"Is there a Self?"

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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Sam Vara
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Feb 09, 2018 7:27 am

Circle5 wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 1:10 am

Try to play the ideas discussed next time. Labeling them as wrong, making comments about the post and avoiding to address them is playing the man, not the ball.
I have responded to your ideas, both here and on the thread which this gave rise to. They show little or no understanding of the topic, but when I point this out, all I get is reiteration and stock irrelevancies, such as analogies about computers or bushmen. If I labelled such ideas as right, you might be happier, but I would be breaking a precept. That's a point about the ideas, not you, so the ball is played and not the man.
This may be NananandaWheel, but still many people here are normal buddhist from other groups.
Indeed? I've seen discussions about his ideas, but personally know nothing about him. I couldn't give the crudest summary of his main ideas.
You should not feel like there is something super strange going on when that happens, and be quick to consider people not agreeing with your ideas as having a problem with you or something, then try making fun of them and answer in tendentious ways. This is called projecting.
I don't feel that there is anything strange going on. There are some comments in response to my post which show a lack of understanding; that's not strange. Please try to avoid the psychoanalysing, though, or we'll have to talk about ToS again...
If you see a person discussing an idea, then consider discussing the idea too, rather than answering in tendentious way, feeling like all he really wanted to do is to personally attack you or something.
That's precisely what I have done. When other posters (Aflatun is a good example, and Polarbear 101) discuss the ideas presented, I have responded in kind. But your answers haven't really discussed the idea. I've tried to explain this - at some length in the other thread - but the critical element in your posts far outstrips any evidence of understanding.

binocular
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by binocular » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:47 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Feb 06, 2018 11:34 am
Your approach may very well contain fallacious thinking, but then again, so might Bill Vallicella's; let's not jump to conclusions. To take your points in order:
/.../
My point is that there is a context to these discussions about selfhood, and I think that this context is more relevant than people usually give it credit. It's this context that is emphasized in the suttas: for one, in the sense of focusing on and knowing one's intentions when talking about a topic, and for two, evaluating the person one is talking to about a particular topic.
Western philosophy may hold the power of the argument to be supreme, but from the suttas, I get the impression that they don't.
1) Maybe the story about a correspondent is spurious. Either way, BV has visited this issue on several occasions, including in a published academic paper. He might have been re-hashing earlier work for the sake of the correspondent, or inventing the correspondence in order to present his ideas again. I personally think that the quality of his work is more important than the stories surrounding it.
Sounds like Mahayanist "skillful means" ...
If people in mental aylums or drunk people are not worth listening to, it is merely because they are incapable of insight or valid argumentation. And even then we need to be careful; one of my tutors at University told the story of how he was struggling over an essay on Plato in Manchester Public Library when he got into a conversation with a drunk, dirty tramp who put him right about the theory of forms. The second point here is confusing.
In general, people seem to have a heuristic like this: A person who looks drunk or deranged isn't making any sense. It's because the person looks drunk or deranged that we tend to conclude they're not making any sense; not because we would first listen to them and after careful consideration decide that they're not making any sense. (And we possibly treat that person as if they're not making any sense to begin with, interpreting everything they say as the ramblings of a drunk or deranged. Being mistreated that way and still appearing sane is hard enough for a sober, sane person who is trying to resist a manipulator, what to speak of doing that when drunk or otherwise under the weather.) It's a heuristic that works and seems true enough much of the time. Of course since this is not a particularly pc heuristic, few people admit to using it.
These seem to be two different issues. The topic of selfhood may or may not be a kind of objective matter; it depends on how we define "objective" and "selfhood". Some materialists would have no difficulties in hypothesising selfhood as a matter of molecular configuration, and there would be no difficulty debating this with them. But it seems to have little to do with the personal qualities of those undertaking the discussion, except - again - whether those personal qualities include the ability to understand valid and sound argumentation.
And in the meantime, as they say, our molars rot. Anyway, my issue with these discussions about anatta is that the people discussing these things seem to step out of their own lives, as if for the time of the discussion, they cease to be subject to aging, illness, and death.
But, by all means, carry on!

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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by auto » Fri Feb 09, 2018 2:30 pm

Point 4. The unity of consciousness

For what we have in the reasoning process is not merely a succession of conscious states, but also a consciousness of their succession in one and the same conscious subject.

When you are consciously reasoning, there is no interruptions. You can focus on a specific parts of that consciousness without losing awareness. Then that still has a self identity but not habitual.

But when you are walking around thinking your own thoughts and then stumbling on a rock. Then that is forced focus on a specific part of that consciousness. That is habitual, self identity is lower fetter.

MN 64 will help.
------
Self can be stabilized and focused upon.
When you sit, then the forces in body try to interrupt you, that force when liberated is the self. At some point the focus from forehead goes to the bottom, butthole area. Then the mind/self will be free, it moves and flies. It rises upwards and tries to get out of the mouth, touching the palate of the mouth with a tongue there gathers a force, moving sensation, it can be led down without swallowing;swallowing without interuption. Also there liberates somethign to the forehead..

btw if we let the excrement out, basically everyday, numerous souls go out that way. They come food and we eat it again, some will go into clouds but with rain will be back on ground. With food, also seeing, breathing etc we ingest selves.
Best example is semen, lots of little selves, but only one gets birth as human, that is how rare actually human birth is.
Last edited by auto on Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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aflatun
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by aflatun » Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:24 pm

Thanks for this Sam, more later! I was intrigued to learn that BV was a student of J.N. Findlay, the great 20th century Neoplatonist.

