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Discussion:
  1. Hugh Chandler (2010). Wittgenstein on the Resurrection. Philosophical Investigations 33 (4):321-338.
    Wittgenstein probably did not believe in Christ's Resurrection (as an historical event), but he may well have believed that if he had achieved a higher level of devoutness he would believe it. His view seems to have been that devout Christians are right in holding onto this belief tenaciously even though, in fact, it's false. It's historical falsity, is compatible with its religious validity, so to speak. So far as I can see, he did not think that devout Christians should (...)
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2010-01-18
Have I got this right?

This much seems clear. Wittgenstein held that Christians, at some level of devoutness, should believe in the alleged historical event (believe that it actually occurred – could have been photographed, etc.) but with a sort of certainty, and fervor, that is quite inappropriate in regard to historical events in general.  Something like that? I think it is clear that he did not think that they should keep the objective uncertainty of such beliefs in mind. That is to say, he was strongly opposed to what I take to be the Kierkegaardian view.

 


2010-01-29
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
I am not much of a Wittgensteinian, but I have a comment on the substance of his proposal, and a possible source of confusion about it. I think the confusion arises because of a confusion on the meaning of "belief" which is epitomized by its use in the putative definition of knowledge as "(causally) justified true belief." It seems clear to me that knowledge is not a species of belief in its common denotation. I can know that pi ~ 3.14159 but lack confidence in my knowledge and so not believe that  pi ~ 3.14159. Again, I can know that writing a check with insufficient funds is a bad idea, but believe that it is a good idea. If knowledge were in the species of belief, then it would not be possible to know one thing and believe its contradictory. This is prima facie evidence that knowledge is not a species of belief, or if it is, "belief" needs disambiguation.

Let me suggest that to believe p is to be committed to the truth of p. Knowing p, on the other hand, is being aware of what p signifies. For example, if I see a red apple, I am aware that the identical thing which evokes my concept also evokes my concept . I am therefore justified in asserting this identity via the copula "is" and judging , which I may express as "The apple is red," or in a number of alternate formulations. This is a paradigmatic case of knowing, and it requires no note of commitment or belief. I may, for example, come to think (in error) that I really saw a red ball and fail to commit to the truth of "The apple is red."

A concept related to commitment is certitude. Let me suggest that we have certitude of p not when doubting p is impossible, for we are free to doubt anything we choose, but when we know that the processes leading to belief in p are methodologically sound or reliable.

With these definitions, the criteria proper to judging a commitment to historical events are considerations of methodological soundness or reliability. These are not the criteria by which religious beliefs are to judged. Religious beliefs are voluntary acts of commitment, independent of considerations of methodological soundness or reliability. This does not mean they are invalid, for they may not involve contradictions. Instead they are extra-rational in the sense of being independent of any method that can be examined for soundness or reliability. They are non-systematic commitments based on social interactions, intuitions, personal experiences and/or feelings of resonance, and therefore a different category of commitment from historical or scientific beliefs.

DFP

2010-01-30
Have I got this right?
Reply to Dennis Polis

I presume that you (as a good catholic) think that Jesus was raised from the dead. Do you take this to have been an actual historical event?  As a physicist, do you have any thoughts in regard to the nature of that resurrected body? Or do you agree with Wittgenstein in holding that it doesn’t really matter (from a religious point of view) whether that alleged historical event ever actually occurred or not?

2010-01-31
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hugh,

I think "historical" is just slightly ambiguous. On the one hand, it can mean qualified to be included as an even in a history text under the criteria normally applied to events to judge their historicity. In that sense I do not consider the Resurrection to be a historical event. I think we can all agree that it violates the criterion of being naturally credible. The other sense of "an actual historical event" is an event which occured in reality, with credible witnesses. etc. In that since, yes, I choose to believe that it actually happened.

