I found Flanagan’s writing clear and enjoyable, and his exploration of Buddhism from a naturalist philosopher’s perspective rather elucidating. I particularly found it enlightening to find that I did not like when he calls to question whether Buddhist epistemology necessarily leads to Buddhist-style ethics, because I want to believe they do, but that’s not very Buddhist of me, to be so attached to the believe that there can and should be an “ought” that everyone can find their way to. It’s also not very “me,” in that I actually believe people can be such different phenomena in the world that not everyone *can* “find their way” to the same solutions — for example, the Buddhist “solution” to living is going to work better for someone of average mental health than for someone who struggles with the sort of chemically/physically-based depression or other psychological situations that some people struggle with.
I still feel that there’s something missing in Flanagan’s work, something I can’t put my finger on about a “correct” view of anatman/no-self and its link with compassion. He does allow for the possibility that compassion should come up just because we happen to be the sort of beings for whom compassion and social engagement makes us flourish better — and I think that’s true (anthropology and psychology seem to corroborate it) — but he’s correct to point out that isn’t part of the Buddhist argument. It should be added to the Buddhist worldview, but it isn’t classically part of it. I guess I think part of the reason a “correct perception” of impermanence and no-self should generally lead to compassion is that, usually, human beings who seek enlightenment are, to some degree, interested in alleviating some suffering, or dealing with some pain, and a certain understanding of impermanence and no-self can (should?) engender self-compassion, self-forgiveness, self-kindness and gratitude which can then be easily directed outward to others. One should, theoretically, not jump to sadness and nihilism because, I think, the idea of impermanence and an understanding of the origins and causes of “dukkha” is intended to be a *relief.* This relief allows us to be kinder to ourselves, and then to others.
In any case, I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Buddhism and philosophy, especially those who lean “agnostic or atheist or naturalist” or what-have-you when it comes to spirituality or religion.
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