A former professor of mine, another Roman Catholic philosopher, recounted a story in which an anonymous student was growing increasingly frustrated with the Plotinian account of the One in Findlay's lectures on Plotinus, when he blurted out:

"Well professor, what the hell does the One do!?"

Professor Findlay replied: "The One ones."
Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
aflatun wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:27 pm

I am with you for the most part! I think its true that most of the arguments put forward to remove the subject quite neatly destroy the object as well. Humean style phenomenalists seem quite willing to bear the fall out of being logically consistent here, and that is to their merit. But this all comes back to "what cannot be found in the present moment, does not exist" and reminds me of Bradley's long and compelling tract against solipsism in Appearance and Reality.
Ah, Bradley! You'll have to forgive me, as I haven't read a word of him, other than Nanavira's ironic juxtapositioning of his account of The Absolute with the Buddha's statements about nibbana. It looks very daunting. I remember David Reynolds (Pannobhasa) blogging that he was finding A&R very heavy going while living in a cave in Burma, and it might have led to his current disquietude! :shock:
but I would ask: can we retain the personal unity of experience-the togetherness, directionality, and for-ness of experience- without rendering it a subject? We might also ask, in the other direction, if we can retain the togetherness, directionality, and what-appears-ness of the experience without rendering it as an object?
I actually think that I'm OK with subjects ( :jawdrop: - stand by to repel boarders!) providing they are merely that personal unity by which we are identified, and nothing more. You are partly responsible for this, as you sent me the Sue Hamilton articles which augmented the Gombrich I had been reading! Whereas RG focuses on the necessity of an enduring something by means of which the Buddha's ethical theory can be made to stand up, SH goes one further and talks about the nonsense involved in an entity realising that it doesn't actually exist, and has never done so. I believe she talks about lunatic asylums at one point... As for objects as well as subjects, SH sidesteps the whole issue by referring to the Buddha's (humanistic) focus upon experience rather than ontology, and thus his refusal to answer certain questions - and the "middle way" - is simply a misunderstood tactic to stop amateur philosophers being waylaid. This then makes anatta nothing more than a reiteration of the fact that the self, and every aspect of it, is dependently originated. I would rather have this as a problem than the reverse: which is that it would certainly be impossible for any being to know that things were dependently originated if there was not an enduring thing (and it doesn't have to be a substance!) as the precondition for understanding causality and dependency. As such, the subject (as unity of experience) can never be an object, except through being conceptualised. What we talk about is as objective as trees and emotions, and subject to the same exigencies. We just have to be careful (as per MN 1) not to talk as if the objects were "coming out of" the subject, etc.
Are you saying you see those who would posit khandas-as-essences as succumbing to a form of eternalism? (I think this is true, by the way)


Yes. Essences are eternal. Five big indestructible objects rolling on through time, and happening to produce by their own efforts (one of which is sankhara/intention, of course) a person like me. It might be the case, but the Buddha's pronouncements seem more geared towards us seeing them as personal processes. This is what Hamilton goes on about in most of her articles: when everything else in the teachings is "how", it's difficult to see them as being a "what". And although there are probably hundreds of boiler-plate accounts of what the khandas are, they are invariably about differentiating them one from another, rather than pointing to them or defining them sui generis. Whether it is easier to see them as continuing and constituent parts of experience, or as conditions which give rise to our experience, is currently above my pay grade.
I just wanted to add something, possibly off topic. There is a difference between how the chariot is understood in Theravada vs. Mahayana (Madhyamaka). For the former, the unity is (supposedly) refuted but the parts are "ultimately real." For the latter the unity is refuted but the parts are refuted for the same reason, ad infinitum in both directions, i.e. no ultimate is found, wholes and parts are interdependent and neither can be established: the chariot appears, but cannot be found; its components appear, but cannot be found; their parts appear, but cannot be found...the rabbit hole never ends
That's very interesting. I prefer the latter, if only for the points on dependent origination mentioned above. So you send me stuff about transcendental unities which is heretical here, for some reason they make me a moderator, and only then do you finish me off with a conversion to Mahayana! Get thee behind me, Mara... :jumping:

As ever, many thanks for your posts. Keep 'em coming. My sanity might depend on it...
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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aflatun
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by aflatun » Sat Feb 10, 2018 7:43 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
aflatun wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:27 pm

I am with you for the most part! I think its true that most of the arguments put forward to remove the subject quite neatly destroy the object as well. Humean style phenomenalists seem quite willing to bear the fall out of being logically consistent here, and that is to their merit. But this all comes back to "what cannot be found in the present moment, does not exist" and reminds me of Bradley's long and compelling tract against solipsism in Appearance and Reality.
Ah, Bradley! You'll have to forgive me, as I haven't read a word of him, other than Nanavira's ironic juxtapositioning of his account of The Absolute with the Buddha's statements about nibbana. It looks very daunting. I remember David Reynolds (Pannobhasa) blogging that he was finding A&R very heavy going while living in a cave in Burma, and it might have led to his current disquietude! :shock:
Sorry about that, I thought we had touched on him once before! I'm familiar with the juxtaposition you are referring to, and it's hilarious irony. Nanavira can be found boxing with him here and here, its kind of fun...a nod of approval...a correction...a nod of approval...an uppercut :tongue: etc.

