Thanks for that explanation. I think it’s consistent with the first few paragraphs in the article’s last section. There I say, “Now the ethical point of anatman is to deflate the ego. If there’s no permanent or persistent self, there’s no sense in clinging to that illusion. Thus we can end our suffering by recognizing the hidden truth that we don’t even exist as things whose cravings can all be satisfied… As far as I can tell, this isn’t wholly wrongheaded since there are unnecessary forms of suffering that are sustained by delusions, misunderstandings, and vices.”

So this “ego” or the subjective, personally-imagined self of folk psychology would be what you’re calling the “conventional” self. That self as an immaterial soul or spirit or immortal container that justifies the folly of endless craving would be a counterproductive illusion. The fiction of that self is meant to justify the unsustainable pursuit of desire-fulfillment which causes suffering. I agree that that ethical point of Buddhism is valid and important. I, too, would want to regard that subjective self as largely imaginary. Indeed, see my subsequent article on the extent to which most so-called human truths, including the narratives we tell about ourselves, are saturated with fiction (link below).

But this doesn’t yet speak to the scientific mode of knowledge which shows that we’re embodied higher animals. Perhaps you’d want to say that because science is mediated by personal, subjective perception of the empirical data, the ethical merit of scientific theories must likewise be assessed.

In any case, I don’t think I say Buddhism is consistent with science. On the contrary, the article’s last section goes through the conflict and posits the more materialistic, science-centered existential values as rivals of Buddhist ones. The former values entail that some kinds of suffering are noble and shouldn’t be expunged. If we suffer because we understand the extent to which the life of limited, embodied selves is absurd and tragic, that suffering attests to a non-Buddhist kind of enlightenment.

By contrast, Buddhist enlightenment holds out the possibility of inner peace or freedom from suffering. The point of this article is that that Buddhist ideal doesn’t sit so well with scientific knowledge of the material aspect of our limited selves.

I explore some of these issues further in my dialogue between the Buddha and the Marquis de Sade. I’d be curious what you think of that critique of Buddhism.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store