"Objectivity" and objective moral values

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MiphamFan
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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 4:19 am

(Madhyamaka) Buddhism is relativist.

Only eternalists have a problem with that. You are at heart an eternalist.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:51 am

I don't think so.
Miphamfan wrote: I include all concepts of eternally existent phenomena under the term "objectivity" and I categorically reject them all. As far as I know this is completely consistent with Madhyamaka.

They don't exist at all.
Madhyamaka is a dialectic as you well know, and asserting that objective phenomena are merely or simply non-existent falls under the heading of nihilism.

Say you had been given a poison, and there is only one antidote, which, if not taken, will cause you to die. You are presented with two identical bottles, only one of which contains the antidote. So the difference between these two bottles is not simply non-existent - unless, of course, dying means nothing to you, but I presume that would not be the case. There is an objective difference between the two bottles which in this case is a matter of life and death. But there are uncountable numbers of other instances wherein objective differences have real consequences. As I said above, this is on the level of conventional reality. But that is why the 'two truths' teaching is important. If you deny that conventional things exist in a conventional manner, then you fall into nihilism.

I think one has to be able to recognize the category of objective realities, without thereby necessarily falling into 'eternalism'.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:12 am

When did I exist that things do not "exist" conventionally? Of course they do, I made that point right at the beginning.

But to say they exist conventionally just means they appear. Even the Greek word "phainomenon" just means "appearance". It appears that a ball exists. Basketballs, golf balls, footballs all appear like balls to me, but when I zoom in with a microscope, where is the ball? This is completely in line with Madhyamaka.

In the same way, it appears to me that karma and rebirth are real conventionally -- which is to say, they are appearances. They are as real as gravity or the sun. But ultimately, they have no inherent existence. Nagarjuna talked about it more eloquently than I could. What more any monotheistic "principles"?

Please cite me some Buddhist texts which do talk about "objective realities". This is not part of Mahayana Buddhism at all. Even when we give something, we are taught to remember that there is ultimately no giver, no gift, and no giftee.

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Kim O'Hara
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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Kim O'Hara » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:33 am

Apologies for back-tracking here but you have all been talking while I was away.
Wayfarer wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:14 pm
Kim O'Hara wrote:My best way out of the philosophical swamp was to propose that ethical axioms, like Euclid's geometrical axioms, were necessary. A secure edifice could be constructed on a few axioms, and all would be well.
That is exactly what Spinoza attempted to do with his Ethics.
Ah!
I missed Spinoza when I was reading a lot of Western philosophy, but I'm pleased that he tried the same thing - it encourages me in thinking my idea was reasonably sensible. :thumbsup:
But ... did he succeed? Or did he run into the same problem I did?
MiphamFan wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 1:59 am
I disagree with any idea of using "axioms" as a basis of conduct.

1) it just does not work if people do not share your axioms
See my question to Wayfarer.
2) As far as I know truly existent "axioms" are completely antithetical to Mahayana Buddhism and even the larger scheme of Nyaya indian epistemology
I'm not sure if you knew this, but the "axioms" of geometry are not "truly existent" in the sense of saying something "true" about "Reality". Rather, they are statements which are unprovable but are conventionally agreed to be true because they are useful. They are used in full awareness of the fact that they are not applicable in all situations, and people working in different areas of mathematics may - and do - choose different axioms. Euclid's axioms are good for geometry on a plane surface, but others are needed for the geometry on (e.g.) a spherical surface.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:42 am

“MiphamFan” wrote:Basketballs, golf balls, footballs all appear like balls to me, but when I zoom in with a microscope, where is the ball? This is completely in line with Madhyamaka.
So do you think Buddhists ought to be employed in scientific research? Or that such activities are unimportant, as they only concern appearances and nothing real?

As far as principles are concerned, I am of the view that they are important in Buddhism. There are after all precepts and the like. I think the major difference between Buddhism and other religions in respect of principles, is in the recognition of the fact that the teaching is ‘like a raft’, i.e. can be discarded once the objective is attained. It has no ultimate value. And actually that is why the idea of the dialectic is so basic in Buddhism. There may be no absolutes - but that is only the case from a certain perspective, of one who has surpassed conditioned perception. At the level of conventional existence, then indeed there are rules, principles, objective facts and also consequences that arise from the failure to recognise them.

