In what order to study philosophy?

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Pythagorean
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 09:10 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;135059 wrote:


I got lucky & found Kojeve at the library. Man, what a book....



Could you share the name of the book?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 09:15 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean;135082 wrote:
Could you share the name of the book?

Don't be thrown off by the fact that a marxist site (second link) is carrying a chapter. As you probably know, Marx is a deviation from Hegel. Hegel is superior. But don't tell Marx. This is the best metaphysics around. I can't tell you how brilliant this book. Here is a good sample on googlebooks. One of the best chapters is Eternity, Time, and the Concept, but it's all good. I think the second link might have some of what googlebooks doesn't. Enjoy. I'm sure you will! My avatar is a visual summary....

Introduction to the reading of Hegel - Google Books

Introduction to the Reading of Hegel by Alexandre Kojeve
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 01:00 pm
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134240 wrote:
I'm just trawling for comments, as a reality check on whether it is possible to study philosophy in approximately this order.

As I've surely mentioned before, I find it a struggle to get through any books at all these days, so I'm likely to prove a slow pupil. This is somewhat maddening for me, and no doubt also will be for anybody who wants to enthusiastically recommend something for me to read.

Nevertheless, I'm trying to organise some sort of provisional list of philosophers to read (not yet at the level of individual works, although suggestions are welcome).

I've been fairly flexible as to whom I consider to be "philosophers", although most of the names on the list are mainstream. Some names (Derrida, for example) are conspicuous by their absence; I can't do anything much about that at the moment, other than mentioning that I'm extremely averse to relativism of any kind. (Feyerabend is about as far as I'm willing to go in that direction at the moment.) Russell is absent, because I've read a fair bit of him over the years, although nothing recently. The names near the end of the list are included with reluctance, because I know they're important, and I must make an effort. I've put Nietzsche higher up the list than I'm emotionally inclined to do - someone I'm that averse to must be telling me something important.

I know Heidegger is appallingly difficult, but I'm attracted to him (on a desert island I'd probably have to have Plato, Kant, and Heidegger), and attraction is going to be important, if I'm going to get through any of this lot at all!

As general historical reading, I'm thinking of Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind. I haven't got the money to get Copleston's 11-volume history, nor am I likely to find the time and energy to read anything that big (although I know I should).

The bias towards Western philosophy is shameful; I just don't have any clear idea how to remedy it; also, of course, it is easiest to consolidate ideas which have already influenced me through the culture into which I was born.

The list is, of course, highly provisional, not yet intended to be taken with great seriousness. (The numbering started with (1), but then I had to promote some philosophers ahead of the rest, hence (0).)

Philosophers (0)
------------

Berkeley
Meister Eckhart
Heidegger
Mill
Plato
Schopenhauer

Philosophers (1)
------------

Chomsky
Descartes
Feyerabend
Fromm
Jung
Sartre

Philosophers (2)
------------

Bergson
Freud
Kant
Kierkegaard
Locke

Philosophers (3)
------------

Aquinas
Aristotle
Gabriel Marcel
Marx
Merleau-Ponty
Popper

Philosophers (4)
------------

David Bohm
Bradley
Emerson
William James
Marcuse
Nietzsche
Rousseau

Philosophers (5)
------------

Hegel
Hume
Husserl
Leibniz
Spinoza
Wittgenstein

Philosophers (6)
------------

Averroes
De Beauvoir
Hobbes
Machiavelli
Maimonides


I would absolutely not read them in that order, even if I were going to read all of them. If you are going to read them all, you might want to simply read them chronologically, as they often refer back to each other, so that it will be difficult to know what some of the later ones are writing about if you have not read the earlier ones first.

However, I really think that kennethamy's suggestion of reading a comprehensive history of philosophy first is probably a better idea, to then adjust your list according to which philosophers interest you. And the one he recommends is a standard and respected text; you could easily do far worse. I rather like Russell's History of Western Philosophy, despite its flaws and limitations. Russell is, to be sure, very opinionated about the various philosophers, but he is honest and up front about that, instead of writing in a pretend objective way, as some others have done, while infecting the whole with their prejudices in a clandestine manner. With Russell, you know he does not like some of the philosophers, and so you know he is not sympathetic to those. You are then free to read other things about those philosophers, if you wish, though I think that he is often right about which philosophers are worthwhile and which are a waste of time.

