Lewis Lancaster on Buddhism in the Modern Age

To counter some of the fluff I’ve been posting, here’s a whole lecture by Lewis Lancaster, founder of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (which he explains in the lecture) that says something about the content and history of Buddhism: Watch on youtube. I’ve not watched the whole thing, so I can’t guarantee that he doesn’t […]

Two Books about Zero

Following up on yesterday’s post about nothingness, here are two books, one by a scientist and another by a mathematician, about the origination and subsequent history of the mathematical notion of zero: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea,by Charles Seife, and The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero,by Robert Kaplan. I’ve not […]

Alan Watts on Nothingness

I got a call for some Alan Watts in our Buddhism discussion, so here’s one of many clips of his from youtube that touches on a theme discussed on the episode (i.e. nothingness and the interdependence of opposite, plus a quick statement without much explanation of Big Self) and which has some good background music […]

B.S. about Jesus and Buddhism

Could Jesus have been taken to India as a child and taught Buddhism? Hmmm? Hmmm? Here’s something that apparently showed on the BBC at some point: Watch on youtube. OK, some silly speculation here (and more amusingly told in Christoper Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal),but a few points of comparison […]

Nagarjuna on Ultimate Truth (Yet More Westerhoff)

I will end my Westerhoff/Nagarjuna coverage with one more selection from right at the end of Westerhoff’s book: According to the Madhyamaka view of truth, there can be no such thing as ultimate truth, a theory describing how things really are, independent of our interests and conceptual resources employed in describing it. All one is […]

Nagarjuna on the Thing-in-Itself (More Westerhoff)

Our Nagarjuna episode seemed to conclude that ultimate reality is beyond our ability to speak about it. The objects of our experience are a shared fiction, and the most we can do with language is to show that they’re fictional; even the terms we use to accomplish this (like emptiness) are themselves constructs, serving only […]

Westerhoff on Nagarjuna on Metaphysically Basic Entities

One of the topics we didn’t really get into on the podcast, and which in our Buddhism reading I actually found the most interesting, is the metaphysics of basic elements of the world. Nagarjuna argues that reality has no ultimate foundation, and in the episode we discussed that in terms of the possibility of Cartesian […]

WEIRD vs. World ethics

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes an interesting review of The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happenby Kwame Anthony Appiah: read the review here. In evaluating our moral intuitions, we often reflect on whether this kind of phenomenology has resonance beyond other Western (“Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD)”) points of view. Appiah’s book focuses on […]

Topic for #29: Kierkegaard’s “The Sickness Unto Death”

We’ll be digging into the reputed “father of existentialism,” who takes his Christianity very personally and thinks the rest of you are a bunch of sheep, thank you very much. In the ole’ Sygdommen til Døden, Mr. K. writes as “Anti-Climacus,” a pseudonym which he brought out when feeling frisky, much like Richard Bachman. Did […]

Buddhism Podcasts?

One of my goals in the run-up to our Buddhism episode was to listen to a bunch of many Buddhism/Zen-related podcasts (there seem to be more of these than philosophy ones) and post some reviews. However, though I sampled bits of maybe six of them, I have nothing that I actually want to recommend, but […]

Wherefore art thou Socrates?

The Death of Socrates, 1787, by Jacques Louis David

The Guardian UK published this promotion of Bettany Hughes’ The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life.It’s a biography of Socrates claiming to put him in his proper context and, if the article mirrors the book, trying to make him relevant for today. One of the points in the piece is that […]

Judging Religion vs. Judging “Twilight”

Some of our ongoing atheism discussion here brought to mind an analogy that I think is best illustrated by a comic from Lore Sjoberg’s Bad Gods. See the comic on Lore’s site. Punch line aside, the point should be clear. To argue effectively against religion, you have to be familiar with religion, and to argue […]

Buddhism and the “Ecological Self”

Alan Sponberg, in this article from the Western Buddhist Review, gives a nuanced picture of the Buddhist view of self, affirming the no-self view described on the podcast while arguing that the unity of sentient life under samsara provides a foundation for environmental ethics: Rather than reifying the prevailing sense of an autonomous self-interested individual […]

The Fate of Gallagher

In my new role as blogger, I’ve been struck by the pull of what I can only describe as Andy Ronneyization, wherein having a forum where you speak alone makes you more and more likely to be snarky, and complaining, and increasingly Scrooge-like: closed-hearted, quick to jeer, encased in your own bile, and ultimately insane. […]

Glimpses of Zen: No Self vs. Big Self

As mentioned on the podcast, our original intention was to cover Zen, but that seemed difficult without covering some of the history. Nagarjuna was a big influence on Zen, particularly in the “Reasoning” reading where he urges disassociation from even Buddhist doctrine itself, i.e. the transcendence of all views. That’s the kind of mind-bending apparent […]

Elucidations Podcast: Brian Leiter on Religious Tolerance

OK, if the atheism debates are so squalid, then what’s the moderate, “philosophically respectable” approach to some of the issues that come up in them? A recent episode of the University of Chicago philosophy podcast Elucidations featured philosophy uber-blogger Brian Leiter (who taught my philosophy and the law class at U. Texas). Leiter addresses the […]

Who’s Qualified to Speak about Religion?