I thought of him for two reasons:

1) He is a non Buddhist who rejects 'self' as appearance (i.e. not Reality) in a somewhat Humean way, but in my opinion with a bit more finesse in that he's not denying the Ego as such, but denying its separability from its content:
F. H. Bradley wrote:Now that subject and object have contents and are actual psychical groups appears to me evident. I am aware that too often writers speak of the Ego as of something not essentially qualified by this or that psychical matter. And I do not deny that in a certain use that language might be defended. But if we consider, as we are considering here, what we are to understand by that object and subject in relation, which at a given time we find existing in a soul, the case is quite altered. The Ego that pretends to be anything either before or beyond its concrete psychical filling, is a gross fiction and mere monster, and for no purpose admissible. And the question surely may be settled by observation. Take any case of perception, or whatever you please, where this relation of object to subject is found as a fact. There, I presume, no one will deny that the object, at all events, is a concrete phenomenon. It has a character which exists as, or in, a mental fact. And, if we turn from this to the subject, is there any more cause for doubt? Surely in every case that contains a mass of feeling, if not also of other psychical existence. When I see, or perceive, or understand, I (my term of the relation) am palpably, and perhaps even painfully, concrete. And when I will or desire, it surely is ridiculous to take the self as not qualified by particular psychical fact. Evidently any self which we can find is some concrete form of unity of psychical existence. And whoever wishes to introduce it as something (now or at any time) apart or beyond, clearly does not rest his case upon observation. He is importing into the facts a metaphysical chimera, which, in no sense existing, can do no work; and which, even if it existed, would be worse than useless.
Appearance and Reality pg. 89-90


And in doing so comes to a conclusion that is similar to Ven. Nanavira: What we take to be "self" is simply the background of our "felt mass" of experience that is not being directly attended to at any given moment, and, self and not self are dynamic, in that anything that is not self may become self or vice-a-versa. As David Reynolds sums it up after quoting from Bradley:
David Reynolds wrote:So we arrive at the weird conclusion that what we feel to be our self, all we are experientially, is the semiconscious background of whatever we're attending to! And that subconscious background is constantly changing; although enough of it stays the same that we feel like the same me from one moment to the next. That strikes me as delightfully weird.
From David Reynolds' Blog

2) In his writings against solipsism he brings up-and criticizes- the idea that we cannot go beyond the "given"
F. H. Bradley wrote:The argument in favour of Solipsism, put most simply, is as follows. “ I cannot transcend experience, and experience must be my experience. From this it follows that nothing beyond my self exists for what is experience is its states.”
Appearance and Reality pg. 248

and he does this in a most interesting way, in light of our conversation: the "self" that the solipsist seeks to pin reality to is as much of a "beyond the given" as is "an external world" or "other selves."
F. H. Bradley wrote:Direct experience is unable to transcend the mere “this.” But even in what that gives we are, even so far, not supplied with the self upon which Solipsism is founded. We have always instead either too much or too little. For the distinction and separation of subject and object is not original at all, and is, in that sense, not a datum. And hence the self cannot, without qualification, be said to be given (ibid.). I will but mention this point, and will go on to another. Whatever we may think generally of our original mode of feeling, we have now verifiably some states in which there is no reference to a subject at all (ibid.). And if such feelings are the mere adjectives of a subject-reality, that character must be inferred, and is certainly not given. But it is not necessary to take our stand on this disputable ground. Let us admit that the distinction of object and subject is directly presented—and we have still hardly made a step in the direction of Solipsism. For the subject and the object will now appear in correlation; they will be either two aspects of one fact, or (if you prefer it) two things with a relation between them. And it hardly follows straight from this that only one of these two things is real, and that all the rest of the given total is merely its attribute. That is the result of reflection and of inference, a process which first sets up one half of the fact as absolute, and then turns the other half into an adjective of this fragment. And whether the half is object or is subject, and whether we are led to Materialism, or to what is called sometimes “Idealism,” the process essentially is the same. It equally consists, in each case, in a vicious inference. And the result is emphatically not something which experience presents. I will, in conclusion, perhaps needlessly, remark on another point. We found (Chapter ix.) that there prevailed great confusion as to the boundaries of self and not-self. There seemed to be features not exclusively assignable to either. And, if this is so, surely that is one more reason for rejecting an experience such as Solipsism would suppose. If the self is given as a reality, with all else as its adjectives, we can hardly then account for the supervening uncertainty about its limits, and explain our constant hesitation between too little and too much.

What we have seen so far is briefly this. We have no direct experience of reality as my self with its states. If we are to arrive at that conclusion, we must do so indirectly and through a process of inference. Experience gives the “this-mine.” It gives neither the “mine” as an adjective of the “this,” nor the “this” as dependent on and belonging to the “mine.” Even if it did so for the moment, that would still not be enough as a support for Solipsism. But experience supplies the character required, not even as existing within one presentation, and, if not thus, then much less so as existing beyond. And the position, in which we now stand, may be stated as follows. If Solipsism is to be proved, it must transcend direct experience. Let us then ask, (a) first, if transcendence of this kind is possible, and, (b) next, if it is able to give assistance to Solipsism. The conclusion, which we shall reach, may be stated at once. It is both possible and necessary to transcend what is given. But this same transcendence at once carries us into the universe at large. Our private self is not a resting-place which logic can justify.
Appearance and Reality pg. 249-250

Trying to bring this back to our discussion (sorry for this monstrosity of a rabbit trail!): It seems a bit sloppy to me to argue that we must reject "self" because we can't transcend what is "given," and not reject a whole host of other things. And so agreeing with BV, it is logically defensible to posit a self as a transcendental condition of experience much as we posit a world at large as such a transcendental condition.
Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
I actually think that I'm OK with subjects ( :jawdrop: - stand by to repel boarders!) providing they are merely that personal unity by which we are identified, and nothing more.
:jawdrop: I think I'm with you here. What I am wary of, however, is making this "subject" a condition of perception, consciousness, etc and I think you are too. I believe the Buddha taught the opposite, that consciousness, perception, etc are the transcendental conditions that make "I am" and that personal unity possible, not the other way around.
DN15 wrote:“Ānanda, the one who says ‘Feeling is not my self; my self is without experience of feeling’—he should be asked: ‘Friend, where there is nothing at all that is felt, could the idea “I am” occur there?’.”