After reading such a book, if you were wanting a short list, Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant are usually regarded as the four most important, so I would make sure that I read something by all of them if one is wanting a comprehensive survey, which would be impossible without all four. In Kant's case in particular, you may find it necessary to read some commentary or other about him, as his writings are often opaque. But you may find it useful for all four.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 01:29 pm
@Pyrrho,
Perhaps it's possible to study them in this order?

(0) --> (1) --> (2) --> (3) --> (4) --> (5) --> (6) --> (0) --> (1) --> (2) --> etc., ad infinitum

until it all sinks in? (Obviously not reading every word by every philosopher at every stage! Perhaps just skimming at first.)

I've ordered Flew's history. I'm hunting around to see if my copy of Russell's history is really lost. I have already read a bit around the subject, e.g. Aiken (ed.), The Age of Ideology, and several books about individual philosophers (years ago). I may even have read the whole of Russell's history, in my youth; I'm not sure. I have some other useful general guides, e.g. Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Urmson and Ree (eds.), The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers, and the aforementioned book by Tarnas. And of course there's the very useful Stanford Encyclopedia online (not to mention Wikipedia, of which I have quite a high opinion, on the whole). I have quite a few general books on the Existentialists, and have read at least two of them right through. Lots of books here and there over the decades. But no systematic study (no belief that I was even capable of systematic study), and little or no attempt to read the primary sources (apart from a few books of Russell's, and a few other unsystematic odds and ends). It's time for me to get to grips with some of the primary sources (and consolidate my general background knowledge while I'm doing so).

I have a definite end in view, but I'm not at all sure how to express that end in words; I'll try to think about how to do so.

(Except that my death is an end, and I always have that in view!)
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 03:53 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;135078 wrote:
Have you really tried to understand me?


Of course not. What is there to understand?
 
Sean OConnor
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 06:02 pm
@Pepijn Sweep,
To begin with, clearly there is no ideal order in which to study the great number of philosophers. In fact, there is more to study than even philosophy. I began my studies with the poets and feel it's given a great advantage of having a high capacity for empathy and awareness of emotional influence beyond reason- slightly Niezschean however Charles Baudelaire goes beyond Nietzsche, away from philosophy into a pure lyrical and spiritual expression.
I do agree with Schopenhauer being on the top of your list because Schopenhauer's thinking has really set the best foundation for truth to date. His title "The World As Representation" really says it all. Bertrand Russell is also quite important, especially his book "Knowledge Of The External Knowledge" because, compared to any other philosopher, he gets the best sense of thinking as motion, connected concepts, et cetera, and illustrates this using a coordinate graph mentality. Then, Epicurus & Democritus are great because they are not so self righteous as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, for they are more in touch with the creative aspect of how the universe seems, and how nothing is random. I think the more one focuses on metaphysics, the better his or her ethics may be.
Next, I would pick Ayn Rand because she is the most confrontational philosopher to date. It is true I don't think she gets too far past what Schopenhauer & Nietzsche imply however, she is very political, free market, independent, artistic, and yet quite rational.
On that note there are many writers worth the read who may not be "philosophers" by name. Dostoevsky, who's dialogues are as great as Plato's, Henry Miller who is as real as he is spiritual and romantic, & James Joyce who really revolutionized language and the connection between writing as we think. Lastly, I welcome you to learn more about my philosophy which I believe addresses the most post modern concerns from every angle.

seanoconnorphilosophy.com
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 07:36 pm
@Sean OConnor,
Sean O'Connor;135674 wrote:
Bertrand Russell is also quite important, especially his book "[Our] Knowledge Of The External [World]" because, compared to any other philosopher, he gets the best sense of thinking as motion, connected concepts, et cetera, and illustrates this using a coordinate graph mentality.

That's probably the most important of his books that I've read (assuming that I've corrected the title correctly!). If I remember right, my main interest in it was for his discussion of an idea of Whitehead's and (earlier?) Jean Nicod's, for mathematically constructing points of space as sets of spatial regions. That's quite a murky area, when you get into it - I mean to get back to it, and try to work out the mathematics of it better, some time, but I really bashed my brains out on the problem a decade or so ago, and I don't have any feeling that I'm yet ready for another attack on it!

I also got something out of some sections of An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; I particularly liked his lucid explanation of why the word 'dog', and the concept dog, are both universals.
 