The most recent comment to yesterday’s post on atheism was a quote (thanks, Jonathan!) from Jose Ortega y Gasset used on this blog to argue that scientists shouldn’t be weighing in on matters of religion and ethics which are, after all, not their specialty. The point is well taken, reflecting Socrates’s general criticism that every […]

Dig that Funky Lotus Sutra!

I referred on the podcast to the over-the-top theatrics of the Lotus Sutra, and also that Nagarjuna’s “verses” were just that: verses meant to be memorized and sung. Well, here on youtube we have a recording of the Lotus Sutra (I have no idea how much of it; surely not the whole thing) memorized and […]

The Tedium Debates: Dawkins vs. the Pope

How philosophically uninteresting are the atheist debates? Yes, it’s nice that something akin to philosophy is actively debated in the media, that ongoing disputes about religious matters will hopefully keep the spirit of the times moving forward by providing active intellectual and/or spiritual alternatives to people beyond whatever religion they may have been brought up […]

Nagarjuna speaks!

This cheeseball video (which I refer to in the podcast as the source of my pronunciations of “Nagarjuna” and “Madhyamika”) reveals that Nagarjuna had a midwestern accent and some goofy iMovie effects at his disposal. He likes using the same font as Avatar, too. And is that a ney flute I hear? Hell, yeah! My […]

Episode 27: Nagarjuna on Buddhist “Emptiness” (Citizens Only)


Primarily discussing “Reasoning: The Sixty Stanzas” and “Emptiness: The Seventy Stanzas,” by the 2nd century Indian Buddhist Nagarjuna. Is the world of our experience ultimately real? If not, does it have something metaphysically basic underlying it? For Nagarjuna, the answers are “no” and “no… well… not that we can talk about.” With guest Erik Douglas.

End song: “Nothing in this World” by by Mark Lint.

Secondary Sources for Nagarjuna

For our Nagarjuna episode, in addition to the works by Nagarjuna that we provided links to, we discussed two additional works that you may want to look into: First, Jan Westerhoff’s Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka covers the philosophical concepts of the core Nagarjuana texts, not only clarifying N’s view within the tradition (i.e. clarifying what position he’s […]

Buddhist Psychotherapy?

Having recorded our discussion on Buddhism but still feeling obligated here to plumb the depths of the web further for Freud-related material, I did a search for “Buddhist Psychotherapy” and came up with this site (part of “the complementary health information service at Metta.org.uk”) that demonstrates that, as Wes said, all of your talking cures […]

Sam Harris on the Daily Show

Wes has posted about this previously, but I wanted to give this more thought after seeing Sam Harris (introduced at the top of the show not as a philosopher but as a “professional atheist”) on the Daily Show a couple of days back. You can see the interview here. As is typical for a short […]

Should you become an academic? A letter on Salon.com

A letter was featured in the “advice column” on Salon.com on Monday that does a good job of elaborating what seems crappy about teaching academically: read it here. It mentions the terrible job market and administrative hassles but focuses on the experience of having to be an authority figure to ungrateful, uninterested, sometimes academically dishonest […]

Schizophrenia, Philosophy & Freud

While we’re following up on the Freud podcast, I caught this interesting show from ABC National Radio in Australia on schizophrenia and philosophical investigation.  The show is called All in the Mind, hosted by Natasha Mitchell.  In this episode, she interviews Dr Paul Fearne, who suffers from schizophrenia but managed to acknowledge it, get help […]

Mark Steel on Sexual Fixation

Here’s an “Open University lecture” on Freud that does not at all resemble a lecture, but is instead a somewhat informative comedy monologue with TV-news-magazine-style visuals. Watch on youtube. Highlights here are more detail on Freud’s fascination with cocaine and some funny details about his love life. There’s not much explicitly on the philosophical aspects […]

Freud on Religion: A Quiz


Given that the subject of our Freud episode was Civilization and its Discontents, we were pretty quick regarding Freud’s specific points on religion, which are pretty interesting in themselves, in that his view is for practical purposes very much in line with the modern scientism of someone like Dawkins but acknowledges elements of Kantian agnosticism. […]

“Working Notes” Blog on the Epistemology of Freudian Drives

Mike Johnduff, a Princeton grad student in English whose “Working Notes” blog includes a number of interesting short essays on figures in Continental philosophy (e.g. Heidegger, Marx, Foucault, etc.), has written several pieces on Freud, including this article what we can know of psychological drives according to Freud. He states: Though drives are determined by […]

Jane McAdam Freud: Art and the Good Life

Here’s a short interview with the granddaughter of Sigmund Freud talking about the goals of her art: Watch on youtube. What’s the good life, according to Ms. McAdam Freud? Be your own boss. Have friends, love your life. Finally, lead an analyzed life, and she does this through art.