“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“Therefore, Ānanda, because of this it is not acceptable to consider: ‘Feeling is not my self; my self is without experience of feeling.’

“Ānanda, the one who says ‘Feeling is not my self, but my self is not without experience of feeling. My self feels; for my self is subject to feeling’—he should be asked: ‘Friend, if feeling were to cease absolutely and utterly without remainder, then, in the complete absence of feeling, with the cessation of feeling, could (the idea) “I am this” occur there?’.”

“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“Therefore, Ānanda, because of this it is not acceptable to consider: ‘Feeling is not my self, but my self is not without experience of feeling. My self feels; for my self is subject to feeling.’
DN15

But I don't think BV would like this! This "transcendental argument" from the Buddha is different from the Humean search for the self among foreground phenomena. He seems to be saying that feeling-or we could say, contact and sense bases...or all five aggregates shifting to another model-are the transcendental conditions of "my self" appearing. Do you think we can 'best' BV via this line of argument? If there is no consciousness, perception, feeling, etc how can there be "I am?" If "I am" depends on consciousness, perception, feeling etc, how can it be transcendental to them? How can something simultaneously appear on the basis of conditions and be a condition for itself and those conditions?
Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
You are partly responsible for this, as you sent me the Sue Hamilton articles which augmented the Gombrich I had been reading! Whereas RG focuses on the necessity of an enduring something by means of which the Buddha's ethical theory can be made to stand up, SH goes one further and talks about the nonsense involved in an entity realising that it doesn't actually exist, and has never done so. I believe she talks about lunatic asylums at one point... As for objects as well as subjects, SH sidesteps the whole issue by referring to the Buddha's (humanistic) focus upon experience rather than ontology, and thus his refusal to answer certain questions - and the "middle way" - is simply a misunderstood tactic to stop amateur philosophers being waylaid. This then makes anatta nothing more than a reiteration of the fact that the self, and every aspect of it, is dependently originated. I would rather have this as a problem than the reverse: which is that it would certainly be impossible for any being to know that things were dependently originated if there was not an enduring thing (and it doesn't have to be a substance!) as the precondition for understanding causality and dependency. As such, the subject (as unity of experience) can never be an object, except through being conceptualised. What we talk about is as objective as trees and emotions, and subject to the same exigencies. We just have to be careful (as per MN 1) not to talk as if the objects were "coming out of" the subject, etc.


:goodpost:
aflatun wrote:Are you saying you see those who would posit khandas-as-essences as succumbing to a form of eternalism? (I think this is true, by the way)

Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
Yes. Essences are eternal. Five big indestructible objects rolling on through time, and happening to produce by their own efforts (one of which is sankhara/intention, of course) a person like me. It might be the case, but the Buddha's pronouncements seem more geared towards us seeing them as personal processes. This is what Hamilton goes on about in most of her articles: when everything else in the teachings is "how", it's difficult to see them as being a "what". And although there are probably hundreds of boiler-plate accounts of what the khandas are, they are invariably about differentiating them one from another, rather than pointing to them or defining them sui generis. Whether it is easier to see them as continuing and constituent parts of experience, or as conditions which give rise to our experience, is currently above my pay grade.


Well said :thumbsup:

Sorry for this mess of a post, its been a long week. You keep them coming too!
Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
That's very interesting. I prefer the latter, if only for the points on dependent origination mentioned above. So you send me stuff about transcendental unities which is heretical here, for some reason they make me a moderator, and only then do you finish me off with a conversion to Mahayana! Get thee behind me, Mara... :jumping:


:embarassed: :rofl:
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Sam Vara
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Sat Feb 10, 2018 9:54 pm

aflatun wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2018 7:43 pm
...
:coffee: :thinking:

Response soon!

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Sun Feb 11, 2018 1:30 am

@Alfatun

The people that you've quoted have no problem responding to the question I insistently put on this topic. You brought up quotes of them making a case exactly for that. You brought up many quotes, pointing to the same thing.

Why did people here run away from answering that question of mine ? Did they feel it is some sort of trap that will be followed by some dismissal ? If that is the truth, why not admit it ?

As I have said, and as Buddha too said in the suttas, whenever people try to make a case for a self existing, the arguments for their opinion always come down to that feeling that exists. That feeling that "this is mine. This experience is mine, this pleasure, this suffering etc. is mine". The people you've quoted admit this directly in the quotes that you've posted, they also express it in postmodern jargon in other passages.

Why do people here hind behind the finger about it ?

boundless
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by boundless » Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:33 am

Hi all,

my two cents.

Maybe saying "there is no self" without qualification suggests a metaphysical speculation. For example see https://suttacentral.net/en/sn35.23: "If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’—that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he were questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.". The fact that "the self cannot be found" does not imply that it does not exist (as the article says). But positing a "self" outside all possibile experience is completely useless (and can lead to frustration, vexation ecc).
Or because maybe in the audience the phrase "there is no self" could be misunderstood, for example, as a negation of moral responsibility. And in general a negation of the "empirical self".