I think before I get to the body I should share some thoughts regarding the event, which, if it happened, was certainly miraculous. First, let me say that I know of no theological criterion requiring a miracle to violate the laws of nature for the simple reason that the idea of universal laws (a la Newton), did not exist in the Apostolic or Patristic eras. Aquinas is clear in the Summa Theologiae (I can search for the exact reference if you like) that to be miraculous it suffices that an event be outside of the usual course of events and that it inspire wonder. So, the event might, I think, be modeled in a number of ways that would be theological acceptable even in very conservative circles. (1) It could be a bald violation of the laws of nature. This would be the common idea of a miracle as something physically impossibe, albeit metaphysically and logically possible. (2) The laws of nature are only approximated by the laws of physics. So the laws of nature could contain small but invariant departures from the generalizations we write in physics texts and circumstances of the Resurrection could have been such that these normally negligible departures came to dominate the dynamics. Of course this would have been "designed into" the universe from the beginning, and so not a violation of the laws of nature. (3) Another model of the same kind, in which the laws of nature are not violated, employs a statistical anomaly. We know that it is physically possible, and indeed inevitable given sufficient time, for all of the gas molecules to aggregate themselves into a very small volume, leaving a vacuum in the rest of the container, in violation of the laws of thermodynamics, but not those of more fundamental physics. In the same way, the intial conditions of the universe could be such that the Resurrection even was implicit in the known laws of physics and the initial conditions conjointly. (4) Lastly, if intentions can modify behavior, then they can perturb the laws of nature to effect motion. If that is so, a sufficient strong will could modify the laws to any extent necessary to effect its ends.

Thus, while the Resurrection is not compatible to the criteria of historiography, it is not clear that it is even physically impossible. Still, every model evidences intentionality and an event that can only inspire wonder.

As to the nature of a resurrected body, I can only say that if one credits the Gospels, and I would not expect non-believers to do so, Jesus was able do things which are normally impossible, e.g., to appear in locked rooms. Thus, He seems not to have been bound by the normal laws of nature. My personal belief is that His body was under full intentional control. (We seem to exhibit a vestigial or rudimentary intentional control in the placebo effect.)

There are much easier things to be than a practicing Catholic. If the Resurrection were merely a pious myth my intellectual integrity would be perfectly at ease in being a non-Christian who admired the teachings of Jesus. So, for me as for St. Paul, it is decisive. There are many others, I am sure, who have no deep commitment to the truth of the Resurrection and for them it might make no difference. But, I suspect that they already think of Jesus as no more than a charismatic teacher of enlightenment.

DFP





2010-01-31
Have I got this right?
Reply to Dennis Polis

Apparently you are an ‘R Christian’.  On my reading, Wittgenstein would approve, but think that as matter of historical fact, there was no resurrection.


2010-02-06
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Hugh,

If you thought otherwise, you would be a Christian as well, so I am neither surprised nor shocked.

I think the central issue Wittgenstein raised for the philosophy of religion, however, is whether believers do care or should care whether their commitments are based on facts or pious legends. I can understand belief systems to which the truth of historical claims is inessential. The reason why this is not so for Christianity is that the role of Christ is not merely that if a contingent historical founder who could just as well have been someone else or even the collective consciousness of a community. This matters for Christians and not, say, Buddhists or Taoists, because Christianity holds that Jesus Christ effected a real change fundamental to our core beliefs. Traditional Christianity claims that Jesus Christ altered our metaphysical relation to God so as to allow us to participate in the interior, loving and Trinitarian life of God (something the Orthodox call "divinization" and we more prosaic Catholics call "sanctifying grace"). For many Protestants, the change is juridical, not metaphysical, but nonetheless real.

For Catholics and Orthodox, our experience of such participation reflects on the credibility of the historical processes enabling it. If no fundamental change occurred, Christianity is empty. On the other hand, I could subscribe to Buddhism, Taoism or Native American Spirituality knowing that their founding stories were utterly false, because the details of their founding is inessential to the truth of their present commitments. This difference in etiological structure should interest philosophers of religion, because it divides religions that can withstand demythologization, such as Buddhism, Taoism and Native American Spirituality, form those which can't, such as traditional Christianity.

