Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host. Will you tune with me, as always, is my co-host, Julia Gillard. Julia, when are we going to talk about today?
Today, we have a special guest with us in our studio. Please welcome Graham Priest, who is the Boyce Gibson professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and a distinguished professor of philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. Priest was educated at Cambridge and the London School of Economics, and he specialized in a wide variety of interesting topics, most notably logic and especially recently Eastern philosophy, which is what we're going to focus on in today's episode. We've covered a lot of philosophical topics in our history, in the history of the Russian speaking podcast, but we've never focused on philosophy of the East because I don't know anything about it, which is why we bring in a guest who can school us on the philosophy of the year.
So I'm really excited to be able to get into today's discussion. Welcome, Graham. Hi. Great to have you on the show. Thank you. So how did you get interested in Buddhism in particular?
I take it within you.
Well, like so many things in life, it was all an accident. The accident was that I met someone who knew a lot more about it than I did a guy called Joe Gaffield at the time. He was professor of philosophy in Tasmania. And we got talking and I've just been writing some stuff on the limits of thought. And he said, well, hey, this sounds like a Buddhist philosopher. A guy called Nagarjuna. And so we talked about that.
And as he talked with me about these things, I came to see that, you know, the Buddhist tradition was rich and fascinating in philosophy. So I thought, well, I better learn something about it. So I made a point of starting to learn.
So you essentially self taught and that which is not an easy thing to do, especially when it comes to a tradition that is fairly far from from from Western way of doing philosophy.
Let's say it's harder because philosophy, of course, is done in a cultural background. That doesn't mean that the ideas are culturally relative, but it doesn't mean that you have to understand something of the culture to understand the way that ideas are expressed. Examples of used their students appeal to exactly the same with Greek philosophy. I mean, you can't really understand Greek philosophy unless you know something about Greek culture.
So that's an interesting distinction, whether you mean. So I wanted to do on it a little bit more because I've read some something recently about the difference between world philosophy and comparative cross-cultural philosophy, that the difference from what I understand being then in one case, these are people interesting because a world philosophy, these are people interested in seeing where the convergence of philosophical ideas are across culture. In the other case, a comparative philosophical approach is to see, yes, the Paola's, but not with the goal necessarily of reframing it.
It's sort of a unifying or shared understanding of something is simply a matter of, OK, where let's see where the differences are and where the similarities are. Now your is your goal. Either one of those two or you just. Or actually neither. Neither.
I mean, of course if you take two philosophical traditions and they can be from different continents, from different countries, are they going to be similarities and differences? And both of those things can be philosophically illuminating. I mean, I'm not an historian of philosophy, although I think the history of philosophy is interesting. But for me, I look at the history of philosophy because I want to learn the philosophical ideas.
And everywhere philosophy is done, people have the same kinds of concerns. You know, is there a God, how shall I run the state? What's the nature of art? How do you know these things? What's the nature of reality? I mean, these are across philosophy everywhere. And people have sometimes similar, sometimes different approaches to these questions.
And hopefully one can learn from all these things and other the methods that are used in in Eastern and especially Buddhist philosophy, similar to the methods.
And I guess I was going to say Western philosophy, but really there's like several different kinds of Western philosophy, like when I compare the the methods such as they are in Continental philosophy, they're much less like an implied criticism there.
And such as, oh, I that wasn't meant to be applied to William. I'm sorry. Yes. OK, I mean, so what OK, when I when I read an analytical philosophy paper, I mean I often don't agree with them but but at the least I can like clearly follow and appreciate the structure of, you know, here's the claim I'm going to make. Here are the points that I'm going to use to.
What they claim here, you know, potential rebuttals and here's my response to those objections and then kind of last with a little more like meandering and sometimes, I guess meditative.
Well, the content flows right in what you might call a more literary style. Yes. And you write in a more scientific style. But I mean, there's good philosophy and bad philosophy and it's good philosophy and bad philosophy amongst analytic philosophers and cognitive philosophers and philosophers. But always when philosophy has done its best, there are interesting ideas and there are arguments for and against. You know, these are often expressed in quite different ways, but that's just a matter of getting used to the style.
Yes. So I'm sorry, I shouldn't have dragged us into an argument over the merit of the content of philosophy. I just meant to to highlight for our listeners that there are these fundamentally very different approaches to doing philosophy. And I was wondering if you could help situate Eastern philosophical methods, and I don't think I'd call them different approaches.