Sean OConnor
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 07:42 pm
@Twirlip,
I love the last thing you wrote because such is the logic from which I construct my philosophy- the word & the concept- and I do so in a sense by connecting words as qualitive & quantative values similar to how Bertrand arranged quantative spatial values however I think he misses the more poetic and present implications of actual thinking
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 3 Mar, 2010 09:13 pm
@Sean OConnor,
Sean O'Connor;135674 wrote:
I began my studies with the poets and feel it's given a great advantage of having a high capacity for empathy and awareness of emotional influence beyond reason- slightly Niezschean however Charles Baudelaire goes beyond Nietzsche, away from philosophy into a pure lyrical and spiritual expression.

I started w/ literature including poetry as well, and I agree. This helped me recognize the picture-theory of meaning as crap from the very beginning. Metaphor is so basic, & yet philosophy is often suspicious of metaphor, except for Nietzsche, who knew that so much truth was nothing but. By the way, Nietzsche did go pure poetry occasionally. I don't know if it's good or not because I don't know German. But his themes are promising.

---------- Post added 03-03-2010 at 10:17 PM ----------

Sean O'Connor;135708 wrote:
I love the last thing you wrote because such is the logic from which I construct my philosophy- the word & the concept- and I do so in a sense by connecting words as qualitive & quantative values similar to how Bertrand arranged quantative spatial values however I think he misses the more poetic and present implications of actual thinking


This is quite close to my view. Kant's "unity" is imposed on the spatial present, which is experienced as qualia. Therefore logos/word is the junction of unity and qualia, or quantitative and qualitative experience. And this is represented by my avatar.

"Infinity" is qualia. "Negativity" is the quantification function, or Kant's transcendental object. Most truth is pragmatic as logos, or word, is not entirely digital, or quantified. The early Wittgenstein was digitally obsessed. The later Wittgenstein was continuous. The early Wittgenstein was right about logic and number, but not word. The late Wittgenstein is write about word but boring to poets, who already understand what he's about.....
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 01:30 am
@Twirlip,
:perplexed: These writing compile 11 to 13 volumes. I doubt if they are still in print. The Congress Library might have the books; though it pre-dates the foundation.

If you can not find any-thing there are three options; the Univerity of Sorbonne, the University of Amsterdam (former Athenaeum M.) or the Biblioteca Hermetica. Probably there will be copies in the Royal Academy of Arts/Sciences in London or somewhere in the Vatican.

The Biblioteca Hermetica is publishing again, I could go bye to check for you.Laughing
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 03:37 am
@Twirlip,
I just realized tonight that Wittgenstein is a (non-) god of philosophy. He's like Hegel reduced to half of the first commandment, but in a style that parodies as it improves upon Spinoza. Spinoza is 1, or rational theology. Wittgenstein is -1, or negative theology. And Wittgenstein, like any true theologian, negates his own negative theology within this "non-ology"....

I think that this is a succinct paraphrase of the heart of Hegel's logic. In any case, it's what my triangle avatar has been about ...& why the TLP has suddenly clicked for me. Positronic theology...

Quote:

4.461 Propositions show what they say; tautologies and contradictions
show that they say nothing. A tautology has no truth-conditions, since
it is unconditionally true: and a contradiction is true on no condition.
Tautologies and contradictions lack sense. (Like a point from which two
arrows go out in opposite directions to one another.)
The number-spectrum is a linear variation of the triangle. It's an unspeakable continuum broken up by a system of negation and tautology. Logic reduces to positing tautologies and negating them. Negations cancel out. Thus the sign can be transformed into sub-signs for convenience. The world is not as a simple this....but our logic alone can do no more. The rest is continuous logos, which is not evaluated logically.

Basically, just read the TLP until its pages fall out. That seems like a place to start. The rest is contingent?
Quote:

6.1222 This throws some light on the question why logical propositions
cannot be confirmed by experience any more than they can be refuted by
it. Not only must a proposition of logic be irrefutable by any
possible experience, but it must also be unconfirmable by any possible
experience.
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 10:25 am
@Twirlip,
:bigsmile: I study Philosophy daily now. I think it's formally less difficult than real Life; but it helps understanding and dealing with problems. Doesn't pay the rent...

I think a lot about the other states of conscious-ess; I all-ways Wonder.

:Glasses:PS
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 11:09 am
@Pepijn Sweep,
Pepijn Sweep;135959 wrote:
:bigsmile: I study Philosophy daily now.

I wonder if I should do that. Also, in a message, someone else has suggested meditation. I have difficulty in either studying or meditating. But it might be possible to start small: have a modest daily routine, of reading a few pages (at least) of philosophy, and meditating (however fruitlessly, as it probably will be for me to start with), and stick to it, through thick and thin. Something to think about.
 