However let me also explain why the "trascendental argument" fails. The argument, roughly speaking, says that positing the "self" is a "precondition" to the experience. What actually says is that we cannot speak about a "point of view" whithout considering a specific "observer". So, when we describe something implicitly we assume to describe it from a specific "point of view". Other descriptions take place from different "point of views". The error is to pass from epistemology to ontology implying that an actual "point of view" exists in the same way it is conceived. Also we have IMO to remember that the "trascendental idealist" regarder the "trascendental self" as an "idea", a precondition to speaking meaningfully about experience. According to them it is not possible to apply the "categories" of logic, for example, in a world where no distinct "object" can be found (if you think about it, "A=A", the law of identity, presupposes that it is possible to "distiguish" an object in order to give it a "name". If we want apply logic to our experience we have to divide it into "discrete objects"). Therefore if we want to speak about our experience, of course, we have to say "In my experience...". While epistemologically the argument is sound the problem is that ontologically does not "prove" anything, since no one "proved" that our experience can really be analyzed by "abstraction" (the term "abstraction" roughly speaking means that we "isolate" something). So while I agree that the unfindability of the "subject" does not actually "prove" its "non-existence", at the same time the argument for its existence do not really prove its existence. Therefore the position held in the suttas, which as far as I undestand it is "a self and what belongs to a self cannot be found", has no problem handling this objection. So the hidden assumption in the "trascendental argument" is that we can make a "logical picture" of reality, i.e. we can "discretize" reality in a set of "definite" separate "things" (and in general that it is possible to us to make a map that describes "perfectly" the territory... IMO this is also the mening of the "freedom from views" about existence, non-existence etc). Of course a chair is distinct from a table, but not in the way we normally think.

P.S. For those interested also in non-buddhist authors, I found interesting this passage in the "Chuang tzu" (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/C ... 20Tzu.html). It somewhat reminds me the notion of "emptiness". The passage is:
"The understanding of the men of ancient times went a long way. How far did it go? To the point where some of them believed that things have never existed - so far, to the end, where nothing can be added. Those at the next stage thought that things exist but recognized no boundaries among them." (Section 2, "Discussion on making all things equal")

@aflatun, thank you for the welcome you gave me in the other thread!

Edit: sorry for the substantial revision, but I changed my mind about what I written.

auto
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by auto » Wed Feb 14, 2018 4:47 pm

the Sam Harris Quote(taken from that article posted in OP):
It is an empirical fact that sustained meditation can result in a variety of insights that intelligent people regularly find intellectually credible and personally transformative. The problem, however, is that these insights are almost always sought and expressed in a religious context. One such insight is that the feeling we call “I”—the sense that there is a thinker giving rise to our thoughts, an experiencer distinct from the mere flow of experience—can disappear when looked for in a rigorous way. Our conventional sense of “self” is, in fact, nothing more than a cognitive illusion, and dispelling this illusion opens the mind to extraordinary experiences of happiness. This is not a proposition to be accepted on faith; it is an empirical observation, analogous to the discovery of one’s optic blind spots.
This is about seriousness difference between conventional and empirical observation. That the no-self discovery "Oh there is no self" is not to be taken lightly, it is the gate to super duper experiences.

Sam Harris has an impression that religious context is weak, accepted as faith only.. So he pretends to be atheist because of that i believe.

boundless
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by boundless » Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:40 pm

Another thought (especially, but not only of course, for those interested in philosophy).

The problem with the Kantian/Schopenhauerian/Trascendental argument as I said in my previous post is that it presupposes that we can make a logical "picture" of the world. In western philosophy this assumption was criticized for example by the later Wittgenstein (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein/). In his early days Wittgenstein endorsed the "picture theory of language", he tought that language was a "picture" of reality. This assumption coupled with "logical atomism" led him to think that the world was "made of" "irreducible facts". The "true" language was the one which created a perfect correspondence between "propositions" and "facts". For example "the cat is on the mat" referred to a well definite fact. Every fact was a determinate arrangement of "objects" and the (true) proposition reflected the "structure" of the arrangement of the "objects" with an "identical" arrangement of names. So every name in an ideal language shall refer to a particular object.
The later Wittgenstein, on the other hand, refuted his own earlier theory by questioning the assumption between "language" and "reality". According to his later philosophy language was instead a "tool". Every human activity has its own language. For example the language used in a football match follows different rules from the one used, say, in science. Languages therefore had a "family resemblance": their rules are certainly similar but at the same time there is, according to him, no property common to all languages (i.e. so to speak the "essence" of language). Philosophical problems arise mainly, according to him, from conceptual confusione, i.e. by trying to use a type of language where it cannot be used. Interestingly he criticized Cartesian dualism on these grounds: according to him talking about a "soul" "inside" the body was nonsensical. Also expressions like "my mind stores my memories" was deemed nonsensical because it conceived the "mind" as a "box".

In a Wittgenstein perspective therefore the "trascendental argument" may be misguided since the beginning. In fact in this perspective one should clarify whether a concept is incoherent or not, or more precisely if it is incoherent the way we use that concept. We experience the world as "something" fleeting and in continuous change. Our concept instead are of course "fixed". A Wittgenstein therefore might ask if it is even possible to make a conceptual "picture" of reality (arguably also the greek philosopher Cratylus held a similar concern when he suggested, supposedly, that we cannot step into the same river even once, and therefore we should only point to things and never "name" them). In a certain sense also the position that there is a "correlation" between the experience/object/"grasped" and the experiencer/subject/"grasper" presupposes that "our situation" is in some sense "fixed". So a more serious criticism about the existence of the "self", even the "trascendental" one, might come from the recent developments of western philosophy itself. While in fact it undeniable the pratical utility of the concept of the "empirical self", going beyond that is problematic. In fact following a Wittgensteinian perspective the concept of "self" is regarder as "meaningless".