I mean, they're always interested in ideas, issues and reasons. There are certainly different ways of expressing things, and certainly that's true in the traditions we're talking about. So for a start, I mean, well, Western philosophy is not one thing, obviously, but Asian philosophy is even less one thing because it spins off two great civilisations, India and China. And typically, the way that the Indian philosophers write is a bit different from the way the Chinese philosophers write.
So in in Indian philosophy, the arguments tend to be much more explicit.
A lot of the canonical writings would strike people as slightly scholastic. So if you're at home in, say, medieval Western philosophy, you would find yourself at home very fast in the Indian traditions, you know, there are theses objections, replies, all laid out for you. OK, well, not all the texts are like that.
But, you know, generally speaking, for instance, there is a tradition of classic Indian logic and Indian epistemology. Yes. Yes, absolutely right. Absolutely.
So people from the West, fundamentals at home vary from cells at home, profoundly neurotic if they're used to that way of doing philosophy. But of course, people in the West are not familiar with Scholastica philosophy much nowadays. So they might find it rather strange. But it's it's it's much easier, I think, to get your head around that than Chinese policy.
With Chinese philosophy, the arguments are often less explicit. Arguments are often made by analogy and are often the conclusion of the argument is not actually spelt out, is left for the person to think through. So it's easy to miss conclusions than Chinese philosophy.
But could you give an example of an argument made in Indian philosophy or an issue that, uh, that they tackle in Indian philosophy?
I wondered in both Indian and Chinese, right.
I figured Chinese might be harder to give a clear example if it's as indirect as you describe.
Well, let me say. Or a favorite.
Well, cheaper to take Indian philosophy and take the issue of, say, the nature of a person.
What is a person, what is a person, personal identity, but constitutes an identity. So there are many different views in Indian philosophy on this, even many different views in Buddhist philosophy on this.
But for example, some people in the Hindu tradition think that a person is essentially a sort of a strange consciousness constant, not quite the right word that the Indian Sanskrit word is adamant. So you can think of it as a bit like a soul in Western philosophy. It's not personalised in quite the same way, but they think that a person is essentially this thing, whereas in Buddhist philosophy that at least early Buddhist philosophy, there's there's there's a sense in which there's no such thing as a person.
There's just a bunch of parts, you know, metal parts, physical parts, which kind of come together, hang around a bit and then fall apart. And so a large debates between the Hindus and the Buddhists about the nature of person, you know, and the arguments that they used are ones that you might expect, you know, if OK, hey, Julia, if you're just this bunch of aggregates just sort of floating around together, who the.
Is it this asking me this question? You know, this kind of argument, so that's that that's an example of the Indian stuff, Chinese stuff, OK? It's hard to go past Confucius Frankfurter, who didn't write anything like Socrates, but a lot of his songs were recorded by his disciples. And Confucius was essentially a political manea political philosophy and was interested in how you run the state.
OK. But for him, how you run the state is connected to the question of what it means to be a good person. Strickler's Reckless Plato. In that regard, you can't disentangle the issue of how to run the state from how to run, what it means to be a good person in the Republic, for instance. In a republic. Exactly right. Yeah.
And so in the Analects, which is sort of recorded things with computers, computers will talk about what it means to be a good person, but he'll do things by giving. He won't often tell you.
He'll give you examples. So someone might ask him, well, what do you think a good person would do in this kind of situation? And they say, well, you should and then outcome examples. You should follow the rules. Perform the rites.
Listen to good music, I'm paraphrasing, but Confucius thought art was the arts were very important because they were civilizing influence on both a person and and a culture.
Was there any I'm sorry, just to follow up on that.
Was there any attempt to sort of justify in any more fundamental way why certain ends were more valuable to pursue than other ends or like why you should try to live a good life or why you should respect your elder generations? Or was that just as stated as, OK, that's that's really explicit.
The explicit, really explicit in Confucius. And I must say that, you know, I don't know a great deal about Confucius, so I'm shooting from the hip a bit here. But his reasons are pretty obvious from the context. He's living in a period when China is in a state of disintegration and he's looking back on what he takes to be a golden period of Chinese civilisation, you know, roughly 1000 to 2000 B.C.. So Confucius is writing in about the sixth century B.C., 5th century B.C. and Confucius concern with the question, how the hell does society get into this state?
