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18: NOV 8 - 6. More Philosophical Paradigms for Happiness and Wisdom


  • Hall C7 “Compassion” (18)
  • Siderits, “Early Buddhism: Basic Teachings” (16)


  • Introduction to Buddhism

Hall, Chapter 7: Compassion

  • Story of the seige of Weinsberg, 12 century.
  • [Puzzle to solve by the end of this review of the chapter: Is compassion worth it? Why would I want to share someone's pain? Why not just make an intellectual acknowledgement of it and send a card?]
  • anecdote on the siege of Weinsberg, 1140.
  • "By compassion is meant not only the willingness to share another person's pain and suffering; in a larger sense, it refers to a transcendent ability to step outside the moat of one's own self-interest to understand the point of view of another; in a still larger sense, it may take this "feeling for" to the level of mind reading, for the theory of mind — one of the most powerful implements that evolution placed in the human cognitive tool kit—requires us to understand the way another person's feelings inform his or her intentions and actions." 116 Connecting compassion to research on theory of mind. Note claim at the end of the paragraph: Compassion might be thought of as a source of a variety of moral emotions and behaviors.
  • note the contrast with Plato, as exemplified by Socrates behavior in the Phaedo. Icy Socrates!
  • Weisskopf: Knowledge without compassion inhumane. Compassion without knowledge ineffective. 118 (Note heuristic!)
  • Matthieu Ricard and Richard Davidson studies. Some of the first neural studies of meditative and prayer states. “Ok, Matthieu, now do compassion.” (no overarching theory here, but note Davidson on p. 121) Davidson believes in possibility of "training" toward increased well being. Richard over 10,000 hours.
  • 2008 study: some repeated and localized effects across test subjects, even novice. 121
  • Ricard: gloss on wisdom at 121, connection to Buddhism: two parts: 1. discerning reality and 2. selecting opportunity for compassion) also makes the case, on 122, that compassion is based on an understanding of how things are connected, how happiness and suffering are connected. Knowing that there are ways to address suffering fuels compassion, which also helps us understand how things are connected. Once you are not suffering, you are in a better position to extend compassion to others, so the Buddhist analysis of suffering is central. (The Christian has a parallel analysis, but it’s not really focused on suffering in the same way. Early Christian communities…)
  • general point: importance in this research of thinking of compassion as having a neural substrate and a function in our psychology. But also suggestive of Davidson's thesis that responses can be trained.
  • Also, self-compassion. Dali Lama. 123
  • 126: mirror neurons and empathy. (Some notes on the limits of this on the basis of subsequent research. Sapolsky really throws cold water on the hype (cf. 128) around mirror neurons. Probably Theory of Mind is a better construct.)
  • 128: notion of "embodiedness" of our responses to the world. (More promising.). not just cognitive. Dolan's lab, research suggesting that localization of pain at suffering of loved ones in anterior cigulate cortex and insular cortex.
  • 130: Richerson and Boyd's cultural hypothesis: imitation - learning - division of labor - other centeredness. All capacities that require a "theory of mind" which includes feeling other's emotions. Theory of mind refers to a set of capacities, but also a way of seeing the world. (Recall baby helper puppet studies.). This line of research is more in line with Henrich, WEIRDEST People.
  • empathy research - compassion training programs. 131.
  • Wisdom implications: Is cultivation of compassion on your wisdom to do list? Why or why not?
  • Interesting that most Am. therapies are cognitive. We tend to think of emotions as “outputs” rather than also as ways of knowing the world that might be open to manipulation.

Introduction to Buddhism (from wikipedia)

  • The Four Noble Truths
1 There is suffering.
2 There is the origination of suffering: suffering comes into existence in dependence on causes.
3 There is the cessation of suffering: all future suffering can be prevented by becoming aware of our ignorance and undoing the effects of it.
4 There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
8 fold path. (see above and in Feuerstein.)

Division Eightfold Path factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view
2. Right intention
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

- from wikipedia.

Siderits, Chapter 2, "Early Buddhism: Basic Teachings"

  • Background on Buddha
  • note heterodoxy, intro/dev karmic theory (and theory of liberation from rebirth), moral teaching ind. of focus on ritual and deities.
  • consensus on "moksa" as goal of enlightenment. Buddha's teaching one of many.
  • Siderits presents sramanas as critical and questioning of heterodoxy.
  • What is the Happiness & Wisdom "basic argument" in Buddhism: Because of the way that we enmeshed in our existence (through "dependent origination", we are fundamentally ignorant of our true selves and this ignorance causes avoidable suffering. The purpose of the "buddhist training program" (8 fold path) is to overcome this ignorance, not only at an intellectual level, but through the way we know the world through our emotions.
  • The Four Noble Truths
1 There is suffering.
1. Normal pain. Decay, disease, death. (Flip to Pali Canon, p. 51)
2. Suffering from ignorance of impermanence. Including ignorance of no-self. Suffering from getting what you want or don't want. (Cognitive illusion of permanence.)
3. Suffering from conditions and attachments. "Existential Suffering" Rebirth itself is a form of suffering. (So belief in rebirth doesn't solve the problem of suffering in one life. 21: Rebirth entails re-death. The thought of rebirth is a reminder of the impermanence we wish to escape.) Includes questioning since of purpose in face of indifferent universe (or lack of evidence thereof). (Making this point by thinking about how evolution enmeshes us in processes that we are sometimes unaware or partially aware of. Example: [1] Nature is more interested in successful "attachments" than even our awareness of or happiness about those attachments.)
2 There is the origination of suffering: suffering comes into existence in dependence on causes.
Theory of Dependent Origination [2]: Note the chain of causal connection ("Engine of Reincarnation") advanced on p. 22 of Siderits: ignorance ultimately causes suffering, but the intermediate steps are important. Let's give a psychological reading of this metaphysical chain of causation. (compare to Pali Canon, p. 52)
  • Rough sequence: ignorance of the reality of self, volitions, consciousness, sentience, sense organs, sensory stimulation, feeling, desire, appropriation, becoming, birth (rebirth), aging and death.
3 There is the cessation of suffering: all future suffering can be prevented by becoming aware of our ignorance and undoing the effects of it. "It is the utter cessation and extinction of that craving, its renunciation, its forsaking, release from it, and non-attachment to it." (from Pali Canon reading)
4 There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
8 fold path. importance of meditation (p. 24) -- negative states of mind have causal consequences. philosophy needed to work with the ideas and moments of self-reflectiveness that meditation generates. (25)
  • Cessation of suffering: meditation, (non)self-discovery.
  • Need to assess this recommended "training program" more in light of Discourse on Mindfulness and the Eight Fold path (See wiki page Noble Eight Fold Path)
  • Note discussion of meditation, p. 25. Basic theory for mindfulness meditation exercise.
  • Liberation - enlightenment is marked by the cessation of new karma.
  • rejection of presentism (claim that key to insight to get used to impermanence) and annihilationism as models for liberation.
  • paradox of liberation: how can you desire liberation if liberation requires relinquishment of desire. Possible solution: to desire the end of suffering.
  • Psychologically, liberation might understood today as positive identity change -- The desire to be liberated might less a desire to get something for your current self as to become another self, one that acts effectively in the world without ego attachment.
  • Problem following the consequences of "non-self": Buddhist maxim: "Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference."