Buddhism & Aristotle & absolutes

Date: Mon, 09 Oct 1995 16:04:38 -0400
From: "Steven D. Jamar"
Subject: Buddhism & Aristotle & absolutes

I think Aristotle was more Buddhist than some of his detractors would care to recognize. Aristotle taught the virtue of the middle way. He recognized not just logic and reason, but also the entire human experience as legitimate sources of knowledge and persuasion. He counseled right living through avoiding excesses and through contemplation, reflection and insight.

One cannot dismiss logic and reason from Buddhism. Much of the Buddhist doctrine comes from intellectual approaches to problems and through the use of reason as a means of insight.

That said, this is not a defense to any society which has lost its balance and become consumed by one passion, and probably a false one at that.

I don't think we are ready to give up the single direction of time just yet and until we do, then cause and effect are real. Even if one views it as a chain of dependant casuality and if one views this chain as a circle, there still is a direction around the circle (clockwise or counterclockwise). And I am aware of the current physics experiments which seem to violate several "absolutes" such as the constancy of the speed of light and its relationship to causality.

I tend to agree with your problem with absolutes. But I don't think Damien Keown meant absolutes in the way you interpreted. But I will let him address that himself.

But to agree that the existence of absolutes is a problem does not negate the establishment of relatively absolute (oxymoron intended) ethical grounds for constructs like human rights.

Those relatively absolute grounds would seem to include equality, compassion, and human dignity. Though I don't think one can derive, in a rigorous, mathematical-proof sense, HR from these "grounds," I do think they form a strong basis on which to evaluate certain claims of possible rights to being human rights.

Thus equality would seem to support non-discrimination on the basis of eternal, birthright attributes such as race, sex, nationality. Human dignity would seem to support entitlements to a standard of living sufficient to provide for one's family's physical needs and would seem to rule out torture.

What of free speech? Seems that equality would tend to allow each person the same right to speak and this would tend toward relatively free speech. And human dignity would seem to require allowing that a person be accorded enough respect to be allowed to speak. But I also think one gets beyond first principles here into experience and into judgments about what it is to be human. And then one may well conclude that free speech is proper, though with certain constraints.

Turning to Buddhism - isn't right speech part of the Noble Eightfold Path? Doesn't even the Buddha thus endorse some freedom of expression? Or would some turn this around to say that non-right speech is to be banned since only right speech is explicitly mentioned. And then someone must decide what is right speech. And in the wrong hands, this could be nefarious. So Buddhism is in fact not only antithetical to the whole human rights approach to justice, but is directly opposed to one of the basic rights that truly everyone agrees with. Reminder - I am not making this argument - I find it invalid on a number of grounds - but it seems to be where some in this conference would go.

Cheers,
Steve Jamar


Date: Mon, 09 Oct 1995 20:28:33 -0400
From: williams
Subject: Re: Buddhism & Aristotle & absolutes

I think Aristotle was more Buddhist than some of his detractors would care to recognize. Aristotle taught the virtue of the middle way. He recognized not just logic and reason, but also the entire human experience as legitimate sources of knowledge and persuasion. He counseled right living through avoiding excesses and through contemplation, reflection and insight.

I think Gotima was speaking of something completely different than a balance between logic and experience in talking about a middle way. I think he was talking about essentially Subjectivism verses Objectivism (though the terminolgy of the day was different). I think Gotima was rejecting the dualism of considering subject and object as somehow separate such that one could be considered more real than the other.

One cannot dismiss logic and reason from Buddhism. Much of the Buddhist doctrine comes from intellectual approaches to problems and through the use of reason as a means of insight.

I haven't rejected logic and reason. I have rejected Aristolian logic and reason. Reason based upon the notion that there are prior causes and post effects. In particular, I reject prior causes -- eventually this leads to a First Cause; which I consider wrong-headed.

That said, this is not a defense to any society which has lost its balance and become consumed by one passion, and probably a false one at that.

I don't think we are ready to give up the single direction of time just yet and until we do, then cause and effect are real. Even if one views it as a chain of dependant casuality and if one views this chain as a circle, there still is a direction around the circle (clockwise or counterclockwise). And I am aware of the current physics experiments which seem to violate several "absolutes" such as the constancy of the speed of light and its relationship to causality.

Cause and effect are real, but what is missing is the fact that the effects can come back and be the cause of the effect's cause. (Yes, that sounds twisted.) In modern terminology, the problem with linear views of causation is that they neglect feedback. Feedback is how organisms work folks. No prior causes -- just causes. Causation comes in loops -- or more correctly a web. Causation doesn't come in one big circle.

(Speaking of time. Life is busy going side-ways in time, and doing its' level best to go backwards. Let's all be compassionate and try to go backwards too.)