Look, it's gotten into this state because people have no, they're not following the rules. They're not doing things the way that a good family should be organized. They're not feeling the way the good state should be run. So I'm going to tell you how a good state should be run and then we won't get in this mess. So, I mean, the justification is sort of utilitarian in a sense, but that's all in the cultural context. It's not I think it's really explicit in Confucius.
But now the two examples that you just gave, one from from Indian philosophy, the other one from from Chinese, struck me as although the methods in the way to present it may be different, there are clear parallels, some of which you've mentioned with Western philosophy when you were describing the issue of of personhood, for instance, from a Buddhist perspective, Hume came to mind and this idea of the mind as a bundle of sensations and that sort of stuff.
So now, again, what's coming out of it from a different perspective. But the results in that case do seem very, very similar to me. And as you pointed out, the analogy has been made between Confucian moral philosophy and essentially virtue ethics. You know, sort of the tradition between Plato and Aristotle, particularly studies. There are differences between any sort of computer for sure. And Aristotle is definitely more explicit, as you were saying, about why certain things ought to be done in a certain way.
Yes. Yes. But nonetheless, and there are there are differences. But but but one can easily recognise the similarities.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as I said earlier, when you look at different philosophical traditions, you're always going to find similarities and differences. And the similarities and differences can be illuminating philosophically. But I mean, when you were introducing the program, you said something like where we explore rationality and nonsense, the borderland, the portal, another.
Well, I mean, it's still, I think, the case that a lot of people think of the notion of philosophical traditions as in the kind of nonsense land that their religion, their mysticism, they're not rational. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I think the attitude amongst Western philosophy is slowly changing, that they recognise that there is important philosophy in other traditions in the new Eurocentric one. But I think it's still true that people underestimate the richness of the Asian philosophical traditions. Well, we don't teach in the West much yet. And so that's, you know, is it true or vice versa?
I mean, is is it the case that in eastern China or in Japan or there is less appreciation of Western philosophy and let's say a comparable lack of dearth of application of I'm interested in Western philosophy, or is it or is there a similar ancestry there?
Asian philosophers in the last 100 or 200 years know a lot more about Western philosophy than vice versa. Take Japan, for example. Japan was opened up to the West at the end of the major restoration of the end of the 19th century, and the philosophers or some philosophers at that time made it their business to find out what was happening in the West. So the probably the most influential school of philosophy in Japan in the 20th century is the Kyoto School.
It was founded by a man named Mr. Kitto and Nishida Read. A number of philosophers, French, German mainly, and started to take help himself to those ideas and meall those together with the Asian philosophic tradition, which he was most closely associated with, which is then and talk about Buddhism of.
Yes, one branch of Buddhism.
And so his writings in his writings, he tends to fuse ideas from Western philosophy and Buddhist philosophy and in a fascinating way. And a number of his students travel to Europe and studied with people like Heidegger. And so the Japanese now know quite a lot about Western philosophy.
But let me play a little bit of devil's advocate there. I've read actually a bit about the Kyoto school recently in preparation for a project. And I got myself into and and what struck me, one of the things that struck me was exactly the fact that wherever the parallels were drawn, implicitly or directly or not with Western traditions, those parallels were, in fact, where philosophers such as Heidegger or Nietzsche, even that are often seen even within the Western tradition, as leaning toward a sort of mystical approach, as opposed to, let's say, what we today would consider an analytical approach and philosophy.
OK, so so what do you mean by mystical? Funny thing, I was about to ask you that. So mystical, from what I understand, is the idea of a mystical approach is somebody is giving a series of, let's say, pronouncements or sentences or statements about how things are without actually arguing from for them as if they were taken from some kind of access.
That is not that doesn't pass through sort of explicit, rational reasoning. Oh, OK. So that's that's of course, that's in some quarters. That's a pejorative definition of mysticism, because if you don't believe that the human mind has access to anything other than what you can think and rationally defend, then then obviously the word has as an implied or in fact an explicit negative meaning. But it is like let's say, what I have in mind is more a style of doing things.
So the leader of the Kansteiner who comes up with essentially aphorisms that to me leans toward a mystical approach in the sense that if there is an argument there, I'm sure there is in that particular case, it it's implicit. You have to work it out your own right. It's not it's not somebody who actually says, OK, you have to be investigations. Yes. Right. Yes. So so what I was saying was I noticed that the Kyoto school, from the little that I've read about it does have parallels with the Western tradition, but it does have followers in people like Heidegger who use that sort of approach or something closer to that sort of approach then rather than, you know, again, what would be recognizable as analytic writing in modern Western philosophy.