Ding an Sich
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 11:33 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134240 wrote:
I'm just trawling for comments, as a reality check on whether it is possible to study philosophy in approximately this order.

As I've surely mentioned before, I find it a struggle to get through any books at all these days, so I'm likely to prove a slow pupil. This is somewhat maddening for me, and no doubt also will be for anybody who wants to enthusiastically recommend something for me to read.

Nevertheless, I'm trying to organise some sort of provisional list of philosophers to read (not yet at the level of individual works, although suggestions are welcome).

I've been fairly flexible as to whom I consider to be "philosophers", although most of the names on the list are mainstream. Some names (Derrida, for example) are conspicuous by their absence; I can't do anything much about that at the moment, other than mentioning that I'm extremely averse to relativism of any kind. (Feyerabend is about as far as I'm willing to go in that direction at the moment.) Russell is absent, because I've read a fair bit of him over the years, although nothing recently. The names near the end of the list are included with reluctance, because I know they're important, and I must make an effort. I've put Nietzsche higher up the list than I'm emotionally inclined to do - someone I'm that averse to must be telling me something important.

I know Heidegger is appallingly difficult, but I'm attracted to him (on a desert island I'd probably have to have Plato, Kant, and Heidegger), and attraction is going to be important, if I'm going to get through any of this lot at all!

As general historical reading, I'm thinking of Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind. I haven't got the money to get Copleston's 11-volume history, nor am I likely to find the time and energy to read anything that big (although I know I should).

The bias towards Western philosophy is shameful; I just don't have any clear idea how to remedy it; also, of course, it is easiest to consolidate ideas which have already influenced me through the culture into which I was born.

The list is, of course, highly provisional, not yet intended to be taken with great seriousness. (The numbering started with (1), but then I had to promote some philosophers ahead of the rest, hence (0).)

Philosophers (0)
------------

Berkeley
Meister Eckhart
Heidegger
Mill
Plato
Schopenhauer

Philosophers (1)
------------

Chomsky
Descartes
Feyerabend
Fromm
Jung
Sartre

Philosophers (2)
------------

Bergson
Freud
Kant
Kierkegaard
Locke

Philosophers (3)
------------

Aquinas
Aristotle
Gabriel Marcel
Marx
Merleau-Ponty
Popper

Philosophers (4)
------------

David Bohm
Bradley
Emerson
William James
Marcuse
Nietzsche
Rousseau

Philosophers (5)
------------

Hegel
Hume
Husserl
Leibniz
Spinoza
Wittgenstein

Philosophers (6)
------------

Averroes
De Beauvoir
Hobbes
Machiavelli
Maimonides


There are three individuals that form the basis of western thought: Plato, Aristotle, and Kant. If you start with one of these three, you can at the very least, understand the grounding of other philosophers. However there is a catch: your philosophical progress must be linear, i.e, you cannot go in circles but must head forward from your grounding (Plato, Aristotle, Kant). This will allow you to go through the confusing maze of philosophy with some form of ease. For example, if you start with Kant, it would be best to read him a few times and then start on Fitche, Hegel, Schelling, and Schopenhauer. The consequent philosophers use Kant, in one form or another, as their grounding.

If you start off with Aristotle (who is probably the best guy to start from), you can go to Maimoneides, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, etc.

Plato is weird; the reason being is that you can start from him and then move on to Aristotle or you can actually incorporate him into your philosophy. Hegel did this with him and Kant. I view Plato as both a supplement and a grounding for philosophy. Plato doesnt always allow for a linear progress, which makes him an exception.

Might I also encourage you to take at least an introductory class to logic which should cover the basics. If you have done this, then youre off to a good start.

But then again you can totally throw this method out the window and do whatever you want. Keep in mind though: philosophy is a lifetime of work. You will never be complete in your philosophical progress or investigation. Have fun.
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 11:57 am
@Ding an Sich,
:bigsmile:I love to think freelee! I live to think free; still their are considerations. Can you call yourself free ? Men or Woman> Religious or not ?
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 12:10 pm
@Ding an Sich,
Reading Aristotle would at the moment, I fear, be a dutiful plod for me. Plato attracts and bewilders me; he sets my mind seething; he is almost certainly the place to start (perhaps for everybody). Kant deters me, but I know he is essential. I don't yet know how approach him.

I have to start with what attracts me (which is one reason why I may have to go around in circles, although another reason is that a straight line from Plato to Heidegger is far too long!), or I'll never get started at all.

