Video debate: “Śāntideva: utilitarian or eudaimonist?”

This November, Charles Goodman and I had a wonderful debate at Princeton’s Center for Culture, Society and Religion, on the interpretation of Śāntideva’s ethics: Charles claims that Śāntideva is a utilitarian, I claim that he is a eudaimonist. You can now watch the video of the debate on the Center’s website; I hope you enjoy!

Charles and I refer a lot in the debate to the handouts we created; I’m attaching them here.

One Reply to “Video debate: “Śāntideva: utilitarian or eudaimonist?””

  1. Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian manifesto, his Fragment on Government, was actually a critique of Blackstone’s Introduction to his Commentary on the Roman Law. Where the Romans spoke of soverignty residing in the people, Bentham followed Hobbes assuming the State as the actual foundation of any possible public order. That gives you the rhetoric of the Monarchies in Southeast Asia, to this day: as exemplars of public order, they must be respected in all discourse.

    That’s not Utilitarianism as understood here: we’all take that from J.S. Mill, who followed the Roman intuition with his sovereign Public Opinion, giving vox populi, vox dei, by which Elon Musk has indeed transformed Twitter and the internet arena.

    In that spirit, Charles Goodman finds utility in what is given to the public cause: what he recognizes as good amounts to acts that are *reputable, echoing in public awareness. Amod Lele artfully interrupts that conventional patter by appeal to interventions that defy the appearance of reputability, in the interest of transforming actual awareness. Like Alicia now stripping down for PETA to raise awareness of Vegan solutions for the climate crisis: rather like a latter-day Ajivika or aescetic herbalist. But Amod finds his way without the detour through material consequences: just acting in awareness itself, like the Catholic way of reframing evil as just the absence of the Good itself.

    That, interestingly, brings the philosophical contest down to extensional versus intensional logics: where the utilitarian calculus ranges over extensions of utility, the noetic intervention addresses directly and transformatively the meaning of what is commended or enacted. Intensional logic remains severely underestimated in Analytical philosophy, despite the engagement of Leibniz, Euler, and the Germans through to Frege.

    It remains passing strange that I can still pace them while working in apparently quite unrelated traditions.

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