Listening to non-pragmatists
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
3M ago
I’ll close my discussion of Seth Zuihō Segall’s The House We Live In by noting how its radical pragmatism undermines itself in practice – which, for pragmatists, is the place that matters. Seth wants to listen to political foes and reach political understanding, but his prgamatism reaches so deep that it doesn’t allow him to do that – given how many such foes would be conservative Christians and Muslims. At the heart of most monotheistic thought is the idea that God is the true source of all value, the proper end and meaning of our lives. That view is directly antithetical to the one Seth ..read more
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Mystics, Marx, and negating the negation
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
4M ago
The phrase negation of the negation is best known from Karl Marx’s work, as when he uses it to describe capitalist production in Capital. It’s an odd phrase that seems simply redundant in the formal logic taught to analytic philosophers and computer scientists. There, the principle of double negation elimination tells you ¬¬P -> P: that is, the negative of the negative is the positive, and nothing more. Russell and Whitehead in Principia Mathematica say simply: “a proposition is equivalent of the falsehood of its negation.” On that account, to “negate the negation” of something just leaves ..read more
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Mysticism vs. magic
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
6M ago
While lecturing at Stonehill I made a comment about some traditional practice, I don’t remember which, that it was “less mystical and more magical.” Or maybe it was the reverse. What I remember clearly is that, as I was about to move on, one brave and perceptive student raised her hand to ask “Could you maybe explain the difference between magical and mystical?” I paused for a moment, a little stunned by the reminder that I hadn’t explained that distinction. I was very grateful for the question: of course I should have explained the distinction, how could I have expected them to know it? The q ..read more
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Right view vs. true statements
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
Paul Fuller’s The Notion of Diṭṭhi in Theravāda Buddhism, as its title might suggest, is a dry, abstract, technical monograph. It may also be one of the more spiritually beneficial books I have ever read. I suppose maybe both of these things are appropriate to the book’s subject matter, the Pali Canon. One of the Canon’s “three baskets”, the abhidhamma, is notorious for its level of technical abstraction – and yet Theravāda tradition has consistently held it to be of great spiritual benefit. Erik Braun has demonstrated how the modern Burmese traditions of vipassanā meditation, now enormou ..read more
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Mystical experience across cultures
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
There are likely a number of religious-studies scholars who would cringe and groan at Roland Griffiths’s studies of drug-induced mystical experience. I haven’t gone into their literature in a while, but I think it would be easy for them to say Griffiths is setting the study of mysticism back many decades. Because Griffiths’s stated conception of mystical experience is one that many religionists would already have considered very dated – even when I was studying them twenty years ago. I say this because Griffiths’s first groundbreaking study, in indicating that many psilocybin volunteers had my ..read more
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Who cares about phenomenological similarities?
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
I think one often learns the most about a philosopher from those points where her views change. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight a way I think my own thought has changed recently. Ten years ago on this blog, I posted an essay that I had written ten years before that, for Robert M. Gimello’s graduate course on Buddhist meditation traditions. That paper critiques Ninian Smart’s chapter “What would Buddhaghosa have made of The Cloud of Unknowing?” (in Steven Katz’s Mysticism and Language). My now twenty-year-old essay tears Smart to pieces for his comparison between Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhi ..read more
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A speculation on Ken Wilber’s experiences
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
As I reflected back on the works of Ken Wilber recently, a thought occurred to me: man, that guy must have done a lot of drugs. I don’t recall Wilber ever saying anything about drugs in his work one way or the other. Given that he wrote most of his work under the restrictive régime of the late-20th-century US, that shouldn’t be a surprise; caution is valuable. Yet he is an American baby boomer deeply interested in spirituality and mysticism; that is the sort of profile that leads one to expect significant experimentation with psychoactive substances. But more importantly than his demographic ..read more
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Integrators and operators at the APA
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
The Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association held its 2021 annual meeting last winter. It could not meet in person, of course. I forget where it was originally scheduled to meet, but that hardly matters now. Rather: since attending philosophy conferences is usually not related to my day job, I need to use my own money and precious vacation time to travel there, so under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have attended. This year, though, since it was virtual (and spread over two weekends), I had a chance to participate and see several of the sessions. What immediately struck me ..read more
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On chemically induced mystical experience
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
One of the more exciting scholarly developments of the century to date has been the growth of studies – previously hindered for too long by legal barriers – into mystical experiences induced by psychedelic drugs. In a landmark 2006 experiment, rigorously controlled and double-blind, Roland Griffiths’s research team at Johns Hopkins University found that people given high doses of psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – typically had experiences they described as “having substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance”, and bore several other characteristics in comm ..read more
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Why philosophy needs history
Love of All Wisdom » Epistemology
by Amod Lele
1y ago
After writing my previous post about history and the love of literature, I realized there’s a lot more one could say about the way history can deepen our appreciation of a work of literature – and perhaps even more so of philosophy, where I’ve thought about the question a lot more. I noted Herder’s recognition of the differences between eras, but there’s a lot more to say beyond that. It’s a particularly important point to make within philosophy, since it’s at the heart of the analytic-continental divide: analytic philosophers typically appreciate the truth of philosophical texts but without r ..read more
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