IMO this criticism is much stronger than the one of unfindability (which in fact, I think, does not "prove" that the self does not exist).

I am curious, however, if Suttas would have regarded the concept of "self" as nonsensical. For example passages like "sabbe dhamma anatta" or questions like "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"?" (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .nymo.html) seem to presuppose that we can use the concept, albeit in a "negative way", i.e. to say that "this is not-self, not-mine" ecc. However since the self was seen as "fixed" there is IMO the possibility of some agreement between buddhist and wittgenstein philosophy.

Personally I find some similarities of the therapeutic approach of Wittgenstein and the buddhist criticism of "self-views". Also I find the Madhyamaka (a branch of Mahayana) approach similar.

Thoughts?

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:56 pm

boundless wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:40 pm
Also expressions like "my mind stores my memories" was deemed nonsensical because it conceived the "mind" as a "box".
So where are memories stored if not inside the neurons ?


Pointing out that language is not perfect in describing the world and in providing good communication does not take a big philosopher to figure out. It would be better if humans would have sonars like dolphins and be able to send pictures to one another. Yet, the human language is pretty good in helping us communicate nevertheless.

I also do not see how the fact that human language is worse in communication than the dolphin sonar has any philosophical implications. I also do not see how "memories are stored in the brain" is nonsensical or in any case providing terrible communication. Any person reading that statement will have no problems understanding what the interlocutor is trying to say.

boundless
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by boundless » Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:25 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:56 pm
boundless wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:40 pm
Also expressions like "my mind stores my memories" was deemed nonsensical because it conceived the "mind" as a "box".
So where are memories stored if not inside the neurons ?


Pointing out that language is not perfect in describing the world and in providing good communication does not take a big philosopher to figure out. It would be better if humans would have sonars like dolphins and be able to send pictures to one another. Yet, the human language is pretty good in helping us communicate nevertheless.

I also do not see how the fact that human language is worse in communication than the dolphin sonar has any philosophical implications. I also do not see how "memories are stored in the brain" is nonsensical or in any case providing terrible communication. Any person reading that statement will have no problems understanding what the interlocutor is trying to say.
Hi Circle5,

yes I know that realizing that language is not perfect is not such an "impressive" attainment . What Wittgenstein meant, supposedly, is that all languages are in fact "conventional", i.e. all languages are "tools" which have a pratical utility. The problem arises when we make an ontology out of them. For example in Buddhism the "empirical self" does not point to an ultimate one. Using a philosophical perspective, the "empirical self" is not "ontic" (i.e. is not an "ultimately existing thing"), according to Buddhism.

Suppose now you encounter a person who says "hey the self exists and has these properties...". To refute his position we can try to show him that his position is somehow inconsistent. For example one who holds that "consciousness (vinnana) is the self and the self is permanent" holds wrong view because of course "consciousness" is impermanent and therefore it is not permanent. This of course is easy. On the other hand you have those who hold the view proposed by the link. What they are saying is simply that "our" experience is subjective, i.e. it is a definite "frame of reference". And according to them all ways of speaking and thininking about it presupposes the existence of a "being" who experiences, who so to speak defines the "frame of reference". It is seen in fact the reason of the subjective character of our experience. Of course if he is an annihilationist does not even hold that the self is permanent (however the Buddha seemed to hold that in order to be considered a self something must be permanent...) . So to refute him IMO we can proceed in two ways:

1) simply saying that the "unobserved observer" is a useless concept;
2) by showing that his position is inconsistent;
I add: 3) by showing that his concept of "self" is meaningnless;

I think in general buddhists would use either "1" or "2". The problem is that I had still not found an argument that actually refutes on logical ground the notion of "an unoserved observer" (which can also mean that I am not veeery bright, of course :D ). I was pondering if the refutation can be based on a linguistic approach, by showing that the "trascendental" self is literally nonsense.

Regarding the Madhyamaka I read that they regard every conceptualization of reality based on a particular convention, and therefore the "ultimate truth" is inexpressible, i.e. beyond all concepts (since all our possible descritpions of the "ultimate truth" are inconsistent). This sounds quite close to the position held by Wittgenstein (that a "perfect language " is impossible, and therefore all description of the ultimate truth are meaningless)

Regarding the comparison between the mind and the box, I did not want to speak about the brain, which is physical (and therefore like a piece of paper can store information - on this I agree with you), but I referred to the "non-material" mind/consciousness. Wittgenstein, apparently, argued that the mind could not be said to "store" information since it is not a physical object (I think that Buddhism positing rebirth disagrees with him... actually I struggle to understand the rebirth process in Buddhism and in particular how memories etc pass from one life to another :cry: ) . But I do not think it is "central" to the problem of the self. It was intended only as an example. I apologize to have not been clear.

I hope I was clearer this time. :hello:

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Sam Vara
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Feb 14, 2018 11:51 pm

Hi again aflatun. Apologies for the long delay. The Bradley stuff remains beyond my ken for the moment (I think one actually needs to read it, or at least be more familiar with Nanavira...) But my thoughts on the Vallicella-related topic are, for the moment, thus:
aflatun wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2018 7:43 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
I actually think that I'm OK with subjects ( :jawdrop: - stand by to repel boarders!) providing they are merely that personal unity by which we are identified, and nothing more.
:jawdrop: I think I'm with you here. What I am wary of, however, is making this "subject" a condition of perception, consciousness, etc and I think you are too.
Yes, I'm wary, but only if the perception and consciousness, etc. are actually the Buddha's khandas. There may be no reason why sanna, vinnana, etc. should not arise independently, but I would want to save the TUA as a condition of experience. That is, that no conceivable experience like ours could be without transcendental unity. There can't be an experience without structure and "rules", so to speak. And, of course, that condition is a structural, atemporal condition, rather than a causal condition along the lines that some soul-like entity causes these things to come into being, or even causes them to manifest in particular ways. BV doesn't need a thing to exist independently of experience to make his case; merely that all possible experiences should conform in such a way that we could conceivably call it "our experience".
I believe the Buddha taught the opposite, that consciousness, perception, etc are the transcendental conditions that make "I am" and that personal unity possible, not the other way around.