DFP

2010-02-06
Have I got this right?
Reply to Dennis Polis
This is very interesting and it seems there is something to it. In the case of Buddhism, though, if the Buddha turned out to be a myth, ,
it would be very hard to continue as a Buddhist. The religion is founded, and has always been, on the belief that there was such a fellow, that he did
get enlightened, and that he taught a way of liberation based on his enlightenment. Supposing that's false, and somehow its falsity was established, it would probably be
the end of Buddhism.

In converting to Buddhism one formally takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Taking refuge
in the Buddha is taking refuge in the fact that he was enlightened and that he taught what he did teach. It is accepting him as one's
teacher and inspiration. He really did it and we can do it too by following his teaching. So there is a serious
commitment to history. It is probably true that one could accept his teaching without believing he existed. Certainly his enlightenment didn't change
the metaphysics of the world or create new possibilities.But it may not follow that the details of Buddhism's founding are
inessential to its 'present commitments.' The question is, what are Buddhism's 'present commitments'?
Arguably one of them is that the Buddha existed, became enlightened and taught a way of enlightenment. And this is pretty central
in the lives of practicing Buddhists. Personally I don't think I could go on as a Buddhist if I came to disbelieve the 'founding story.'

It's not clear to me that Taoism has a founding story and I really don't know enough about Native American religion's 'founding
story' or what would count as 'demythologizing' it.

It may be there is a difference between what the Buddha taught and what Buddhism teaches. But then there is arguably a difference
between what Jesus taught and what Christianity teaches .In both cases, the latter teaches more than the former.
Also one might 'subscribe' to Buddhism, think Buddhist-type
thoughts, without BEING a Buddhist. But the same is true of Christianity. Anyhow religions can have serious historical commitments
that don't flow from the idea that the religion began in an event that changed the metaphysics of reality. (Islam may be another
example.) So your point may be made in a somewhat sharpened way.

As to Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote that 'Christians are taking a chance.' It's hard to believe that
the historicity of the resurrection isn't part of the chance that Christians take. There is, by the way,
a powerful philosophical industry arguing that, by the best canons of historical study, the
resurrection probably happened. See William Lane Craig's debates about this on Youtube.

2010-02-06
Have I got this right?
Reply to Jim Stone

Believe it or not, the situation at present is that there are Christians, or, if you prefer ‘Christians,’ who hold that it doesn’t matter whether or not the resurrection actually occurred - whether or not there was such a historical event. The view that this doesn’t matter is, I suspect, more widely held among clergymen, priests and monks, than among lay people. I associate the view with Yale Divinity School, and Swansea, but it probably is, or was, the ‘in thing’ at other locals as well. It derives in large part from people influenced by Wittgenstein. The debate on this topic, if there is one, is, and was, almost entirely among Christians, not between Christians and others.

 

I think this is just a fact: There are now a substantial number of Christian clergymen and priests who believe that it doesn’t really matter whether the Resurrection (as a historical event) ever happened or not.

 

My paper is to be read in this context.  The basic claim is that there is a mistaken reading of Wittgenstein at work here. I think Wittgenstein held that good Christians (at some level of devoutness) should believe that Jesus rose from the dead - that this was an actual (perhaps photographical) event. They should hang onto this belief as if their life depended on it. Nevertheless, his own view, and the view he seems to have recommended to some of his students, was that it didn’t really matter (religiously) whether that alleged historical event occurred or not. (He himself held that no such thing had happened.)

 

 


2010-02-06
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
I can't access your paper so I will ask the question bound to arise. Perhaps you can explain LW's position.

If it doesn't matter religiously whether the resurrection (that alleged historical event) occurred or not,
why should devout Christians hang onto to the belief that it really did happen, as if their life depended on it?