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

@Kim - I haven’t succeeded in really understanding Spinoza, but I mentioned it, because it does go to the point you made. He is a pretty highly-regarded philosopher but reading him is a challenge.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:18 am

There are conventional truths as to behaviour.

But they are not "principles".

And it really does not do us much good to talk about them as objective axioms or "principles" because we have a danger of reifying them as something ultimate. Abrahamists already do that, it does them no good at all in trying to get across to people who do not accept their premises.

Better approach is the JMG Burkean conservative way which I see as perfectly in line as treating them as conventions.

There are Buddhist shopkeepers, teachers, doctors, and probably scientists. There is no reason why a Buddhist shouldn't be a scientist if it fits with his inclinations and his conventional circumstances.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:27 am

I’m sorry, but many of my family are ‘abrahamists’, so perhaps I ought to bow out. :smile:
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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:31 am

No need to get offended, I have tremendous respect for Abrahamists. I'm just pointing out that their arguments for "conservative values" are largely premised on people accepting their values as axioms -- this just fails when people do not.

You should spend more time reading that JMG piece I linked.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Thu Jan 04, 2018 10:52 pm

I think all the arguments against God can be used with equal facility against Buddhism. What is different in Buddhism, as I said, is the recognition of the idea of 'the dharma as raft', as a vehicle which can be ultimately left behind. That is profoundly different in Western religion where this distinction doesn't exist.

There's also the dialectical nature of Buddhism, which is, as you know, the precise meaning of Madhyamaka - 'neither is nor is not'. Whereas Western religion is always vacillating between 'is' and 'is not'; there is something you either believe or don't believe; either it's true, or it's not. Whereas Buddhism has a way of accommodating the reality of perspective, but also acknowledging a truth beyond perspective. I think that is actually found in some forms of philosophical theology, but has generally been lost in Western thought.

Another point is the realisation that there is no 'ultimate object'. This is one of the consequences of the discoveries of 20th century science. Previously it had been accepted that matter had some ultimate nature - presumably the atom, eternal and indivisible. Heisenberg and Schrodinger put an end to that. That is why Einstein had to ask 'does the moon still exist when we're not looking at it?' He was really incredulous that such a question had to be asked, but it had come to that. Nowadays physics itself is accused of peddling fantasy.

The realisation of śūnyatā can cope with the unreal or empty nature of physical reality, as it has a perspective which accommodated this from the beginning. Whereas in the West, there is this feeling that the treasured beliefs of yesteryear have been shown to be empty dreams and wish-fulfilment and that reality is actually meaningless; you're either a believer or you're not. That is the dilemma that Buddhism can address.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Malcolm
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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:17 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Thu Jan 04, 2018 10:52 pm
I think all the arguments against God can be used with equal facility against Buddhism.
Well, no, since most of the arguments against God have to do with refuting first causes, and Buddhism no where asserts first causes.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by boda » Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:13 am

smcj wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:30 pm
So do you guys think Karma is a culturally relativistic convention?
The only way it could not be is if all cultures had the same values. Is that what you believe, despite all evidence to the contrary?

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by smcj » Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:44 am

boda wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:13 am
smcj wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:30 pm
So do you guys think Karma is a culturally relativistic convention?
The only way it could not be is if all cultures had the same values. Is that what you believe, despite all evidence to the contrary?
Since you asked, I see the teachings on karma and reincarnation to be obviously culturally specific.

However the workings of karma, if valid at all, are not dependent on any consensus. In fact, being a modern Westerner, I believe karma and reincarnation to have been in effect during the entire evolutionary process, long before humans created language and culture.

Furthermore, given the teaching that this universe came into being because of the unexpired karma of the last universe, I have speculated that the evolutionary process is itself a description of the karmic ripening process. But that just my daydreaming on the subject.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:56 am

Convention does not depend on "consensus".

Gravity works whether you are a Piraha tribal, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, or some alien in the Andromeda galaxy.

This whole shared container universe we are in, however, is completely created by our own karmic seeds. In the end there is nothing "real" backing it -- it's turtles all the way down, infinite regress. It is in this sense that "conventional truth" is meant. And in this sense that I mean karma and gravity are conventional.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by boda » Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:57 am

smcj wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:44 am
boda wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:13 am
smcj wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:30 pm
So do you guys think Karma is a culturally relativistic convention?
The only way it could not be is if all cultures had the same values. Is that what you believe, despite all evidence to the contrary?
Since you asked, I see the teachings on karma and reincarnation to be obviously culturally specific.