Yes, I think that's a good way of putting it, although I'm not sure whether the term "transcendental" applies here. I would be happier saying that he thought they were necessary conditions, but it might be that I'm just wary of the Kantian use of "transcendental". In terms of dependency, the two halves (i.e. TUA as self, and objects of consciousness) seem to be mutually dependent: back to the two leaning sheaves here! My problem is that I don't know whether the khandas producing or shaping our experience (i.e. as per Gombrich and Hamilton, as opposed to the standard idea of them as our constituent parts) would render them immune from being meaningful unless one had the unity of apperception by which they make any sense.

The argument in DN 15 seems to go like this:

1) A person might think they have a self, but that self is not identical with what they feel (as proven a few lines earlier) and that self is not a thing that feels.

2) Where nothing is felt, the idea of "I am" could not occur.

3) Similarly, a person might think they have a self, but that self is not identical with what they feel, and that self is a (the) thing which feels.

4) Again, where nothing is felt, the idea of "I am" could not occur.

5) Because of (2) and (4), we can dispose of the idea of the self as a thing which feels.

As far as I can see, there are two problems with this as deployed against BV. The first is that feeling - as hedonic tone - is not required for an idea of the self. One could imagine the same "delusional" self-view arising in one who had merely perception and rationality. For this one to work, vedana needs to mean something more like "every possible experience". Claiming as an axiom that there are three types of feeling ("pleasant, unpleasant, and neither pleasant nor unpleasant") which are necessary components of all possible experience obviously won't work here; it just defines the argument into being right. It certainly looks like the Buddha is talking about experience here.

As such, we can still save the limited concept of a transcendental unity of experience for BV. The "get-out-of-jail-free" card is the question as to what the Buddha actually meant when talking in this sutta (and some others) by "the idea of 'I am'". Without feeling, the idea of "I am this" could not occur. But while there is experience, there certainly could. Gombrich would say, of course, that the Buddha is only ever talking about aseity, and an immutable soul-essence, and (although BV might want such a thing!) the non-existence of such a thing doesn't have any bearing on the transcendental unity of our experience.

Again, many thanks for your reply, and for your patience if you've got this far! :heart:

auto
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by auto » Sat Feb 17, 2018 2:44 pm

boundless wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:33 am
Hi all,

my two cents.

Maybe saying "there is no self" without qualification suggests a metaphysical speculation. For example see https://suttacentral.net/en/sn35.23: "If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’—that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he were questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.". The fact that "the self cannot be found" does not imply that it does not exist (as the article says). But positing a "self" outside all possibile experience is completely useless (and can lead to frustration, vexation ecc).
Or because maybe in the audience the phrase "there is no self" could be misunderstood, for example, as a negation of moral responsibility. And in general a negation of the "empirical self".



However let me also explain why the "trascendental argument" fails. The argument, roughly speaking, says that positing the "self" is a "precondition" to the experience. What actually says is that we cannot speak about a "point of view" whithout considering a specific "observer". So, when we describe something implicitly we assume to describe it from a specific "point of view". Other descriptions take place from different "point of views". The error is to pass from epistemology to ontology implying that an actual "point of view" exists in the same way it is conceived. Also we have IMO to remember that the "trascendental idealist" regarder the "trascendental self" as an "idea", a precondition to speaking meaningfully about experience. According to them it is not possible to apply the "categories" of logic, for example, in a world where no distinct "object" can be found (if you think about it, "A=A", the law of identity, presupposes that it is possible to "distiguish" an object in order to give it a "name". If we want apply logic to our experience we have to divide it into "discrete objects"). Therefore if we want to speak about our experience, of course, we have to say "In my experience...". While epistemologically the argument is sound the problem is that ontologically does not "prove" anything, since no one "proved" that our experience can really be analyzed by "abstraction" (the term "abstraction" roughly speaking means that we "isolate" something). So while I agree that the unfindability of the "subject" does not actually "prove" its "non-existence", at the same time the argument for its existence do not really prove its existence. Therefore the position held in the suttas, which as far as I undestand it is "a self and what belongs to a self cannot be found", has no problem handling this objection. So the hidden assumption in the "trascendental argument" is that we can make a "logical picture" of reality, i.e. we can "discretize" reality in a set of "definite" separate "things" (and in general that it is possible to us to make a map that describes "perfectly" the territory... IMO this is also the mening of the "freedom from views" about existence, non-existence etc). Of course a chair is distinct from a table, but not in the way we normally think.

P.S. For those interested also in non-buddhist authors, I found interesting this passage in the "Chuang tzu" (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/C ... 20Tzu.html). It somewhat reminds me the notion of "emptiness". The passage is:
"The understanding of the men of ancient times went a long way. How far did it go? To the point where some of them believed that things have never existed - so far, to the end, where nothing can be added. Those at the next stage thought that things exist but recognized no boundaries among them." (Section 2, "Discussion on making all things equal")

@aflatun, thank you for the welcome you gave me in the other thread!

Edit: sorry for the substantial revision, but I changed my mind about what I written.
I think the observer and identity view are not same thing.