2010-02-06
Have I got this right?
Reply to Jim Stone

How is it that you cannot access the paper? Can’t you just click on its title at the top of the page?

 

Anyway, as I understand it, Wittgenstein held that, at, or above (?) a certain level of devoutness clinging to that belief (and the orientation towards life that it provides) is essential to, or at least conducive to, salvation. Something like that. The belief is religiously safe, not risky.


2010-02-07
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
When I click on the title I go to a page from Wiley wanting me to purchase access. Probably I'm doing something wrong.
I'm a consistent idiot with things virtual.

So, if I understand Ludwig, as a Christian I should believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that it's quite literally true, and I should stick
to this as literal truth and reject any idea that it may be a religious metaphor, Even Though it is of no religious importance
whether my belief is true or false. That isn't incoherent but I does seem a bit odd. If it doesn't matter religiously
whether Jesus rose from the dead, why should it be essential to salvation that I believe he did, and stick to my guns
about it, even though it doesn't matter religiously if he didn't rise from the dead?. Because believing it happened is essential to salvation?
Why should that belief be essentially conducive to salvation if it doesn't matter religiously whether the belief is in fact false?.
I do understand there is room in logical space for the
doctrine, but it seems implausible.

I mean salvation is up to God, finally. It isn't a matter of human
psychology. Why would God make it essential for salvation that I believe a falsehood
with all my heart and soul?

Maybe LW wants to tell the salvation story without God playing a role.


2010-02-07
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler

I hope you understand that in this matter I am groping around in almost total darkness.

 

Here is a quote (presumably something that Wittgenstein said to Drury) that may be helpful:

 

“In religion every level of devoutness must have its appropriate form of expression which has no sense at a lower level. This doctrine, which means something at a higher level, is null and void for someone who is still at the lower level: he can only understand it wrongly and so these words are not valid for such a person.

For instance, at my level the Pauline doctrine of predestination is ugly nonsense, irreligiousness. Hence, it is not suitable for me, since the only use I could make of the picture I am offered would be a wrong one. “

 

In general, I think that Wittgenstein is offering an analysis, an account, from outside, of what he thinks ‘religion’ is all about. It looks like various ‘pictures’ being used in various appropriate  (or inappropriate) ways. He is not saying that believers should regard these things as pictures being ‘used’ in various ways, but he thinks, this is what they really are.

 

I think that, in some sense of the terms, he did in fact believe in ‘God’ and ‘salvation.’ And, I think, he in some way admired and endorsed, say, Anscombe and Geach’s ultra orthodox Catholicism. But he was certainly not a traditional style Christian.

 

By the way, I am not offering this view as one we should accept. I am only offering it as a suggestion as to what Wittgenstein may have thought.

 


2010-02-07
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Thanks for this explication.
I will remain silent, as I am biased against this guy.
 

2010-02-22
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler


The argument used by Bishop Irenaeus in his obsessional battle to rid the Roman church of the Gnostics, for whom the literal resurrection of Christ is quite obviously metaphorical, is that the resurrection story is so absurd that it must be true. The thinking seems to have been that nobody would bother to make up such an absurd story, for they would know it would never be believed. Ergo, it must be true. At school I used to take the same approach to the design of excuses for missing homework. The more implausible I made them the better they worked. 

The Gnostic Christian, some would say the true Christian, would claim that as a metaphor for the transcendence of self the resurection story works, is 'accurate,' or properly captures a truth about our existence, a truth about the possibility of and the path to salvation, and that to mistake it for a historical event would be to turn it from a valuable myth and teaching story into a wildly misleading fantasy. It would lead to ideas such as the resurrection of our bodies, as if Heaven is a place in extended spacetime, just what Jesus tells us it is not. Freke and Gandy, in their bestseller The Jesus Mysteries, go so far as to propose that Jesus is a mythological figure, a deliberate attempt to create a Osiris-Dionysus figure for the Jewish people. They make a persuasive case for this possibility.  The benefit of their approach is that it motivates us, as Christians, to investigate what these three archetypes had in common that would allow such an interpretation of the scriptures. It would be the power of the story, its didactic and motivational properties, its value as a mnemonic, its psychological impact and so forth, that make it important, not its historical truth. The aim would be to understand the story, not to follow Wittgenstein and simply suspend our natural and rational scepticism.

