Monday, February 27, 2006

Progress notes

Time for a quick review of where I am with all this. So far, I’ve glossed over the kind of Buddhism I’m interested in with particular reference to antiessentialism and alterity and pointed out some similarities with neo-pragmatism. I’ve said that dependent origination is the philosophical centrepiece of Buddhism which provides an alternative to essentialist causality and ontology. I then rattled through the socio-morphic origination and later significant development of the concept of causality in western philosophy. This exercise showed that, in Hume, the west had arguably “emptied out” the dominant essentialist conception of causation from a metaphysical point of view but that, nonetheless, it appears to remain as a central theoretical expedient in scientific practice. I would like to further understand how causality is actually treated by the scientific-community-at-large and whether it is generally either an explicit or tacit assumption going into the production and validation of theory. However, I’m not too sure how I can do this just yet. Also, I want to wrap up this rather cursory piece of historical analysis with a brief review of the philosophical climate in which Siddhartha Gautama formulated his teaching (which is the putative basis of Nāgārjuna’s exposition in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) and its relevance and/or dominance of today’s climate. The purpose of all this is to see what is actually being rejected by adopting dependent origination to avoid the unnecessary thrashing of a straw man.

Moving forward I want to explore the relevance of all of this to contemporary concerns. One of the first questions I have with respect to this is, Is naïve/psychological essentialism the salient condition of metaphysical essentialism or vice versa? In doing this I want to explore what is meant by naïve/psychological essentialism and my working hypothesis is that it equates to what Buddhism refers to as the “ignorance” which compounds the twelve links of samsāra and that, whilst being a successful cognitive expedient, its tendency for reification can lead to such problems as diminished cognitive flexibility, stereotyping, racism, fundamentalism, hopelessness and more. I want to see if the best elements of Buddhism and neo-pragmatism can or should be combined to address the alleged negative effects of essentialism.

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