I have some basic competence in mathematical logic (enough to have made serious use of the Compactness Theorem, which leads to a surprising result about a topological space which turns out to be metrisable, although I don't know what application, if any, that might have - it's something I must get back to), and I could presumably refresh and extend my knowledge of that subject if need be (I already have some books), but I know little of how formal logic (particularly temporal and modal logic) is used in philosophy (and nothing at all of what 'logic' or 'dialectic' mean to Hegel, although I mean to find out), so I do indeed need some sort of primer on that topic.
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 12:18 pm
@Twirlip,
:bigsmile:I am glad I forgot most of math. Only Chance I am really good at. And Accounting. I started to get interested in eso-therica & al-chemie. Fascinating !

Now I filo-sofy with my herbs cooking dinner...
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 12:18 pm
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;135999 wrote:
Reading Aristotle would at the moment, I fear, be a dutiful plod for me. Plato attracts and bewilders me; he sets my mind seething; he is almost certainly the place to start (perhaps for everybody). Kant deters me, but I know he is essential. I don't yet know how approach him.

I have to start with what attracts me (which is one reason why I may have to go around in circles, although another reason is that a straight line from Plato to Heidegger is far too long!), or I'll never get started at all.

I have some basic competence in mathematical logic (enough to have made serious use of the Compactness Theorem, which leads to a surprising result about a topological space which turns out to be metrisable, although I don't know what application, if any, that might have - it's something I must get back to), and I could presumably refresh and extend my knowledge of that subject if need be (I already have some books), but I know little of how formal logic (particularly temporal and modal logic) is used in philosophy (and nothing at all of what 'logic' or 'dialectic' mean to Hegel, although I mean to find out), so I do indeed need some sort of primer on that topic.


I guess I started out with Plato myself, and fell madly in love, which was a fault. My black horse overwhelmed my white horse and my chariot went careening into the sun. Whitehead's The Adventures of Ideas is an important book for me also. Whitehead's ideas are however, in the final analysis 'over-engineered'. I agree with C.D. Broad, that anything that can be thought can be expressed in lucid prose.

-
 
Ding an Sich
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 01:53 pm
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;135999 wrote:
Reading Aristotle would at the moment, I fear, be a dutiful plod for me. Plato attracts and bewilders me; he sets my mind seething; he is almost certainly the place to start (perhaps for everybody). Kant deters me, but I know he is essential. I don't yet know how approach him.

I have to start with what attracts me (which is one reason why I may have to go around in circles, although another reason is that a straight line from Plato to Heidegger is far too long!), or I'll never get started at all.

I have some basic competence in mathematical logic (enough to have made serious use of the Compactness Theorem, which leads to a surprising result about a topological space which turns out to be metrisable, although I don't know what application, if any, that might have - it's something I must get back to), and I could presumably refresh and extend my knowledge of that subject if need be (I already have some books), but I know little of how formal logic (particularly temporal and modal logic) is used in philosophy (and nothing at all of what 'logic' or 'dialectic' mean to Hegel, although I mean to find out), so I do indeed need some sort of primer on that topic.


I actually started with Kant. I don't know if that was the best move in the world to make but it's a pretty bad ass start, especially since I can understand more than 60% of him now. There's just something about the title "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals" that really turned me on when I was first introduced to him.

Im not saying that you must read from Plato all the way to Heidegger. You can skip a few in between. But I do think that whatever you do, you need a proper foundation to start, otherwise things will just get crazy. There are actually other foundations that you can start from now that I think about it; Descartes and Locke for example.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2010 03:35 pm
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134943 wrote:

The study of persons is psychology;
Psychology is a science;
Therefore, the study of persons is a science.



I am sure this subject is a great deal more complicated than that. I studied Psych at the University of Sydney which at the time was entrenched in a form of behaviourism (a.k.a. "pulling habits out of rats" .) Being spiritually inclined, I wouldn't have a bar of it. B.F. Skinner became my pet hate (along with Freddie Ayer). Needless to say, I did not do well in psych, although I did meet a nice girl there, to whom I am still married 27 years later, so I got something out of it.

But my general feeling about the so-called science of psychology is that its only worthwhile exponents are those intelligent and sympathetic individuals who are able to use scientific rigor to develop a theory and organise their thoughts on the subject. I refer to writers such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow (who of course I loved), Erich Fromm (ditto), Erik Erikkson, and a few others. All those dreadful men in white coats, Skinner, Watson, and the like, strapping the human psyche into the procrustean bed of analytical statistics, are rather like a de-fanged version of concentration camp medical attendants in my view.