Buddhist generally believe in the historical truth of the Buddha's life and teachings but I doubt it would make much difference to many of them if were one day discovered that his story is largely fictional. After all, it is undeniable that someone historical wrote the sutras. The only buddha I've ever spoken to, or the only person who I've heard claim to be one, told me that much of the content of the sutras are religious nonsense. This was George Spencer Brown, another of Russell's colleagues. The founder of Taoism may or may not have been a gatekeeper named Lao-tsu. It hardly matters as long as we can learn something from the Tao Teh Ching.  The Buddha was a man like any other, and he advised that his teachings must be discarded at some point on our journey. He likens them to a raft with which we cross a river. Once it is crossed there would be no need for it and to carry it with us any further would simply slow us down. Or they would be like a medicine, redundant once we are cured. In mysticism we are not asked to believe but to discover. Either we know something is the case or we don't.    

As for Wittgenstein, he never seems to have acquired an understanding of mysticism, just an ability to be cryptic, or some would say muddled. His idea that Christians should believe desperately in the resurrection story as historical account even if they know full well that they don't know whether it is or not is utterly absurd. If a religion asks us to be intellectually dishonest then it seems safe to say that its doctrine is dogmatic nonsense. If a philosopher asks us to do this then their entire philosophy becomes suspect, and perhaps even their rationality.  Having faith is not to believe in any old thing.  

All in all the idea that Christians must believe in the story of the resurrection as if it were a historical event, regardless of whether it was or not, is so daft it hardly seems worth engaging with. Surely in the 21st century we have progressed beyond this kind of medievalism. As has been said, it tends to be the lay Christian who is asked to do this, and who often chooses to do it, while scholars and clergy often take a more subtle and rational view.  Wittgenstein commands a respect that seems inexplicable to me.  






 
 


 


2010-02-22
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler

I’m sorry that I did not spell out some of this stuff. In particular, I should have made it clear that (on my reading, and in a sense) Wittgenstein did not think that “.. Christians should believe desperately in the resurrection story as a historical account even if they know full well that they don’t know whether it is or not.”

 

My guess is that many Christian believers are or would be, fully convinced that they know beyond doubt that the resurrection occurred. That they have proof, etc.  I assume that Wittgenstein would agree.

 

On the other hand, it seems to me that one can believe that the resurrection actually occurred, but agree with you that one could be wrong about this, that the belief is (historically) risky.

 

I do not know whether or not Wittgenstein would accept this ‘other hand.’

 

Wittgenstein did not hold that “Christians must believe in the story of the resurrection as if it were a historical event.” He did, I think, hold that at some ‘level of devoutness’ this belief is conducive to salvation – perhaps even (in some cases?) is necessary for salvation.

 

“Surely in the 21 century we have progressed beyond this kind of medievalism.”  Have you read any of the work of Alvin Plantinga, or Peter van Inwagen? Some of the best present day philosophers are Christians who, I suspect, believe in the resurrection (as a historical event, among other things.) In philosophy, at least, ‘this kind of medievalism’ is alive and well.


2010-02-22
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler

The trouble is, I can't think of any possible evidence that could prove that the resurrection was an historical event. This is because the Biblical story claims much more than history can record. The unhidden part of the story may be historical and yet the interpretation a fantasy. I do believe, however, just for the record, that the story is important and that believing in its message would be a minimum condition for being a Christian (or a Buddhist, Muslim etc.).

