The Place of Positivism

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The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 12:29 am

I've observed a trend among modern Buddhists (and more so among scholars) to be positivist in their desire for an orginal understanding of the Buddha's teaching. By positivism, I mean basically what the Vienna Circle called "the verification principle" (I believe Mach coined the term; Bertrand Russell wants it be "logical positivism" but that, IMO, takes it too far).

For example, on the one hand, some scholars question the western hermeneutical idea of a canon as applied to the early Buddhist texts as appropriate; and on the other hand, Buddhists like Thannissaro have referred to the Pali Canon as a "living tradition," implying the idea of a canon as a "standard of measurement" is not very applicable (although he uses the term Canon a lot).

So, what is the place of positivism in modern Buddhism? Is it completely inappropriate, or more of a take with a grain of salt situation? IOW, is "originalism" valid?

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 31, 2011 12:53 am

Hi DanieLion,

This sounds like an interesting idea, but in order for us to understand what you are getting at could you explain a little more in what sense the "desire for an orginal understanding of the Buddha's teaching" is positivist?

:anjali:
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Dec 31, 2011 1:25 am

danieLion wrote:Buddhists like Thannissaro have referred to the Pali Canon as a "living tradition," implying the idea of a canon as a "standard of measurement" is not very applicable (although he uses the term Canon a lot).


He must be very careful not to use the term tenet-system as that would be going way too far!

Can-on (noun)
1 a : a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council b : a provision of canon law
[Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin, from Latin, model] : the most solemn and unvarying part of the Mass including the consecration of the bread and wine…

3. Middle English, from Late Latin, from Latin, standard] a : an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture b : the authentic works of a writer c : a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works *the canon of great literature*
4 a : an accepted principle or rule b : a criterion or standard of judgment c : a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms ...
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi DanieLion,

This sounds like an interesting idea, but in order for us to understand what you are getting at could you explain a little more in what sense the "desire for an orginal understanding of the Buddha's teaching" is positivist?

:anjali:
Mike

Sure, Mike,
Positivism asserts that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense experience and positive verification.
source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positivism


and
from my dictionary (Webster's Lexicon).

logical positivism: a 20th-c. form of philosophical thought (*POSITIVISM) which stems from empiricism as modified by the modern non-Aristotelian system of logic. Its salient aim has been to create a comprehensive philosophy of science and, through emphasizing the fundamentally linguistic nature of philosophical problems, to destroy traditional metaphysics. It's chief exponent has been Ludwig Wittgenstein."


See also "Verificationism" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verificationism.

One might say bhavana is a process of personal and experiential verification of the Buddha's teaching.
Gombrich's use of Popper's notion of un-intended consequences to the history of Buddhism is an example of a positivist approach the the teachings, frequently emphasizing the idea that the Buddha taught about "processes not things." And Thanissaro has actually used this terminology in print.
Does that help?
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:12 am

ancientbuddhism wrote:
danieLion wrote:Buddhists like Thannissaro have referred to the Pali Canon as a "living tradition," implying the idea of a canon as a "standard of measurement" is not very applicable (although he uses the term Canon a lot).


He must be very careful not to use the term tenet-system as that would be going way too far!

Can-on (noun)
1 a : a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council b : a provision of canon law
[Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin, from Latin, model] : the most solemn and unvarying part of the Mass including the consecration of the bread and wine…

3. Middle English, from Late Latin, from Latin, standard] a : an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture b : the authentic works of a writer c : a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works *the canon of great literature*
4 a : an accepted principle or rule b : a criterion or standard of judgment c : a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms ...

Hi ancientbuddhism,
What is the source of these definitions? Which reminds me, insistence on sources is a positivist attitude/endeavor.
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby alan » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:24 am

Interesting idea you have there, danieLion, but you have fallen into the trap of using a lot of big words without defining them properly. By that I don't mean dictionary definitions, I'm referring to your understanding of the terms, and why they are of interest. I'm afraid the general reader will be left adrift, wondering what you meant, and unwilling to do the research necessary to properly answer the question.
Perhaps you can rephrase your question in a manner more user-friendly?
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:52 am

alan wrote:Interesting idea you have there, danieLion, but you have fallen into the trap of using a lot of big words without defining them properly. By that I don't mean dictionary definitions, I'm referring to your understanding of the terms, and why they are of interest. I'm afraid the general reader will be left adrift, wondering what you meant, and unwilling to do the research necessary to properly answer the question.
Perhaps you can rephrase your question in a manner more user-friendly?