You don't agree that that is the case, or is that a problem or not?
No, I wouldn't quite have defined mysticism in the same way. But let's go with your definition. I mean, your definition is that it's kind of a Dracula to some extent, right?
Um, I wouldn't have thought that I would class Nishida Ernestina as Dracula. I mean, the arguments are there.
Well, Nietzsche is a is an interesting case because it is often recognized as one of those those transitional figures.
So I said, oh, I'm sorry. Yes. You know, Nietzsche isn't a regular. Yes.
And a very interesting one.
That's a little look. But in all these people, there are arguments there, OK, nature that I can find to me. You just have to have an eye attuned to see them, I think. And again, I mean, this comes back to the style of writing philosophy. I mean, there are many stars are writing philosophy. And when you read philosophers, you just have to get used to their style, the way they argue. But if it's good philosophy, there are ideas and there are reasons.
So it sounded correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounded like you were implying that Western philosophy would it would be beneficial to Western philosophy to pay more attention to philosophy, that is, and to try to engage with the more or learn from them. And the the examples that you gave of Indian like sort of philosophy of personal identity from India and political philosophy from Confucius sound like the just as you're saying, the kind of topics that are treated in Western philosophy.
But is there anything in Eastern philosophy that would be new to Western philosophy that. Western philosophy could benefit from either either like a an issue or an argument or something that is missing from Western philosophy.
I think the more philosophy, you know, the better. I think if you understand some traditions and philosophy, you'll always learn more by looking at other traditions. So, I mean, if you are a modern athletic philosopher, there's a lot to learn from ancient Greek philosophy. Often the ancient Greek philosophers were centrally concerned with issues that we're not now so concerned with. Like, well, you know, the central question of Greek moral philosophy is how should I live?
Which is something that has sort of gone off the radar in modern ethics. OK, well, that's that's the Western situation. I think the eastern situation is parallel. I don't think you're going to find philosophical questions in the East that you don't find in the West, because after all, philosophy, philosophical ideas, a kind of universal.
Do they approach things in different ways? Yes. Do they have ideas that are not present in the West? Yes.
Do you want me to give you example of one of these? Yes.
So generally speaking, Western philosophy or Western metaphysics tends to work with substances. OK, so there's a kind of ground to reality. So some things depend on other things. You know, objects with properties depend on the the bare of the properties. Maybe people depend on God. You know, it depends on your metaphysics. But ultimately, there's a kind of a fundamental ground to reality, which is some kind of substance, some kind of self standing things which don't depend on anything else.
Well, in one of the Indian Mahayana tradition, so in Buddhism, Buddhism starts about the fifth sixth century B.C., B.C. It develops in an early form of which only one kind remains. Now, that's Theravada Buddhism. But a whole nother kind of Buddhism starts to develop around the term of the common era, which is Mahayana Buddhism. And there are two Indian schools of Mahayana. One of them is called Mount Yamaka. And in the yamaka, the metaphysical picture is really quite different.
There is no ground to reality whatsoever, so everything depends on other things. And so you get a regress. This depends on that. That depends on that.
That say depends on what you mean is is made up of not possibly made up of it. Possibly.
It could be very logical, it could be part whole, but it could be some other kind of dependent's like, like dependence on your concepts. I'm sorry. Concepts. So, so some things are what they are in virtue of the way we think about them. OK, that's so that's conceptual dependence and some things are there in terms of their causal origin. I mean, you are what you are partly because of your causal dependence on your DNA and so on.
So the dependence can be of a number of different kinds. But there's always in anything this dependence. So if you look at this dependence, it never grounds out in an ultimate grounded reality. There's no God, there's no substance of any kind. It's kind of a regressive dependence all the way down. And some people even in the east thought that was a vicious regress. But the magic markers certainly didn't think so anyway. Sort of started to come back to your question.
This idea of sort of the groundedness of reality is something I don't know of anywhere in the West that you find that view, except that we recently talked about something similar coming about places from fundamental physics.
We had James Leatherman and and he's naturalistic metaphysics. And one of the interesting possibilities, apparently in modern physics is, in fact, that as the title of Lehmann's and books put it puts it, everything must go, meaning that there is no reality.