The point about uncertain beliefs, that one can believe that the resurrection actually occurred but nevertheless concede  the possibility that it it didn't, seems to shows up rather nicely the ambuiguity of the word 'belief.'  I'd say this sort of Christians is 'confident,' with or without good reason, where confidence admits the possibilty that it is misplaced and so stops short of either knowledge or dogmatism.  

..."Wittgenstein did not hold that “Christians must believe in the story of the resurrection as if it were a historical event.” He did, I think, hold that at some ‘level of devoutness’ this belief is conducive to salvation – perhaps even (in some cases?) is necessary for salvation." 

Okay. But if belief in the historical story is sometimes necessary for salvation is this not to say that it must be believed? After all, how would we know we are one of the exceptions who don't need to believe it? By not believing we'd be taking a huge risk. The problem would be how to believe on demand. It's not something I can do.  My view would be that such a belief may actually be detrimental to salvation, as Keith Ward suggests in his God - A Guide for the Perplexed

I'm not disagreeing with Wittgenstein since I'm unclear as to his precise position on this, just with the idea that an historical resurrection is necessary to Christianity.    

..."Some of the best present day philosophers are Christians who, I suspect, believe in the resurrection (as a historical event, among other things.) In philosophy, at least, ‘this kind of medievalism’ is alive and well."

Again, I think the problem may be the word 'believe'. Few people who would say they believe that the story is historical would claim to know that it is.

What I meant by 'medievalism' is the idea that we must believe this or that instead of conducting our own investigation and making up our mind accordingly. This idea is a heresy in my opinion, and does a great deal of damage. 
 


2010-02-23
Have I got this right?
'Buddhist generally believe in the historical truth of the Buddha's life and teachings but I doubt it would make much difference to many of them if were one day discovered that his story is largely fictional. After all, it is undeniable that someone historical wrote the sutras. The only buddha I've ever spoken to, or the only person who I've heard claim to be one, told me that much of the content of the sutras are religious nonsense. This was George Spencer Brown, another of Russell's colleagues. The founder of Taoism may or may not have been a gatekeeper named Lao-tsu. It hardly matters as long as we can learn something from the Tao Teh Ching.  The Buddha was a man like any other, and he advised that his teachings must be discarded at some point on our journey. He likens them to a raft with which we cross a river. Once it is crossed there would be no need for it and to carry it with us any further would simply slow us down. Or they would be like a medicine, redundant once we are cured. In mysticism we are not asked to believe but to discover. Either we know something is the case or we don't. '

Hi, I'm a Buddhist. I've practiced and/or studied Buddhism in Thailand, sri lanka, India and Nepal. Been at it for many years. Also lectured on it in university. I also teach
meditation. I have a post
above arguing that the realization that the historical Buddha never existed would be devastating to Buddhists, at least for those in the Theravada tradition.
(Buddhists in other, later traditions often have Bodhisatvas whom they worship, so don't care quite so much about the Buddha himself.) I think you may not have
seen that post, so let me ask you to read it. I won't rehearse what I said here. Please consider what I said earlier about 'going for refuge,' and so on.

Just to comment briefly on something you say.
The Buddha certainly emphasized that he was a man, that what he did others could do. But it is very important to Buddhists that a) the Buddha actually did get
enlightened and b) he based his teaching on his enlightenment. If he didn't do it, there is no reason to think it can be done. If he didn't base his teaching
on his enlightenment, there is no reason to think Buddhist teaching is really conducive to liberation.

He most certainly did say that his teaching was like a raft, an inelegant affair that we use to get across the stream of suffering. It was to be used, not to be 'gotten hold
of' or 'fondled.' But the point at which we let go of the teaching is when we are across the stream, that is, when we are enlightened as he was.
That's when the journey out of suffering is over. The teaching doesn't impede us on that journey--unless we get caught up in silly doctrinal disputes, etc (fondling the raft).
It's a bit like saying that you won't need to be a Christian in heaven. In no way minimizes the importance of the teaching. The raft metaphor is meant to make sure
that we use the teaching to your benefit.