I know. It's ironic, though, isn't it? Because of "the fundamentally linguistic nature of philosophical problems"?
Let's see.
Positivism to me is wanting to know what the hell is going on. It's a desire for "truth" or seeing things as they really are even if you don't like what you find. It's being as honest with yourself and your world as you can. But it also means discarding or setting aside anything irrelevant to this. The Vienna Circle strikes me as group expressions of this desire. Positivism is now out of style in academia, but I see a strong current of positivism/verificationism in the Buddha's attitude toward reality. However, modern philosophers have mainly used positivism to dismiss anything "spiritual", including Buddhism, Gombrich/Popper being a "secular" exception and Thanissaro appearing as a positivist (look at how deals with "faith"/conviction in Wings.)

Here at Dhammawheel, many posters seem to be after the original teachings, which I can sympathize with. But I can also sympathize with those who point out that the nature historical inquiry is necessarily speculative.

I hope that helps. This is a difficult "problem" and I'm kind of thinking out loud on this one.
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby alan » Sat Dec 31, 2011 3:31 am

No, it is not ironic. Where do you see irony here?
If "positivism" is understood as wanting to know what is really going on, and a desire for truth, then count me as a positivist. But so what?
If you have a question, ask it. And make it clear. No one cares about your opinion of the Vienna Circle.
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby chownah » Sat Dec 31, 2011 3:32 am

I see a strong current of positivism/verificationism in the Buddha's attitude toward reality

Interesting idea. I'm not sure what you mean by "reality" but I'll take it to be "The All". Since the contents of "The All" is fabricated things and since they are mutually referential then the idea of "verification" seems a bit strained in that there is no independent or fixed reference by which to verify....the blind leading the blind.....
So now if we take a definition for positivism you provided (that definition being:"Positivism asserts that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense experience and positive verification.") and we strip off the verification part we end up with sense expereince being the only basis for knowledge which at first seems consistent with the Buddha's teachings but I think the positivist take on this sort of disintegrates when the Buddhistic idea that perception of knowledge is just another experience......saying that knowledge is based on experience is just saying that expereince is based on experience......I guess.....
chownah
P.S. I think your original post was too vague and open ended as to what to discuss which is why I took just one of your sentences to reply to. I guess you shouldn't think aloud when your mind is too full! :tongue:
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Dec 31, 2011 3:59 am

One example could be that unicorn of Buddhist studies called ‘Early Buddhism’, led by such thinkers as Venerables Ñāṇavira Thera, Ñāṇananda, Analayo, Sujato et al.

danieLion wrote:What is the source of these definitions? Which reminds me, insistence on sources is a positivist attitude/endeavor.


I use a Webesters dictionary In the puter.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:22 am

alan wrote:No, it is not ironic. Where do you see irony here?
If "positivism" is understood as wanting to know what is really going on, and a desire for truth, then count me as a positivist. But so what?
If you have a question, ask it. And make it clear. No one cares about your opinion of the Vienna Circle.

Gee Alan, why don't you tell me how you really feel?

How can you be so confident you know what others care about?

I haven't stated my opinion about the Vienna Circle.

I all ready asked the question.

This was the result of someone requesting language clarification, which is where the irony lies. Positivism challenges the traditional roles of language in determining what the hell is going on.

Take the Canon for example. A positivist would ask if experience verifies the teachings in their written form.

Non-Buddhist scholars like Gombrich and Hamilton use positivism to deconstructive or revisionist ends, but Buddhist teachers seem to use it to actually change their lives by building conviction through verification.

Daniel :heart:
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:27 am

ancientbuddhism wrote:
danieLion wrote:Buddhists like Thannissaro have referred to the Pali Canon as a "living tradition," implying the idea of a canon as a "standard of measurement" is not very applicable (although he uses the term Canon a lot).


He must be very careful not to use the term tenet-system as that would be going way too far!

Can-on (noun)
1 a : a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council b : a provision of canon law
[Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin, from Latin, model] : the most solemn and unvarying part of the Mass including the consecration of the bread and wine…

3. Middle English, from Late Latin, from Latin, standard] a : an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture b : the authentic works of a writer c : a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works *the canon of great literature*
4 a : an accepted principle or rule b : a criterion or standard of judgment c : a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms ...


Do Buddhists have dogmas, or churches, or creeds? Do they have a concept comparable to "holiness" and "scriptures"?

If some texts in the Canon are corrupt, we can't call it an accepted body or group of principles, rules, standards, judgments or norms
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:29 am

ancientbuddhism wrote:
danieLion wrote:Buddhists like Thannissaro have referred to the Pali Canon as a "living tradition," implying the idea of a canon as a "standard of measurement" is not very applicable (although he uses the term Canon a lot).


ancientbuddhism wrote:He must be very careful not to use the term tenet-system as that would be going way too far!