However the workings of karma, if valid at all, are not dependent on any consensus. In fact, being a modern Westerner, I believe karma and reincarnation to have been in effect during the entire evolutionary process, long before humans created language and culture.

Furthermore, given the teaching that this universe came into being because of the unexpired karma of the last universe, I have speculated that the evolutionary process is itself a description of the karmic ripening process. But that just my daydreaming on the subject.
The teachings are culturally specific but not the workings?

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:54 am

On a side note, this thread made me realise how Gelug Madhyamaka can be useful for those who think the straightforward interpretation of the Indian texts goes too far.

Wayfarer, from what I've read of your posts over the years it seems to me that the main contact you have with Buddhism is coming from a Western philosophical background and mostly through texts. Do you have any contacts with in-the-flesh teachers?
The realisation of śūnyatā can cope with the unreal or empty nature of physical reality, as it has a perspective which accommodated this from the beginning. Whereas in the West, there is this feeling that the treasured beliefs of yesteryear have been shown to be empty dreams and wish-fulfilment and that reality is actually meaningless; you're either a believer or you're not. That is the dilemma that Buddhism can address.
Anyway I agree with your final statement here.

I think the West can develop its own solutions to this dualism of either having firm axiomatic beliefs or complete nihilism -- JMG's solution is such an alternative after all. I'm not sure how far it went but even in mediaeval Christendom, nominalism as espoused by people like William of Ockham didn't entail any complete falling apart of society like I see some modern conservatives claiming. Further back in history as I mentioned there were also the Pyrrhonian Sceptics, but then again it seemed to be mainly active only in the Eastern Roman Empire and was less popular than the other Hellenistic schools.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:42 am

Miphamfan wrote:Wayfarer, from what I've read of your posts over the years it seems to me that the main contact you have with Buddhism is coming from a Western philosophical background and mostly through texts. Do you have any contacts with in-the-flesh teachers?
A little. I'm trying to develop a relationship with a teacher. But it's a fair assessment. I'm someone who learned by reading and going to listen to visiting teachers rather than being part of a formal teacher-student relationship. I studied philosophy and comparative religion as an undergrad and then did an MA in Buddhist Studies, both at the same university. But I've also had a sitting practice all my adult life.

I read JMG's blog posts regularly and am generally impressed with him, but he is very much part of the counterculture, which is probably why he appeals to both of us. His solution really amounts to breaking with the mainstream 'Western' view altogether. (Have a look at 'The Clenched Fist of Reason', another excellent analysis by him.)
Miphamfan wrote:nominalism as espoused by people like William of Ockham didn't entail any complete falling apart of society like I see some modern conservatives claiming.
Well - not sure about that. Have a look at What's Wrong with Ockham.
A genuine [i.e. 'medieval'] realist should see “forms” not merely as a solution to a distinctly modern problem of knowledge, but as part of an alternative conception of knowledge, a conception that is not so much desired and awaiting defense, as forgotten and so no longer desired. Characterized by forms, reality had an intrinsic intelligibility, not just in each of its parts but as a whole. With forms as causes, there are interconnections between different parts of an intelligible world, indeed there are overlapping matrices of intelligibility in the world, making possible an ascent from the more particular, posterior, and mundane to the more universal, primary, and noble.

In short, the appeal to forms or natures does not just help account for the possibility of trustworthy access to facts, it makes possible a notion of wisdom, traditionally conceived as an ordering grasp of reality.
I think there lies the forgotten wisdom in the Western tradition. It's also different to the Buddhist analysis, although in my view not necessarily antagonistic to it.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 6:40 am

I need to read Weaver's book before I can form an opinion about him, but as far as I can see from the arguments made by conservatives against nominalism, I disagree with them completely.

Madhyamaka basically is nominalism, it hasn't had anything like the effects these realists claim it has had in Buddhist cultures. What's more, it seems to me that Western philosophy largely forgot about William of Ockham after the Renaissance until he was rediscovered around the early 20th century, so it's hard to believe he had anything like the destructive influence they claim he had.

Of course this is just my opinion, based on the articles I read. Those authors might just be taking selections from Weaver and making strawman arguments. From the Wikipedia article, it seems Weaver is more nuanced in that he believes his axioms are ultimately arbitrary.

