Dear Indian Philosophy Bloggers
I am currently in Mumbai. I have been invited to deliver the keynote talk for :
- The Center for Buddhist Studies Department of Philosophy, University of Mumbai International Conference On Buddhist Phenomenology, Culture and Society Between February, 15th, 16th and 17th of 2018.
The title of the talk I am giving is: “Buddhist Ethics and the Case of ‘Bad’ Dharmas”
“Abstract: I distinguish between two methodologies of reading and understanding: interpretation (explanation by way of what one takes to be true) and explication (explanation by way of validity). Interpretation is easily shown to be irrational and subjective (it violates validity and is contingent on the beliefs of the interpreter), while explication is reasonable and objective (it respects validity and is not contingent on the beliefs of the interpreter). Explicated, every philosophical perspective (darśana) entails a theory that entails its controversial claims. Explicated, Buddhism, as a darśana entails a theory of dharma that entails the darśana’s controversial claims about dharma, like all other schools of Indian philosophy, and what such theories disagree about is the objectivity of morality: the Right or the Good. However, early Buddhists texts distinguish between two varieties of dharmas: dharmas that are helpful and should be emulated, and an opposite variety of dharmas, which are unhelpful and should not be emulated. The Buddhist categorization of the latter phenomenon as an instance of “dharma” is often taken to be evidence against the notion that Buddhist talk about dharma is always ethical. But this criticism is not a result of explication, but interpretation. Explicated, Buddhist dharma is a version of Consequentialism, in which all goods—all dharmas— are of agent neutral importance and justify moral action, and the objectionable dharmas are not bad but wrong: while we should not emulate them, they constitute agent neutral justifications of ultimate Buddhist practice: mindfulness.”
Buddhist philosophy is of course a massive area so I am looking forward to learning from all the other participants in this conference.
While at the University of Mumbai, I have also been asked to deliver two lessons to the philosophy students there. The title of these two lessons are:
(1) The Irrationality of Interpretation and the Discipline of Philosophy.
Here I talk about the distinction between interpretation and explication, their origins in contrasting views of thought, and their implications for the study of philosophy.
(2) Yoga: The Fourth Moral Theory.
Applying explication to the study of Indian philosophy, and ethics in general, I note that there are four basic possibilities:
Virtue Ethics: The Good conditions or produces the Right.
Consequentialism: The Good justifies the Right.
Deontology: The Right justifies the Good.
Bhakti/Yoga: The Right conditions or produces the Good.
For reasons that have to do with basic models of thought assumed in the western and Chinese traditions (that link thought with linguistic meaning) the fourth option is not present there, but it is salient in the Indian tradition. I note in my work that not only is it ubiquitous in Hindu traditions, the core of the argument constitutes the foundation for Gandhi’s policies of direct action, which in turn had an influence on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the US. It forms the bed rock of activist moral theory, which maximizes the disruptive potential of disciplined action for transforming public spaces into one characterized by autonomy (kaivalya).
I hope to be lucid enough to report back on my stay at Mumbai. (It’s a shocking time change coming from Toronto, and I’m here only for the week.) The times that I have had the good fortune of the company of philosophers in India have been great. I’m sure my stay will continue that trend.