Yeah. And the the the question of to what extent their view is similar is interesting. And I've actually talked to James about this. There are certainly similarities, although of course it must be said that if this is true, the Buddhists got there 2000 years before us, the West, that well, it's very, very different means.
Right. And by very different means. So I wonder, although let's explore that for a second. I also want to get, in some sense, respond to Julia's earlier question with a panel with science. But but so let's say, for instance, because this is a. Blame has often been made not just for Eastern traditions and modern science, but for Western traditions. I mean, often people talk about the atom is the ancient Greek anatomists who got it.
Now, in that case, which I'm not familiar with, that case in that case is actually you can make an argument that no, they didn't for a variety of reasons. First of all, because when the atoms were saying that there is a lower level, ultimate level of constituency of reality that cannot be further broken down, apparently, as it turns out, that is not the case according to physics. So in some important sense, I didn't get it.
And even if they did get it, that would just be lucky.
Well, OK, so that's what I wanted to go. So if in fact, let's say, on the other hand, that they did get it, that they were able to present a analysis of of this particular case, a metaphysical analysis of the ultimate continuance of reality that did turn out to be sufficient. Right in the details that you can't say, well, you know, they just they threw something out, then they just happened to have going right now.
One, I think ironically, might be considered a type of mystical insight, if you want, and intuition if you want to call it that way, that, you know, I happened to turn out to be correct.
OK, now, this certainly wasn't a mystical intuition in the sense that you defined it, because these guys have really interesting arguments for their conclusions. You find them in Nagarjuna, who's about second century, you find them in Chandra Kittie, a 6th century commentator. You find them in some kapa whose 12th century. I think to certain commentator, the arguments are absolutely explicit.
So in that case, then, if in fact one can draw parallels with modern physics, what can actually make an argument that the the philosophers, the British Muslims did arrive at similar conclusions? Relevantly similar conclusions, because that's that's the tricky part. Yeah.
Look, I'm not so sure that they are that similar. I mean, I don't I haven't thought a lot about James view, but the slogan is Everything must go right. But I, as I understand it, is a kind of structuralist. Right? So things go, but structure remains. So there is a kind of ultimate ground for him, namely structure, correct? Right. Yes. No, not objects. Yeah. Yeah.
OK, in in the Potomac tradition, there is certainly structure, but that that's not a ground because that itself is dependent on other things.
OK, so I'm not entirely clear that James, who is similar to let me tell. Now what I wanted to go. Going back to Julia's earlier question about which you address in terms of, you know, you said there are universal questions in philosophy and in there are there are things you can learn from different traditions, in part, I suppose, because different traditions have not only happened to have a different contingent cultural history, but also because people in different cultural settings tend to be interested in certain things and think about them in a different way necessarily from from from the way in which people from other cultures do.
There are examples like that in science. They're a little more difficult to find, partly because science is a much more recent, I think, activity. Science is what I mean by science, is that the kind of activity that we're familiar with after the scientific revolutions, because then you can go all the way back and argue that this mother was a scientist, but I won't go there. If you think about science as it has been practiced in the last couple of hundred years, in particular institutionalized science throughout the 20th 21st century.
So it's a much shorter history. And yet there are even there examples that confirm sort of that kind of view that you were, I think, putting forward, which is on the one hand, the universality of questions in science. OK, biologists tend to be interested in things like heredity, for instance, or the biological diversity. Physicists tend to be interested in things like the fundamental structures of the universe. But there are several episodes of recognizably different and impactful ways of going at them at these questions within cultural traditions.
For instance, during the Cold War in Russia, Russian scientists developed different approaches to both physics and biology. Some of them got politicized and became essentially pseudo science that we are familiar with, the Lysenko affair and that sort of stuff.
We think of our being, oh, we're not really. You mean we're not all familiar with every single one of our listeners is familiar like. Well, all right, good point. But I think if there was this really ugly episode in in Russia during the Cold War, Soviet Union at the time, of course, during which there's this guy essentially managed to purge all biology department genetics departments of actual serious scientist on the grounds that they were doing the kind of genetic research that was contrary to, you know, the.
Dialectical materialism that was supposed to be the foundational philosophy of the Soviet Union system, the result of which has been so it basically was pushing Lamarckian ideas about how the environment can change permanently and heritable manner.
