Delight Springs

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Easy as pie

We've come in HAP 101 to the end of Flanagan's Bodhisattva's Brain, the postscript he calls "Cosmopolitanism and Comparative Philosophy."  He'd like to wrap it all up with a quod erat demonstrandum, ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι, a Q.E.D., but admits "philosophy is not like that." Happiness and meaning neither.

He's not that kind of epistemologist, the kind I've been sniping at for their dessicating and pedantifying style of presentation. I forgive them their baldness of head (being personally credentialed in that area myself), and find their baldness of heart generally overstated.

The point, though: Philosophy is not mathematics, the Big Questions are not amenable to definitive and conclusive logical proof. The meaning of life cannot be demonstrated in that way.

But it can be demonstrated in countless other ways, in all the ways humans continually find to make life worth living. There are certain things that make it worthwhile... Life is worth living. [What Makes a Life Significant]
It all depends on the capacity of the soul to be grasped, to have its life-currents absorbed by what is given. "Crossing a bare common," says Emerson, "in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear."
Life is always worth living, if one have such responsive sensibilities...
There's much to be said for cosmopolitan ways of living meaningfully. They have much in common with Buddhist ways, especially the ways of compassion and kindness and the amelioration of suffering. The way of "resignation" is less appealing, to me, but maybe I've tended to overemphasize it. A resigned Buddhist is probably happier than most epistemologists. I hope so. May even be happier than most Pragmatists. I hope not.

Buddhist compassion + kindness + resignation invites serious consideration of the relative merits of Happiness/(supply your preferred superscript) and meaning. I'd rather have both, but if you had to choose... what would you? Socrates dissatisfied, Buddha satisfied, Bodhisattva busily engaged in helping others...?

There's no demonstrably right answer here, ours will vary. This is good. Isn't it?

Still, wisdom, virtue, and happiness do attach to lives well lived. What's the nature of the attachment? For one thing, it's contingent and variable. "There are ignorant, unreflective souls who are good and happy." But there are also relatively wise and happy but compassionless Ubermenschen. There are Nietzscheans whose compassion for horses exceeds their human sympathies, whose antipathies for their fellow humans are boundless. Bad things happen to good people, good to bad. Living is risk. Uncertainty accompanies all our days.

But looking on the bright side, there are still lots of ways to flourish. There may be "several right answers" (including many still untried) to how to live. But we probably can't infer them just by inspecting brains. Flourishing isn't just in the head, though presumably it is in the natural world. Naturalists like Flanagan think so. Wherever it is, it's hard to measure precisely or univocally. "There is no one state of happiness (well-being, positive mood) that all contenders seek."

Buddhism appeals to some naturalists because it accepts our impermanent selfless empty compassionate relatedness. It repels as well, with immaterial spirits, rebirth, karma, insufficiently-explicit concern with Rawlsian justice. Western Buddhists (like western naturalists or western whatevers) can be narcissistic and "not very nice" (the common denominator might account for that).

"If I were a Buddhist I would be troubled by not understanding how Buddhist ethics follows from Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology." Maybe. Or maybe you'd just be preoccupied with the sound of one hand clapping, with the thought that how things follow from other things is a western philosophical hang-up. You'd not have solved the problem but might have dissolved your own troubled concern.

So, here "at the intersection of many traditions" we can just enjoy our hybridity. That's what I used to call cherry-picking, which you've got to do if you want to bake a cherry pie. The universe will be provided.

That, of course, is part of an answer to how to live: assemble your ingredients, combine, heat, cook, cool, eat, enjoy. Do something constructive with the resultant boost in your personal energy budget.  Share (the pie, the recipe, and the convivial communion). Repeat.

Don't get stuck with the same old recipe every time. Try the cherry. Even try the rhubarb. Imagine what it would be like to like it. Be happy.

And be "philosophical": remember, the end of the World Series is not the end of the world. It's only a game.

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