Later I edited the Australian edition of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology for several years. This has now morphed into the Integral movement, and I am out of touch with them. But they did capture the indispensable dimension of spirituality in their profile of the psyche, without which there is no foundation for the discipline at all in my view.


Twirlip;134992 wrote:
This led on to a mention of Buddhism, and a reference to an interesting article by Sam Harris:

Shambhala Sun - Killing the Buddha

In message #79 of the thread on the BBC message board:

BBC - MESSAGE BOARDS - Radio 4 - Richard Dawkins' Fundamentalism - Conversation

I identified what I took (and still take) to be a non sequitur in Harris's argument.

The conversation was cut short, and I haven't had the opportunity to pursue the argument any further; however, I remain very interested in the form which a "progressive, non-dogmatic understanding of the mind" might take.

In message #39 of that thread, I had written:
and, to the first part of that sentence, someone had immediately replied:
The conversation appeared to be moving into an interesting and fruitful area, which is why it was so frustrating that it was cut off [is that the root meaning of "frustrated"? - I forget], prompting me to look for a philosophical forum where I could discuss this issue, in particular (as well as others, of course).

In message #68 of the thread, I had written:
That was before I ran into what I considered to be the non sequitur of Harris assuming that there could be a "scientific account of the contemplative path" (my emphasis) which would "utterly transcend its religious associations".

The syllogism I invented here earlier reminded me of the fallacy I believed to exist in what Harris was saying.

But I was already thinking of referring to that article, and the conversation on the BBC message board, to give a slightly clearer idea of what kind of interest I have in philosophy.

I haven't re-read Harris's article, and it's possible that I'm misrepresenting it, or otherwise indulging in some logical fallacy of my own.

Anyway, I will probably start a thread about this issue in one of the other forums here.


I glanced at the Harris article. I can't differ with his endorsement of Buddhism, but as always his anti-religious zeal eclipses whatever usefulness he might otherwise have.

The question of whether Buddhism is 'a religion' or not is a large one, and won't be settled in a few posts, but here are some observations.

I agree with Harris that the principles of Buddhism can actually be applied scientifically, but with a very important qualification. In this case, we are the subject of the discipline; we are that which we seek to know. This is different to the normal model of 'science' because obviously it means getting involved and seeing what happens in your own experience, so clearly there is a subjective element which is foreign to the Western conception of 'objective science'. Given that, however, it can be viewed as an experimental method, with observable results, supported by a theory and a comprehensive literature.

I have undertaken one of the 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreats which are offered by S.N. Goenka, free of charge, at centres in many countries. Great care is taken to differentiate this training from 'organised religion' and 'dogma'. Participants are encouraged to apply themselves to the practice and observe the results. It is an extremely arduous course, and the timetable they recommend for your daily practice is also pretty demanding. I will own up that I am not able to observe their recommended 'two-hour-per-day' regimen, but I nevertheless do practice regularly and there definitely are benefits.

There are many studies being done in various centres about the benefits of meditation, Buddhist and other, which do generally return positive and measurable results. But Buddhism does not have a monopoly on it. There is an approach in all the traditions called the Scientia Sacra, the Sacred Science. Westerners will usually dismiss the idea out of hand, but if you dig into the literature it is amazingly rich. Bookmark Sacred Science, by Thomas J McFarlane. and also the catalog of The home page of World Wisdom - Perennial Philosophy and the World's Great Spiritual Traditions for referemce.

As regards Buddhism, religion and 'killing the Buddha'. That last is from a Zen saying - 'if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him'. It is thought that Zen is deliberately antinomian and eschews dogmatism and ritual. That said, however, if you visit the pre-eminent Zen center in the U.S., the San Francisco Zen Centre, as I did last October, you will find that the daily schedule runs around a routine of meditation, liturgy, chanting, bowing and worship from 5 in the morning till 10 at night, 7 days a week. Within this context, Zen is indeed skeptical, anti-dogmatic and non-reliant on rites and ritual.

But I do agree that Buddhism is the least 'religious' of the traditions in that it is based on practice, experience, insight, conduct, and other practical principles which need to be understood and applied. Goenka's approach is generally secular, pragmatic and certainly non-devotional. Most 'Western Buddhists' could be characterized as having an outlook of secular spirituality. IN Western Buddhism, the Tibetan schools tend to be the most ritualised, and the Zen and Thai schools put more emphasis on sitting practice. But Buddhism generally has avoided this dreadful tension between belief vs skepticism, faith vs science and so on which has developed in the Western world.
 
 

 
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