So sort of like if you got a nose job, then your your children would have pretty noses. It wasn't quite that simple, but the result of it was, of course, a failure of crops, for instance, in the Soviet Union on a massive scale which caused huge economic damage and all that. And even despite that, the Zinka was in charge for a number of years. Some of the biologists he persecuted actually were exiled or put to death.
So it was a really ugly episode. But at the same time, during the same period, the where interesting things have been going on in, say, Russian biology, for instance, this evolution evolutionary biologist who wrote a very important book that turned out to be influential in western Western thought only much, much later, decades later. And the reason for that is because the Western tradition was simply thinking in very deterministic and very mechanistic sense with focus on genetics and was in fact ignoring ecological environmental effects.
And it took actually decades for the West to sort of catch up with with that kind of work, which had been developed in parallel, almost complete and complete a cultural isolation by Russian biologists.
So there are examples like that and the same there are similar examples in physics.
So it can definitely happen that different cultural traditions, even though people are pursuing the same general questions, they get at it in a completely different way, especially if there is no communication or little communication between those two.
No, I agree entirely. Have there been any useful ideas to come out of the more religious parts of philosophy, like I say, philosophy or Eastern philosophy?
When I look at Buddhists, I don't know that much about Buddhism, but when I do, the the useful parts of Buddhism seem to be to have more to do almost with psychology, with, you know, the possibility of becoming happier, not by getting more of what you want, but by letting go of a lot of your desires.
This could be a total simplification of Buddhism. I don't actually know. That's just one thing that I thought I had learned about it. But but in terms of the the religion, it's hard for me to see offhand how that could actually inform a search for truth.
Like, do you see the sort of supernatural aspects of Eastern philosophy as having useful things we can glean from them and on the supernatural?
Well, I've been asked this question on the blog recently, and I keep giving an answer. And the person who has to keep keeps telling me that I'm wrong. So but but he cites Wikipedia, which, of course, is the ultimate question on that.
So, yeah, go ahead. Let's talk about there isn't an ultimate source of like an ultimate authority about what? Supernatural.
But it is a big question. What do you mean by it? Yeah.
Yeah, I'm I mean. I mean, OK.
So probably different people mean different things. Probably some people mean that they're talking about things that are current science can't explain other people, I mean literally something that is not real but in some sense but the term supernatural implying something that is outside of natural processes.
Right. So outside the laws of physics and capable therefore of violating the laws of physics.
Yeah, I know.
It's just I mean, I've struggled with whether I think the supernatural is an incoherent concept or just or something that we could never have any knowledge of, even if it existed or something that, you know, would be I, I probably shouldn't get into like all of my confusions about supernatural.
But we know they have a logician here. So if we're talking about incoherence, that's probably something we can address. Wigram, I mean, I don't know what I think that Julias point, however, is does reflect a fairly common understanding of of the fact that particularly certain Eastern traditions, philosophical traditions are intermingled with religious influences and therefore, by implication, with something that in the West would be considered supernatural. Now, that's not only in the Eastern traditions.
I mean, as we discussed earlier, earlier, briefly, most of the Middle Ages, most of the Middle Ages Western philosophy was exactly and was very much in the control of a group of people who studied with axioms and ways of thinking that were explicitly supernatural.
Yeah, maybe to be simple, I should just say that I'm I'm talking about a cluster of of. Claims about what happens after you die or about some powerful force that, like outside of space time controlling things or that gave rise to things like these are. Yeah, maybe, maybe I should just point to the examples of supernatural.
You certainly find that in the Indian traditions. I mean, all the Indian schools have views about what happens after you die. I mean, they all believe in rebirth and they all believe in karma. That's kind of sort of laws which force you to be reborn in a certain way, much less in the Chinese traditions. The Chinese are much more sort of pragmatic and naturalists and the Indians. So you don't get the same kind of heavy duty metaphysics that you find in the Indian Cosmologies, for example, and is the useful stuff in Indian philosophy.
You just separate a ball from that.
Or like it's hard for me to imagine addressing metaphysical questions in a truth seeking way if you have these beliefs about how the universe works that are mystical or supernatural.
Well, I'm inclined to agree. I mean, I can't subscribe to these views about rebirth and karma.
And so not coming as someone who with rebirth, but a case can be made up for them. I don't think it's a very good one. If I did, I'd believe it.
But I think there are many valuable things in these philosophies which are kind of independent of these considerations.