Why? Or are you joking over my dense skull?
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:42 am

chownah wrote:So now if we take a definition for positivism you provided (that definition being:"Positivism asserts that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense experience and positive verification.")


I provided it. I don't necessarily agree with it. It's hard to define an intellectual trend.

chownah wrote:and we strip off the verification part we end up with sense expereince being the only basis for knowledge


Epistemic empiricism claims that all knowledge comes from experience, which the Buddha did not teach, for as you say

chownah wrote:which at first seems consistent with the Buddha's teachings but I think the positivist take on this sort of disintegrates when the Buddhistic idea that perception of knowledge is just another experience....

However, you threw me off with the word "perception"? The Buddha taught a form of knowledge independent of sense experience and perception, right?

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Sat Dec 31, 2011 8:00 am

[quote="ancientbuddhism"]One example could be that unicorn of Buddhist studies called ‘Early Buddhism’, led by such thinkers as Venerables Ñāṇavira Thera, Ñāṇananda, Analayo, Sujato et al.

Exactly! Where does "early" Buddhism end and "late" Buddhism begin? I see the phrase "early Buddhism" etc... all the time, but rarely a discussion of the time-line. The implication is the earlier the better, and non-Buddhist scholars seem use the phrase with an eye to educate us mere practitioners and relieve us of our superstitions.

I want the early, EARLY Buddhism! None of this contaminated religiosity.

It reminds me of the lady who would only read the words in her Bible in red because she wanted the undiluted Jesus. The flip side, however, is that you need some idea of the terrain before you set out exploring. This is where a trustworthy, reliable, map comes in. You know it doesn't exactly match the territory but you trust your conviction that the people who made it understood it enough to make a map of it for others.

But mere textual analysis is like map making without having been there. Or, is there more validity to non-Buddhist scholarship than the my analogy suggest?
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby chownah » Sat Dec 31, 2011 8:44 am

danieLion wrote:
chownah wrote:So now if we take a definition for positivism you provided (that definition being:"Positivism asserts that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense experience and positive verification.")


I provided it. I don't necessarily agree with it. It's hard to define an intellectual trend.

chownah wrote:and we strip off the verification part we end up with sense expereince being the only basis for knowledge


Epistemic empiricism claims that all knowledge comes from experience, which the Buddha did not teach, for as you say

chownah wrote:which at first seems consistent with the Buddha's teachings but I think the positivist take on this sort of disintegrates when the Buddhistic idea that perception of knowledge is just another experience....

However, you threw me off with the word "perception"? The Buddha taught a form of knowledge independent of sense experience and perception, right?

D :heart:

I needed to use some definition for positivism so I used one that you provided....you have provided several definitions for positivism (the latest being that it is a trend) so I didn't want to muddy the water more by brining in yet another one.

You ask if the Buddha taught a form of knowledge independent of sense experience.....assuming that the mind is part of sense experience then I think that answer is that no the Buddha did not teach a form of knowledge independent of sense experience....."The All" is all there is....it is all fabricated and is based on the six sense organs, their objects, and their associated consciousnesses.....if it didn't come from there then it is not part of our experience or at least that is my view of what the Buddha taught...this makes "knowledge" just one more view that eventually must be discarded.....I guess......don't know for sure.....
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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Dec 31, 2011 6:35 pm

danieLion wrote:Do Buddhists have dogmas, or churches, or creeds? Do they have a concept comparable to "holiness" and "scriptures"? If some texts in the Canon are corrupt, we can't call it an accepted body or group of principles, rules, standards, judgments or norms


ancientbuddhism wrote:He must be very careful not to use the term tenet-system as that would be going way too far!


danieLion wrote:Why? Or are you joking over my dense skull?


My quip on ‘tenet-system’ was with reference to this thread where I referred to Burmese Vipassanā as such, and that reference was balked at by some.

Theravāda does consider itself defined as ‘church’ and ‘dogma’ in as much as its adherents choose to refer to things ‘Theravādin’ as descended from the Mahavihara and adhering to Buddhaghosa’s canonical interpretations and edit of the pāḷi commentaries.

But when we consider ‘positivist’ as a ‘desire for an original understanding of the Buddha's teaching’ there is no reason why a mahaviharavasin wouldn’t consider oneself as such due to their faith in how buddhavacana is extrapolated through the commentaries. However, there should be some caution with this form of ‘positivist’ interpretation and the claims it would make.