I tend to agree with your problem with absolutes. But I don't think Damien Keown meant absolutes in the way you interpreted. But I will let him address that himself.

My real problem with absolutes is that any way we decide to cut up the web of causation using words is just one way -- and we have no way of knowing what the best method of cutting it up is. If we define words then we shall become attached to them -- what if we guessed wrong? Better to always hedge a bit -- avoid absolutes. We might find a better set of words later, and we should be ready to move to them.

But to agree that the existence of absolutes is a problem does not negate the establishment of relatively absolute (oxymoron intended) ethical grounds for constructs like human rights.

I've no problem with human rights, but I'd prefer to let them float and not try to ground them. I may want to move the ground later.

Those relatively absolute grounds would seem to include equality, compassion, and human dignity. Though I don't think one can derive, in a rigorous, mathematical-proof sense, HR from these "grounds," I do think they form a strong basis on which to evaluate certain claims of possible rights to being human rights.

I don't know if equality and dignity have Buddhist roots, but I'm willing to accept them. Compassion is a given.

Could we perhaps call these anchors, rather than grounds?

Thus equality would seem to support non-discrimination on the basis of eternal, birthright attributes such as race, sex, nationality. Human dignity would seem to support entitlements to a standard of living sufficient to provide for one's family's physical needs and would seem to rule out torture.

I don't understand the word "eternal" here. Remove that and I've no problems.

What of free speech? Seems that equality would tend to allow each person the same right to speak and this would tend toward relatively free speech. And human dignity would seem to require allowing that a person be accorded enough respect to be allowed to speak. But I also think one gets beyond first principles here into experience and into judgments about what it is to be human. And then one may well conclude that free speech is proper, though with certain constraints.

I'll put the right of free association at the top of the list anyway, so of course I accept free speech. In point of fact, I consider all other rights as ancillary to the right of free association, Rights which do not support this I would consider suspect. When rights conflict then I think we should refer back to the right of free association as primary.

My primary interest is in "growing" compassion at the social level. I think in terms of goals rather than rights. As such, I view the most important aspect of being human is participation in being the social fabric. (In other words. I don't think we have left first principles.)

Turning to Buddhism - isn't right speech part of the Noble Eightfold Path? DDoesn't even the Buddha thus endorse some freedom of expression? Or would some turn this around to say that non-right speech is to be banned since only right speech is explicitly mentioned. And then someone must decide what is right speech. And in the wrong hands, this could be nefarious. So Buddhism is in fact not only antithetical to the whole human rights approach to justice, but is directly opposed to one of the basic rights that truly everyone agrees with. Reminder - I am not making this argument - I find it invalid on a number of grounds - but it seems to be where some in this conference would go.

I think right speech has to come from within. I don't see how restraining speech does anything to help build compassion.

Sphere


Date: Wed, 11 Oct 1995 01:34:31 -0700
From: Ken O'Neill
Subject: Re: Buddhism & Aristotle & absolutes

I think Aristotle was more Buddhist than some of his detractors would care to recognize. Aristotle taught the virtue of the middle way. He recognized not just logic and reason, but also the entire human experience as legitimate sources of knowledge and persuasion. He counseled right living through avoiding excesses and through contemplation, reflection and insight.

One cannot dismiss logic and reason from Buddhism. Much of the Buddhist doctrine comes from intellectual approaches to problems and through the use of reason as a means of insight.

But not as the final word. They have their place, all aiming at a gnosis or awakening beyond the pale ken of conventions of any sort - liberating persons to become awakening bodhisattvas born of wisdom/compassion. From the dharmic perspective, only such awakening persons are tuned in, able to make valuative choices from the heart of life.

That said, this is not a defense to any society which has lost its balance and become consumed by one passion, and probably a false one at that.

I don't think we are ready to give up the single direction of time just yet and until we do, then cause and effect are real. Even if one views it as a chain of dependant casuality and if one views this chain as a circle, there still is a direction around the circle (clockwise or counterclockwise). And I am aware of the current physics experiments which seem to violate several "absolutes" such as the constancy of the speed of light and its relationship to causality.

Samsara is not even a chain; literally meaning "going in circles" it has more in common with the wheels hampsters run in, expending great energy yet getting absolutely nowhere. Habituated to habits.

I tend to agree with your problem with absolutes. But I don't think Damien Keown meant absolutes in the way you interpreted. But I will let him address that himself.

But to agree that the existence of absolutes is a problem does not negate the establishment of relatively absolute (oxymoron intended) ethical grounds for constructs like human rights.

constructs and legislated agendas of human rights are not the awakened resopnse to life in which everything has its rights of the bodhisattva.

ken o'neill