When you see something and then describing it, then the identity view is in the description.
Someone with sensual lust, will interpret everything with that dirty mind, like if someone smiles then it immediately means he/she wants me. But if the person who smiled is also like that then it is an evidence, a realism.

Observer is reality. But that is not set in stone, it can be axiome and you get a real sense. So also sense of self can be real.

boundless
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by boundless » Sat Feb 17, 2018 4:54 pm

auto wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 2:44 pm
I think the observer and identity view are not same thing.

When you see something and then describing it, then the identity view is in the description.
Someone with sensual lust, will interpret everything with that dirty mind, like if someone smiles then it immediately means he/she wants me. But if the person who smiled is also like that then it is an evidence, a realism.

Observer is reality. But that is not set in stone, it can be axiome and you get a real sense. So also sense of self can be real.
Hi auto,

Not sure if I understood what you mean. I'll try to answer anyway.

But anyway, if by "identity view" you mean taking something as "me, mine, myself" then I agree that "identity view" lies in the description.

The problem is that also in this case, if you think that there are "observers" out there then I cannot see the difference between this view and annihilationism (the view - as far as I understand it - that there is a "fixed", yet non-eternal, self).

And yet of course it seems that in Buddhism there is the notion of the "empirical self", which is very important for spiritual practice. For example the Buddha in the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta says https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html:
Whenever you want to do a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?'
But even in this case I doubt that saying that the "observer" is "real" is compatible with anatta (maybe others more expert than me might correct me if I am wrong), since in that case it should coincide with the "empirical self" and when the "empirical self" dies the result is too similar to annihilationism. IMO what can be said to be "real" in Buddhism is "the sense of self". But it is seen ultimately incorrect since it does not refer to any-thing that exist. But the "sense of self" is not an "observer", since the "observer" seems to refer to something "fixed", "set in stone". I prefer to say that there is "a sense of presence of an observer", rather than an observer.

The argument in the link tries to prove with the "trascendental argument" the existence of a "self". Of course the "sense of self" is "real" in both cases. Buddhism however rejects that this sense of self points to an observer.

If you meant instead only that the "sense of self" is real to Buddhism, I would agree. ;) I was trying to find an argument to show that the concept of a "self" was self-contradictory. Not only that it is not necessary to posit a self to explain the "sense of self". See below...

Sam Vara wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 11:51 pm

The argument in DN 15 seems to go like this:

1) A person might think they have a self, but that self is not identical with what they feel (as proven a few lines earlier) and that self is not a thing that feels.

2) Where nothing is felt, the idea of "I am" could not occur.

3) Similarly, a person might think they have a self, but that self is not identical with what they feel, and that self is a (the) thing which feels.

4) Again, where nothing is felt, the idea of "I am" could not occur.

5) Because of (2) and (4), we can dispose of the idea of the self as a thing which feels.

As far as I can see, there are two problems with this as deployed against BV. The first is that feeling - as hedonic tone - is not required for an idea of the self. One could imagine the same "delusional" self-view arising in one who had merely perception and rationality. For this one to work, vedana needs to mean something more like "every possible experience". Claiming as an axiom that there are three types of feeling ("pleasant, unpleasant, and neither pleasant nor unpleasant") which are necessary components of all possible experience obviously won't work here; it just defines the argument into being right. It certainly looks like the Buddha is talking about experience here.

As such, we can still save the limited concept of a transcendental unity of experience for BV. The "get-out-of-jail-free" card is the question as to what the Buddha actually meant when talking in this sutta (and some others) by "the idea of 'I am'". Without feeling, the idea of "I am this" could not occur. But while there is experience, there certainly could. Gombrich would say, of course, that the Buddha is only ever talking about aseity, and an immutable soul-essence, and (although BV might want such a thing!) the non-existence of such a thing doesn't have any bearing on the transcendental unity of our experience.
Hi Sam Vara,


The problem of seeing anatta as only a criticism to "a-seity" (the "eternal and indestructible" self) is that Buddha rejected annihilationism which posits that there is a destructible self. Therefore the "unity" cannot be thought as a separate and imperament "thing" in Buddhism. To not fall in annihilationism even the "empirical self" cannot be taken as a "distinct thing".

However if our experiencies are all momentary (anicca) and therefore cannot be taken as "me, mine, myself" and outside experience there is no sense of self, then a supposed "unity" cannot be "self-aware" and therefore possibly it is meaningless to think of it as a "self" (If I recall correctly this was the view of Professor Harvey). So while we cannot disprove the existence of such an unity, the concept becomes useless in the sense that since it cannot be "self-aware" without experiencies then it is not to be taken to be as "a self". So If the self "denied" by the Buddha was something that could arise the idea of "I am" (i.e. self-awareness) like, say the Hindu Atman, then the "abstract, trascendental" self argued by this kind of arguments is not "negated" by the Buddha but at the same time it cannot be taken as a self (I wonder if the Personalists meant this kind of "inexpressible self").
Therefore IMO while the abstract unity cannot be denied, if all possible experiences are momentary and if outside all experience no thought of self-awareness can occur then such a unity cannot be taken as a "self" and therefore it is not a problem for Buddhists. Therefore the concept of "unobservable observer" cannot be taken as a "self". So "sabbe dhamma anatta" could refer to the impossibility to find a "dhamma" that can be regarded as a "Self", which in this view is an ultimate reality that can be self-aware.

BUUUT at the same time "anatta" as far as I have understood means "non-substantiality" and therefore even the concepts like that of an "abstract unity" are denied. Surely if we could show that the concept of "substance" itself is contradictory then of course all these "trascendental arguments" are completely rejected.

Thoughts? :smile:

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