An example of how this can be filtered, is found in Raymond E. Brown’s Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine, which is a defense of “…“centrist” consensus among Roman Catholic NT scholars against “distortions” by both the ultraconservative and liberal extremes. … (ultraconservatives) tend to oppose the historical-critical method because they believe it undermines Church dogma. … (liberal) distort the method because they use it to overthrow established dogmas of the Church.” (The Evangelical Theological Society, Review, 1987 – p. 233-234)

Brown discusses this with the concept of ‘trajectory’ with reference to how later doctrines are extracted from dubious canonical sources. And this would seem apparent with reference to at least some (although it would seem with ‘much’) of the development of Buddhism, even if we only look at the example of how Burmese Vipassanā was extrapolated from the accretion of post Nikāyan exegesis in Theravāda only to back-read claims of these later doctrinal-tenets as representative of the Buddha’s teachings, all for their hermeneutical comfort.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:00 pm

danieLion wrote:
ancientbuddhism wrote:One example could be that unicorn of Buddhist studies called ‘Early Buddhism’, led by such thinkers as Venerables Ñāṇavira Thera, Ñāṇananda, Analayo, Sujato et al.

Exactly! Where does "early" Buddhism end and "late" Buddhism begin? I see the phrase "early Buddhism" etc... all the time, but rarely a discussion of the time-line. The implication is the earlier the better, and non-Buddhist scholars seem use the phrase with an eye to educate us mere practitioners and relieve us of our superstitions.

I want the early, EARLY Buddhism! None of this contaminated religiosity.

It reminds me of the lady who would only read the words in her Bible in red because she wanted the undiluted Jesus. The flip side, however, is that you need some idea of the terrain before you set out exploring. This is where a trustworthy, reliable, map comes in. You know it doesn't exactly match the territory but you trust your conviction that the people who made it understood it enough to make a map of it for others.

But mere textual analysis is like map making without having been there. Or, is there more validity to non-Buddhist scholarship than the my analogy suggest?
D :heart:


As Gombrich had said in Recovering the Buddha’s Message “We agree, then, that “the earliest Buddhism” is that of the Buddha himself.” But an academic definition is ambiguous at best. Some seek this out in the Nikāyas, Āgamas and Gāndhārī manuscripts, finding synthesis of these to form a composit, where others will include the entire canon as referencing ‘early Buddhism’. The writers I mentioned above have worked and are working toward an understanding that I find helpful, in as much as they look to the ‘earliest’ texts, and bring in the commentaries to weigh-in but with cautious deference to the entire strata of the Nikāyas and other early materials to form balanced interpretation.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Dec 31, 2011 10:49 pm

danieLion wrote:However, you threw me off with the word "perception"? The Buddha taught a form of knowledge independent of sense experience and perception, right?


In case chownah does not comment, the Buddha taught a contemplative practice for the development of ‘clear-knowing’ (sampajañña/sampajāna) of sense-experience. Although I wouldn’t call this knowledge ‘independent’, it is knowledge freed from sense-experience that is otherwise misapprehended through ignorant sense-contact (avijjāsamphassajena), giving rise to a false reification of ‘I am’ (asmi māna).
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The Place of Positivism

Postby danieLion » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:53 am

Supplemental:

Alexander Wynne wrote:The method of modern philologists follows that of the Orientalists closely and has been summed up by Tillemans* as follows: 'The important feature of most working philologists' approach is the conviction that by understanding in real depth the Buddhist languages, and the history, institutions, contexts and preoccupations of an author and his milieu, progress can be made towards understanding that author's thought and better grasping his world.' This approach has been called 'philological positivism' by Cabezon**: 'In its philological variety, positivism sees a written text as complete and whole. It maintains that the purpose of scholarly textual investigation--and the use of science as a model for humanistic research here is always implied--is to reconstruct the original text (there is only one best reconstruction): to restore it and to contextualize it historically to the point where the author's original intention can be gleaned.' Cabezon contrasts this approach with what he calls 'interpretivism'**. 'Interpretivists eschew the notion that there is a single achievable text that represents an author's original intention. Every move in the philological process represents an instance of personal choice, and these choices have their consequences' (italics are Wynne's, all other emphases are mine).


Source: The Origin of Buddhist Mediation, pp. 130-131, 160, 164 (Routledge, '07).

In source citations from the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 18, no. 2 (1995)
*Tillemans, Tom J. F. 'Remarks on philology', p. 269.
**Cabezon, Jose Ignacio. 'Buddhist studies as a discipline and the role of theory', pp. 245.
**" ", pp. 247-48.

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