Upcoming talks

Looking forward to this event in Groningen:

Colloquium on Asian religions | Buddhism and Fetish

When: Mo 27-10-2014
Start: 16:00
End: 17:30
Where: Oude Boteringestraat 38, Groningen


Upcoming events, Fall 2014

Thursday, November 13, 1 p.m.
Workshop: “Desire-Cessation Theories of Happiness”
Featured speakers: Bernard Reginster, Brown University; Susan Sauve Meyer, University of Pennsylvania; David Webster, University of Gloucestershire
Corliss Brackett seminar room, 45 Prospect Street

Friday, November 14, 4-6 p.m.
David Webster, University of Gloucestershire
Public Lecture: “Fruits of the Pointless Life: Buddhist Thought in an Atheistic Future”
Crystal Room, Alumnae Hall (194 Meeting Street)
Reception to follow on site.

“Eugene Park Was Right: Academic Philosophy Is Failing Its Cosmopolitan Values”

Feminist Philosophers

Bharath Vallabha has a post here about philosophical traditions, cosmopolitanism, and universality.

“The power of philosophy is that, by raising abstract questions about human beings, it generates inquiry to which any person can contribute, irrespective of their local, contingent situation. Universality is intrinsic to philosophy, and most philosophy classes in the Anglo-American tradition are taught with this aim of universality firmly in mind. How can ignorance of non-Western philosophy be compatible with this universal impulse of philosophy? How can Anglo-American philosophers claim to seek universal philosophical truths and concede that they are only aware of the Western philosophical tradition?”

“If most Anglo-American philosophers have “no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it,” then in what sense can they speak about philosophy itself, rather than just about Western philosophy?”

“So why are most Anglo-American philosophers content to just continue the debates they inherited from their teachers…

View original post 197 more words

Anger, and its risks

I’ve just had a piece go up at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/04/anger-bad-for-health-has-uses 

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 19.51.57

From early comments maybe I should have been clearer that my goal was, by the end of the short piece, to distinguish between types of anger. The Buddhist typology I spoke of is clearly not about anger – but the way things like Abhidhamma texts examine cittas such as chanda – and declare them ethically variable..

Oh – and for anti-anger Buddhism , the Pali Canon looks safe – but Wrathful Deities?

“Can atheists be spiritual? Sam Harris reignites long-running debate”

Over at the Religion News Service, Chris Stedman has been exploring whether atheists can be spiritual..

The article is at: http://chrisstedman.religionnews.com/2014/01/30/can-atheists-spiritual-sam-harris-reignites-long-running-debate/  – and I am delighted to be quoted. Of course, atheists can enjoy sunsets, marvel at our place in the cosmos, reflect deeply on ethics and our interconnectedness – but I argue that we can do this as part of what it is to be human, without the loaded, ambiguous and problematic label of ‘spirituality’. Sure, we can be ‘deep’ – but are we so anxious to show it that we need to resort to so muddled a term?

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 19.40.06

Meditation, Meditation, Meditation

The people at Tricycle put this on their Facebook page this week..


On his page, Dan Fisher featured the image with the phrase:

How “the Mindfulness Movement Uses Buddhism to Prop Up the White-Supremacist-Capitalist-Cishet Patriarchy” – a phrase he borrows from Josh Eaton. I think there is a seed (grain?) of truth here. Like many others, I’m heartened and moved by accounts of Mindfulness being used to help those with anxiety, (MBSR, etc!) : But – there’s just something about the co-opting of it by various groups, its repackaging and reselling and that makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I think I’ll try and disentangle my thoughts on this later in the year..

Life Extension and Fear of Death

So, I read this morning a  piece on The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies website about ‘Life Extension’. The piece itself (Don’t Drag Me Along into Your Grave, Daniel Callahan) by Maria Konovalenko is quite normal in regards of life-extension arguments. It makes ethical claims that failing to ‘treat’/look for a ‘cure’ to death is like being unwilling to treat/look for a cure for disease.

It also claims that the goals of life extension are not merely likely – but nigh-on inevitable:

even if the current biomedical advances are not yet powerful enough to cure aging and prolong the youthful state of the body, they definitely will be in the future.

I am not convinced – at all. Below is part of what I say in the Dispirited book about this..


The Strange Case of the Longevity Movement – An Aside

If death provides the impetus for understanding life; once we drag it from behind the Wizard of Oz-like curtains in our mind, it offers us the means to learn who we might be. But what if death really might be indefinitely postponed? Heidegger’s three features of death83 include the absolute inescapability of death, but close behind the growth in ‘happiness’ features in Sunday newspaper magazines, popular science publications and TV documentaries is the Longevity movement. The general line of thought is that given the prior rate of medical advance, and the prospect of genetic manipulation (especially the idea of an ‘ageing gene’84), indefinite human lifespans are surely only just around the corner. 85 The Daily reported in 2008 ‘Why Man COULD

Live Forever’86 and the Independent, in the same year, asked ‘Who wants to live for ever? A scientific breakthrough could mean humans live for hundreds of years.’ 87 Probably the most notorious advocate of this movement is Aubrey de Grey, with his view that the first humans to live for lifespans of around 1000 years will be born in the next decade or so. 88

While any detailed examination of the science invoked will promptly dispel the idea that such an ambitious extension to our lives is likely at all, and even a moment’s reflection will generate a host of reasons as to why it may be even less desirable that it is likely, it is still a compelling narrative. Who really wants to die – when they could just keep living? Of course mortality is necessary, and the species needs it – but not for me. Surely my survival, my ever-accumulating wisdom, will be a noble exception, a major benefit to society? We could all advance such self-serving arguments, but if we really take the idea seriously, we have to see it as an attempt to impose stasis on the inevitable flux that is reality, as John Gray recognises:

Seekers after immortality look for a way out of chaos; but they are part of that chaos, natural or divine. Immortality is only the dimming soul projected on to a blank screen. There is more sunshine in the fall of a leaf.

The longevity movement shares one notable feature with much of the spirituality movement, which is the desire to appear somehow at the very cutting edge of science, but also in some type of tension with ‘the establishment’ of science. The tone of longevity writers often makes little or no explicit reference to spirituality, although they do often share an interest in the ‘holistic’, and the idea that somewhere in ‘ancient wisdom’ secrets may be hidden away. The issue that makes them interesting here, though, is the motivation itself. Given that death is inevitable, that mortality and finitude is blindingly and undeniably the frame in which we live our lives – why engage in these grand acts of self-delusion? Of course, some life extension may be possible, but death will not be denied, and, even if delayed a little en route by healthy living and medical advances, is coming for us all soon enough. I can only see a single psychological motive underpinning the longevity movement, and this is the same reason it sells newspapers and fascinates so many of us. This motive is our absolute and total fear and dread. The more we have suppressed death, the more we may fail to express our anxiety – but it has gone nowhere. I would contest that underneath the cheery hopes of living for centuries is a screeching, desperate flailing panic at the knowledge of our own, personal, death. The fact of death is, alas, still a fact; and longevity and immortality are as useless as the cheap trinkets of ‘heaven’ and post-death-life. What little we can do, surely, consists of the staring down, and confronting of the truth of death. This choice promises no escape, but at least offers us the chance to live a life where death’s long shadow does not taint every thought via poorly-repressed anxiety.