So I Masimo gave the example of a Christian philosophy in the Middle Ages. Of course, you know, philosophy is tightly connected with Christianity, but many of the things that philosophers discussed in the Middle Ages, like logic, for example, or political philosophy or the nature of reality, actually very little to do with Christianity as such. Same in the Buddhist traditions and Hindu traditions. But these guys are interested in, you know, what you might call hardcore philosophical questions.
And so the answer basically is that, in fact, the two are at least to some approximation, separable, and that we've always done that. I mean, there you know, again, I want to draw a parallel with science without going to very recent examples of, well, let's go actually to very recent examples like the current head of the NIH is a very good, excellent biologist who also happens to be an evangelical Christian. And he think he says that his entire worldview is informed by that, but apparently not his science.
So who is this? Be Francis Collins, the current and NIH. But you can go all the way back into, you know, two or three centuries into the history of science and say and pointed out that Newton spent more time thinking about astrology in the Bible than he did about physics. Now, that doesn't invalidate at all is physics, even though, in fact, it was informed at a very high metaphysical level by his religion. I mean, he thought that what he was discovering was the way the mind of God was working and organizing things.
Kepler who who definitely what brought his astrology and his theology into his astronomy. But we can separate the two to a large degree, if not entirely in those in those cases. And we can keep the stuff that is, in fact, argued for or in the case of science, empirically backed up from the stuff that is, in fact not defensible or need to be discarded because there's not a particularly good argument for it. So it's always there. Now, you can that's that you can always make the argument that some traditions are much more intermingled, that the religious perspective is much more intermingled with with scientific or the philosophical one than in other traditions.
That's I think that's fair enough. That means you have to do more work to get to something of value, if that is the case. But but I think that those instances can be found not just in Eastern philosophy, but in Western philosophy as well as any fact in Western science.
Yeah, I agree entirely. I mean, if there is a big difference between Eastern philosophies and Western philosophies is that there was there was never a scientific revolution in the U.S. and that had such a profound impact on the way that philosophy was done in Europe. It broke the connection largely, but the connection between Christianity and philosophy. And that never happened so much in the in the eastern traditions. But I don't think that's philosophically very significant, to be honest, because, as you say, one can distinguish between religious ideas and philosophical ideas where we're running out of time for the segment of the podcast.
So we'll wrap it up in a minute. But, Graham, thank you so much for.
You understand how the eastern and Western traditions are different and, uh, and similar in more ways than I realized.
Well, we've started the discussion. That's right.
All right. Let's move on now to Graham's pick for the rationally speaking picks. Welcome back every episode with a bigger suggestion for our listeners that has taken our irrational fancy. This time we ask our guests, Graham Priest, for his suggestion Graham. OK, well, the Met has been the Met Opera has been preparing or doing the ring cycle for the last four seasons. And this is the first season that they're going to put the whole thing on.
And I'm not a fan and I'm pretty much looking forward to going to see this.
Michael Gardner is actually a very philosophical composer. The ring was written over something like 25 years. And when it started, Vulcano was a young radical who's a lefty, although we don't normally think of argument like that. And the earlier parts of the ring can be seen as depicting a kind of people corrupted by society. But as I got older, he dropped his left wing political views. He was actually influenced by Buddhism. He read Schopenhauer. And so as the plot of the tale unfolds, it's one can see sort of Buddhist influences on what happens, OK?
Of course, if you just watch the ring or listen to the ring, you wouldn't pick this up because you have to be shown it like a good bottle of wine. You have to know what to taste. Right. But it is a very philosophical work. And there's a book I like by Brian McGee called The Tristan Chord. So Tristan is Old is one of his operas. And in the Tristan called, Migi explores the philosophical influences on Wagner and the way he built these into his music.
And it's a book that I enjoyed very much. And it certainly helped me to to understand Wagner's music.
And is there is there anything in there that you think justifies the Nazis use of Wagner as as like a poster child for fascism?
Well, we get anything.
No, I mean I mean I mean, Wagner was an anti-Semite, as were many people of his generation. Like Fraker was an anti-Semite, for example.
But there's nothing that I'm aware of in the music of Vulcano, which is anti-Semitic. I mean, of course, there is in Shakespeare, you know, the Merchant of Venice. And there's nothing of that kind that I'm aware of involvement. Good to know.
LeoGrande, thanks again for being a guest on. Rationally speaking, it's been a pleasure having you. This concludes another episode of rationally speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.
The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Pollack and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. Our theme, true by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.