If there is a difference in the Indian and Western modes of philosophy, I'd attribute it back to Aristotle, who rejected infinite regress, while it seems to have been largely embraced in India.

Even today theories of infinite regress don't seem to be very prominent in Western philosophy or physics. Although of course there are still debates going on in both domains. I know a physics PhD student who thinks a Nietzschean model of eternal recurrence is literally true and that Indians got it right, while other physicists think the universe necessarily had to have a beginning.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by MiphamFan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 9:45 am

I read the Hochschild's lecture you linked.

For a Madhyamaka Buddhist, the problem with his argument is precisely that Madhyamaka already denies forms and natures.

It seems to me that ultimately his whole point is that William removed a key part of the Western understanding of causality, which subsequently resulted in the denial of certainty in modern philosophy, and which reverberates out into society at large.

OK, I guess that can be a valid argument, but the question it raises in my mind is "Haven't you thought that maybe your model of causality should be changed instead of trying to step in the same river twice?"

Maybe why Buddhism never had a problem with Madhyamaka-type nominalism is that our model of causality is quite different. It is dependent origination and doesn't require "formal causes" that are real -- or in other words, a turtle at the base. The Madhyamaka denial of essences is basically baked into dependent origination itself.

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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:33 pm

I know what you're saying! I could simply say that Buddhists don't have a dog in the fight, and walk away. But I'm trying to understand the historical predicament of the Secular West. After all it's where I live.

The whole issue that I am trying to understand is 'how did scientific materialism become a substitute for religion?' It's really not a simple thing to understand. The Secular West is the expression of a conditioning process which unfolded over millenia and has arrived at a state of - let's see - false consciousness. So I'm trying to understand how that happened, and I've read quite a bit on this subject. The 'rise of nominalism' is one component.

And another point is that the Western philosophical tradition proper is not actually materialist. Materialism is like an offshoot which has now taken over the host. So what would Western philosophy be, if it kept science, but threw out materialism? Western culture did actually give birth to modern science, which, whilst its philosophical consequences may be questioned, also opened up new possibilities that maybe never would have been discovered otherwise. So I don't think it's that simple a matter - that we can simply drop the 'Western dialectic'. I feel there's something there that really needs to be understood.

Speaking of dialectic - have a brief read of this paragraph on a Western scholastic. This really does have resonances for me with the Madhyamika dialectic. It was just this understanding which got lost or 'flattened' in medieval times, which gave rise to the flatland of materialism. So is there a possibility of developing a truly scientific philosophy which is also spiritually awakened? That's what interests me.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Malcolm
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Re: "Objectivity" and objective moral values

Post by Malcolm » Fri Jan 05, 2018 11:02 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:33 pm


The whole issue that I am trying to understand is 'how did scientific materialism become a substitute for religion?' It's really not a simple thing to understand. The Secular West is the expression of a conditioning process which unfolded over millenia and has arrived at a state of - let's see - false consciousness. So I'm trying to understand how that happened, and I've read quite a bit on this subject. The 'rise of nominalism' is one component.
The secular west is a natural consequence of the Scottish Enlightenment. In particular, it can be traced to the popularity of the rediscovery of Epicurean atheism in the writings of Lucretius's De rerum natura:

Whilst human kind
Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed
Before all eyes beneath Religion- who
Would show her head along the region skies,
Glowering on mortals with her hideous face-
A Greek it was who first opposing dared
Raise mortal eyes that terror to withstand,
Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning's stroke
Nor threatening thunder of the ominous sky
Abashed; but rather chafed to angry zest
His dauntless heart to be the first to rend
The crossbars at the gates of Nature old.
And thus his will and hardy wisdom won;
And forward thus he fared afar, beyond
The flaming ramparts of the world, until
He wandered the unmeasurable All.
Whence he to us, a conqueror, reports
What things can rise to being, what cannot,
And by what law to each its scope prescribed,
Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.
Wherefore Religion now is under foot,
And us his victory now exalts to heaven.
Deism was merely a polite name for 18th century atheists, and the term "nature's god" is just a term used for natural laws of physics and the like:
RATH: So can you tell us - back in 1776, what did nature's God refer to?

STEWART: So nature's God is one - a deity that operates entirely through laws - natural laws - that are explicable. And we have to approach this god through the study of nature and also evidence and experience. So it's a dramatically different kind of deity from that you find in most revealed religions.
https://www.npr.org/2014/07/13/33113385 ... atures-god
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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