I don't think I could go on as a Buddhist if I thought the Buddha never existed. His example is my inspiration and his teaching would not be my guide
if I didn't believe it flowed from his enlightenment.

There may be some 'religious nonsense' in the suttas, but mostly they are the Buddhas instructions to monastics, his sermons, and his discussions of his
teachings with various people who came to talk to him. Certainly superhuman powers were ascribed to him in legend and story,
but the Buddha of the suttas is a hard-headed religious teacher.  I don't think Brown's verdict on the suttas bears extensive study of them.

Again, if you haven't already done so, kindly read my earlier post.

Best


2010-02-23
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Jim - I had read your post above, and have read more of them elsewhere. You clearly know far more than I about being a Buddhist. But I felt that in this case you were expressing a personal view. Re-reading it I see that I was wrong.

I fear I overstated the case for effect and also rather lazily. You're quite right to object. I think I should even apologise. I have no idea how most Buddhist would react if it turned out that the Buddha's life and works turned out to be fabrication. I can say, however, that I would react with a yawn and carry on as normal, so convinced am I that his purported achievement can be emulated. I was trying to get across the difference between a Buddhist and a worshipper of prophets. Mind you, I can see no plausible explanation for the sutras other than that they are what they claim to be. 
I would agree with everything I've read of yours here, (and also your ideas on defining religion expressed elsewhere).

As for Spencer Brown, I'm a little sceptical as to his bolder claims. But he was a close acquantance of the advaitan philospher Wei Wu Wei, whose writings are definitive imo, and is almost certainly a genius, and Laws of Form is a seminal book for me, so I keep an open mind. I suspect his comment about the sutras was rather like mine about history, ill-judged overstatement for effect.

2010-02-23
Have I got this right?
Thank you. Most kind. Buddhism can be viewed as many things, of course; a philosophy of life, etc. But I do think, for those who actually practice it,
the bottom line is that it is a religion--with a saintly founder, a monastic order of nuns, monks and sometimes priests, a formal act of conversion, a transcendental goal, Nibbana,
The Unconditioned, The Deathless, and, like many other religions, a serious commitment to history.

But the point is certainly taken that
the Buddha in no way changed the metaphysics of things or created new opportunities--except by 'proving' something (perhaps the hardest thing imaginable (uprooting
the self-cherishing I)) could actually be done and explaining how to do it. Nor was he God's chosen conduit to reveal new truths to humanity.
Indeed, he said that he had 'come upon old paths in the forest, barely visible, that had
been made by others long ago' and that Buddhism, like anything else, would be forgotten--but rediscovered in the future by new Buddhas. So, by contrast to
Jesus his historical importance might seem neglible.

But for those seriously practicing, trying to live the Noble Eight Fold Path that leads to Nibbana,
he really is important. I would not believe enlightenment is possible if I didn't believe he was enlightened and told us how he did it. Certainly this is a personal
view, widespread among Buddhists who seriously practice his teaching. We have formally taken refuge in the Buddha. We typically meditate
before a statue of him and bow to it often. He was a great empiricist philosopher, in fact, but that isn't the chief role he plays in my life.

Given the fierce anti-religiosity of much popular culture these days, there is a tendency to present Buddhism as something other than a religion,
to make it palatable to people seeking an alternative to 'religion.' Some Buddhist teachers in the West do this. I'm afraid this falsifies the tradition and
misleads people as to what's at stake. Few people who do a ten-day meditation retreat come out of it thinking
that Buddhism is a philosophy of life. Thanks again. Back to Hugh's thread.

2010-02-23
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler

One of the central claims of my paper is that some genuine religious beliefs are ‘risky'.’ It is a mistake to think that ‘risky’ beliefs are, for that very reason not genuinely religious.

For instance, is it possible that there is no such thing as Nirvana – no such state? It is possible that no one has ever actually attained that alleged state? Is Buddhist belief in that state ‘risky’ in this way, and, if not, how could it fail to be? What prevents it from being ‘risky’?

