Given our recent exploration of moral theory, the excitement around our announcement of a Euthyphro episode and my own current interest in Buddhist thought, I guess it was inevitable that I would stumble across and then buy this book. Or perhaps it was that Mark mentioned it in an email which I had overlooked. In any case, the author, Owen Flanagan (pictured to the right), is a philosopher at Duke University. Pat Churchland also thinks highly of him and I guess that's good enough endorsement for me.
As a self-proclaimed analytic philosopher, Flanagan is a fan of science. And he's a fan of being a moral person. He's just published a book called The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized in which he argues that all of the major 'wisdom traditions' (read: religions) are incompatible with science. Since the traditions are where we get 'being a moral person' stuff, it'd be great if we could find one (or find a way to make one) that was compatible with science so that people who prioritize the scientific world view could also have a moral system to lean against. [This is my characterization, I don't think he'd put it that way]
Flanagan thinks that Buddhism 'naturalized' might fit the bill. What is that you say? Well, it's Buddhism stripped of the "hocus pocus". I don't get the impression he's super scholarly on Buddhist tradition and schools, but he does seem to know a bit about it and has met the Dalai Lama, so I think his representation is charitable. He notes that the warm, secular reception of Buddhism in the West has focused on one particular strain - Tibetan - and for the most part conveniently ignored Buddhist beliefs in "Rebirths, heavens, hells, creator gods, teams of gods, village demons, miracles, divine retributions in the form of plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis..."
His goal in the book is to see if the 'core' tenets of Buddhism are compatible with Naturalism of the sort scientific types can agree with. This means jettisoning most of the stuff mentioned above and focusing on Buddhist notions of wisdom, virtue, compassion and happiness. Unlike "Abrahamic" religions, Buddhist Ethics doesn't require a creator god of the unmoved mover variety and it's metaphysics embraces an action-effect view that appears to be consistent with scientific causality. Flanagan wants to dig into those issues as well as the Buddhist view of consciousness (hence the reference to the Bodhisattva's Brain) and a few other topics.
I'm only through the first part of the book where he lays out some conceptual distinctions, debunks some misconceptions about Buddhism (like all Buddhists meditate) and grinds a few axes about research which purports to show that Buddhists are happier than non-Buddhists (in which he plays a tangential role). But I like the way he's talking, I like the non-hippie (despite that vest) but respectful approach to Buddhism and I like the project. He's apparently not shy about sharing either: check him out here:
Owen Flanagan and Alex Rosenberg on PhilosophyTV