Sunday, January 06, 2013

Why Peter Singer and the Buddha are wrong about universal love

In an installment of "The Stone," one of the ongoing guest column series at the New York Times, Stephen Asma explains why we can't show equal, disinterested love to all humans, let alone all sentient beings.

It's all about human finitude, in two ways.

First, our level of emotional outreach is simply finite, even if we can perform a detached utilitarian calculus to help non-kin just as much as kin.

Second, we're not omniscient. Contra the classic utilitarian calculus, we don't know which of our actions truly will provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Asma could have referenced the pseudo-Chinese proverbial story, with its recurring chorus line of "could be good, could be bad," as part of this.

Asma focuses on Singer and other modern ethical philosophers. But, his argument applies to Buddhism as well

And, I can go even better than Asma there. Buddhism's philosophy and theology actually seems to promote universal detachment, or universal indifference, not universal love. I can then reverse-argue that to modern utilitarianism, saying that, once utilitarians realize their calculus simply doesn't work, should accept that universal indifference is the best they can do.

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