 

Some very serious Christians hold that belief in a benevolent God is risky (there may, in fact, be no such entity).

 

Wittgenstein seems to have held that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was not religiously risky (even though it may well never have happened). (Presumably, the belief that it happened can play is proper religious role whether or not it happened.)

 

Do you hold something like this in regard to what allegedly happened to Gautama Siddhartha under the Bo tree?

 

One can imagine a kind of ‘non-realism’ in regard to Nirvana (whether it is a real, attainable, state or not doesn’t matter) and, similarly, I suppose one might hold that whether or not Gautama Siddartha ever actually attained it doesn’t really matter.

 

I take it that Wittgenstein’s view would be, or might well be, something like this. Even if, in fact, there is no such state, and no one ever attained it, never the less, this traditional Buddhist belief is (in some people, sometimes) a genuine, and ‘valid’ (in some sense) religious belief.  (Of course, if he held this, he might well not try to disabuse believers.)

 

 


2010-02-23
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Definitely risky. It is certainly possible that there is no such state as Nirvana. It is possible that no one has attained it. I believe the Buddha attained it
and taught, on the basis of his experience, how to attain it. But of course I don't know it. Reading the suttas, the historical fellow emerges
and I believe he did attain it.  Practicing a great deal it seems that what he said is true. But this is really labor intensive (e.g. an hour and a half meditating every day
and long retreats when possible). Isn't it possible that what seems like insight is an hallucination produced by the practice
meant to discover the truth? How come nobody these days is enlightened? Does Buddhist practice actually deliver the goods?
If not, why do it? I've studied with senior Asian monastics, intelligent sincere men who had done scores of years of hard practice and
were more arrogant and less self-aware than most people who had never meditated
in their lives. Talk about doubt! 

The practice has benefits, even if there is no such state as Nibbana, even if liberation is impossible, etc, just
as Christian practice has benefits even if Jesus never existed. But people who really practice a religion are taking a big chance, IMO.
Dabbling is safe, talking the talk is safe, but serious religious practice is inherently risky business.


2010-02-24
Have I got this right?
Reply to Hugh Chandler
Thank you for being tolerant of my earlier wildness. 

It's possible that I have an unusual take on this. If I may indulge in a personal confession here I'll mention that I concluded that Buddhist doctrine is essentially true only a few minutes after discovering what it claims for metaphysics, having already firmly arrived at a neutral metaphysical position before discovering that it was mysticism. I was genuinely astonished to discover later on, quite by accident, that the Budddha had beaten me to it. For a lifelong opponent of religion it was a disturbing discovery. Later again I discovered that almost all religions had beaten me to it. For a neutral position the universe would be a unity. It follows from this, as I believe Nagarjuna, Kant, Hegel, Bradley, Brown and others have shown, that some form of union with reality is not only possible but eternally present. This is why I am a fan of Chalmers' nonreductive naturalistic dualism. It seems to be more or less the admission that the universe is a unity, and any argument for it is therefore an argument for the Buddha's doctrine.    

Consequently, I do not feel my belief in the possibility of the Buddha's enlightement is very risky, or cetainly no more risky than the counter-belief,  It is possible to show that his philosophical position is the only one which is not demonstrably logically indefensible, such that in logic it would be not only not very risky but the least perverse of all the options. In practice I'm a struggling novice who merely hopes to become a Buddhist one day, but I don't think it always takes much practice, given some luck, to realise that a belief in the Buddhas attainment is not very risky. Besides, he asks us not to believe but to verify, so belief is optional. As a sceptical person, maybe even cynical, I see no need to do beliefs in the absence of proofs. Faith would be another matter. 

I'm surprised to hear of some of JS's experiences with practitioners and would ask a few questions if it wouldn't take us off topic. Perhaps another time. .  
 
To return to the point, wouldn't the phrase 'risky belief' be an oxymoron? 'Risky faith' seems better.  





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