Graham Priest and the “0th Noble Truth”

I recently listened to a podcast interview with philosophy professor at CUNY Graham Priest in which he discusses Buddhist ethics and Anarchism. He raised some interesting points which I think are relevant for this project, so I thought I would post my notes here:

Priest supposes the classic “4 noble truths” (dukkha, its cause, cessation, and path) + “0th noble truth”: the unspoken axiom that “suffering is bad”.

From this you can assume that according to the compassion doctrine in mahayana: suffering happening to anyone is bad

from anatman and sunyata you can further argue there is no such thing as an independent totally autonomous person or being

therefore one person’s suffering is everybody’s problem, everyone’s suffering is one person’s duty to ameliorate as best they can, and that liberation from suffering is an endeavor which involves collectives and individuals, possibly sublating or transcending them.

The foundation of liberation is ethical behavior in society, sila, for the gladdening and lightening of one’s mind, leading to mental clarity/concentration dhyana, and wisdom/insight prajna.

This effort of perfecting our conduct is impeded by the fact that people’s ability to act ethically is constrained by the society they are embedded in, the ideologies which form their minds, the people they are around, etc.

To maximize every person’s ability to act rightly and thus purify their hearts and attain liberation, society must be supportive of this endeavor above others. So rather than greatest happiness, greatest profit, greatest equality, etc, a society which reduces the most suffering while enabling the most virtuous actions (which further reduces and even eliminates suffering in some cases).

The ideal political philosophy from this starting point is one which minimizes suffering for the greatest number and which uses ethical means as compatible as possible with these ethical ends. This is likely to look similar to political philosophies of anarchism and socialism, but for slightly different reasons (liberation from dukka and samsara, not just material inequalities). 

Following from these axioms would be a tendency to flatten social and political hierarchies, redistribute means of existence to satisfy basic needs, resist materialistic accumulations, environmental destruction and promote education and mobility as a means of changing one’s circumstances for the good of individual/collective freedom and the realization of nirvana by the greatest number of beings possible.

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