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The Bodhisattva's Brain

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized

Owen Flanagan
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Bodhisattva's Brain
    Book Description:

    If we are material beings living in a material world -- and all the scientific evidence suggests that we are -- then we must find existential meaning, if there is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the natural rather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual (but not religious) inclinations are attracted to Buddhism -- almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene. But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva's Brain, Buddhism is hardly naturalistic. In The Bodhisattva's Brain, Flanagan argues that it is possible to discover in Buddhism a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that could point us to one path of human flourishing. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhism empirically, but Flanagan's naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brain scan showing happiness patterns. "Buddhism naturalized," as Flanagan constructs it, offers instead a fully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest of knowledge -- a way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29817-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Buddhism Naturalized
    (pp. 1-6)

    Suppose we permitted ourselves this luxury: invite Confucius, Siddhārtha Gautama, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, or any other interesting or wise dead person with a view, or who is a representative of a tradition, into our conversations about our problems—poverty, heath care, capitalism, how to be a good person, how to live well, to flourish, to be happy—and listen to what they say. This is anachronistic. Some say anachronism is bad, even that it is not allowed. Allow it.

    Next imagine responding to the anachronistic answers of our respected ancestors...

  6. I An Essay in Comparative Neurophilosophy

    • 1 The Bodhisattvaʹs Brain
      (pp. 9-36)

      This is my favorite extravagant headline from among numerous hyperbolic ones that appeared in the third week of May 2003. To my chagrin the source was an article I published that week inThe New Scientistmagazine that reported on two preliminary studies on one meditating monk (Flanagan 2003a). News agencies such as Reuters, the BBC, and Canadian and Australian Public Radio were the first out of the gate with reports on the research, and I did (too) many media interviews.Dharma Lifemagazine, in an amusing headline of its own, called the scientists, Richie Davidson and Paul Ekman, who...

    • 2 The Color of Happiness
      (pp. 37-58)

      “The Colour of Happiness” was the title of the article I published in the British magazineNew Scientistin May 2003 that caused the media stir about happy Buddhists with happy brains. At the beginning of the previous chapter I listed several widely discussed claims to the effect that there is a connection between Buddhism and happiness, specifically that Buddhists are especially happy and that it is Buddhism (rather than say the weather where Buddhists live) that produces the happiness.

      Now that we are clearer about what eudaimoniaBuddhaand what happinessBuddhaare and how they are perceived as connected by...

    • 3 Buddhist Epistemology and Science
      (pp. 59-90)

      Members of my tribe are fans of science.¹ The scientific method has shown, and keeps showing, its mettle when it comes to revealing the truth in a way no other method matches.² If there is room for religion, spirituality, and philosophy, in the ordinary sense, that one sees embodied in some independent bookstore sections, where philosophy books are stacked next to, sometimes with the religion books, and often include the occult and the metaphysical, it will need to be a tame kind of Buddhism, which is, at a minimum, consistent with science—“Buddhism naturalized.”

      The facts are that almost all...

  7. II Buddhism as a Natural Philosophy

    • 4 Selfless Persons
      (pp. 93-114)

      A philosophical psychology is to scientific psychology as theoretical physics is to experimental physics. Its job is to keep the eye on the whole, on how all the experimental data fit together into a comprehensive view of what a person, a human person, is, and what a mind is and does. A philosophical psychology ought to answer questions such as these:

      What, if anything, are humans like deep down inside beneath the clothes of culture?

      What, if any, features of mind-world interaction, and thus of the human predicament, are universal?

      Is there any end state or goal(s) that all humans...

    • 5 Being No-Self and Being Nice
      (pp. 115-164)

      How is Buddhist metaphysics, Buddhist wisdom (prajna; Pali, panna), Buddhist views about ultimate matters, the nature of things as they really are, connected to the ethic of compassion and lovingkindness that Buddhism endorses? Does the metaphysics logically entail the ethics? Or does the wisdom component of Buddhism give some reason, but not a decisive reason, to be a virtuous Buddhist? Or are they, the metaphysics and the ethics, epistemically completely independent but nonetheless compatible, like a black top and a white bottom, but not plaids and stripes, and this because we connect the two in imagination for utterly contingent linguistic...

    • 6 Virtue and Happiness
      (pp. 165-202)

      I have offered an analysis of eudaimoniaBuddha. Eudaimonia—flourishing, or happy flourishing, or happiness and flourishing, or more likely flourishing that often or usually leads to some sort of happiness of a serene sort—involves reaching a state, better: achieving a way of being, feeling, and acting constituted by wisdom (prajna) and virtue (sila, virtue, or karuna, virtue of the sort where compassion is the highest or master virtue) and mindfulness. Only in wisdom and virtue and mindfulness do we actualize our full potential, our proper function, as human beings and achieve eudaimoniaBuddha. In all likelihood we are happy, contented,...

  8. Postscript: Cosmopolitanism and Comparative Philosophy
    (pp. 203-208)

    QED. That is what I would like to say. That which was to be demonstrated has been demonstrated. Philosophy is not like that. Demonstration is for mathematics, where if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. If the definitions of terms (number, point, line) are rigorous, the axioms self-evident (parallels never intersect), and logical rules are followed, then the conclusion is true necessarily. A theorem states a certainty. In a right triangle, any right triangle, any conceivable right triangle, it is necessary that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sums of the squares of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 209-236)
  10. References
    (pp. 237-248)
  11. Index
    (pp. 249-264)