. All the proposed alternatives to religion proved inadequate to achieve what the great faiths have done: “unite theory and practice, elite and populace, spirit and senses.” Rationalism devalued the emotions. Romanticism failed to check humanity’s darker drives. And culture was unable to bridge the gap between the elite and the masses.

    Read the full review. It is well worth the effort. Thanks to Thomas Jones who discovers these gems.


  21. Johsh, no, you and others didn’t “lead” me there. That said, these threads of conversation did sharpen and clarify what I understand what **the Buddha** meant by anatta. Whether or not that’s what you, EJ and others mean by anatta, and whether or not you’re taking the Buddha as being as “radical” as I think he should be taken are different issues, of course. (And, from this and other things, I think you can guess that I think you need to be taking the Buddha more radically.)

    Labnut, and Johsh, and others, yes, I’m being “puckish.” But, that’s only about 25 percent or so. I’m 75 percent or more serious. “P-zombie” is a reasonable “handle” within ideas in modern Western philosophy for what I understand the Buddha to be saying. Again, if that’s too radical for some, well, it’s too radical for some. It reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s quote about Christianity and nobody following it but the founder.

    Labnut, nice thoughts there from Eagleton. That, in turn reminds me of certain types of atheists Camus describes in The Rebel, as needing something against which to rebel.


  22. OOMark,
    Not necessarily; I’ve met plenty of Catholics (for instance) who were unhappy with their own belief system.

    Yes, that is true. But groups tend to have better beliefs of their own group. This inflates the overall opinion in favour of dominant groups.

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  23. @soc I do not take buddha as radical, he himself do not take it that he found something new (he agrees/says “there is nothing new under the sun”). But I believe what he talks about is a practical (not radical), even street-smart, kind of wisdom. For example, I believe If I practice not being ego-centric, I can handle things more *efficiently* (in a practical, street-smart sense !), more easily, with optimal and fruitful results. I do not have to take Buddha’s word for it, I see this daily (and I noticed how my past incidents would have shaped better). Lot of us do not need a buddha to say this, they probably already realize this. Buddha just takes it to extreme, no-ego (no self) state. He proposes well reasoned techniques for making progress. And there is lot of subsequent followers who further refine, and discuss, in lot of literature. Most of these adherents “LIVE IT”, unlike the western philosophies which is mostly talk (thus p-zombie applies mostly there). I just read those stuff so I do not have spend years trying to find out on my own. Following buddhism is not unlike following “practical wisdom”, for me.

    Its like taking godfather movie character to the extreme, but applying it to “self”. In that sense, I would take buddha to be the ultimate godfather than a radical guy. That dude(buddha) really wouldn’t give a damn about anything. He lived like a real king, some of the richest billionaires or kings could not say that about themselves (constantly living delusional states that are impermanent/changing, like slaves to their desires). He is the master of his world. Because he said “no-self”, doesn’t mean he is a p-zombie or some love-less (or emotion less) person. Infact, He is the most capable compassionate, empathy, loving dude (because it is the street-smart thing to do if you want bliss). He sees reality for what it is.

    I believe people who do not see it this way are missing out on a street-trick that they can apply to their daily lives. It doesn’t mean we have to become buddhist, it just means seeing what its really about. Buddhism was not really a “religion” when buddha was around (lived upto 80 years old), it was just some old guy giving life-wisdom to lay people. (the only other option hindu elitist brahmin/priestly caste, was showing their racist behavior).

    There may be some confused buddhist people trying to get to some self-less mystical world, I doubt that is the majority though. As buddha requires each person to question anything and everything, and only consider it progress when they truly see it as real/beneficial.


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