Owen Flanagan thinks that metaphysics must be continuous with our best science…


Unknown artist, Vajrapani, 1669 (detail)

From Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Flanagan thinks that metaphysics, e.g., metaphysics of mind, must be continuous with our best science. This motivates at least two of his philosophical views. One is neurophysicalism, that “each and every mental state is realized in the brain” (236) and that “mental events are brain events or, at least bodily events, and that the subjective character of experience is explained by the way nervous systems are connected to the persons that house them” (237–8). The other one is his Modularity of Morals Hypothesis (MMH): our moral competences consist of a group of modules, i.e., specialized and independently functioning cognitive systems (30). Flanagan does not think that ethics has to be continuous with science in the same way metaphysics must. Even so, he holds a naturalistic conception of the meaning-seeking life, but it is a naturalistic conception wherein religion and spirituality still have their place. This conception of meaning-seeking, in turn, motivates his modern adaptation of Buddhism, his pluralistic ethics, and his cross-cultural approach. An illustration and product of this approach is his hybrid conception of eudaimonia, composed of components extracted from the eudaimonics—study of human flourishing—in Aristotle and in Buddhism.

Flanagan lists five reasons to explain why he engages in cross-cultural philosophy (227–229; cf. 230–232): (i) To understand what other citizens of the earth value and what it is like to be them, thereby cultivating tolerance, (ii) to locate not-yet-familiar sources of goodness, value, and meaning so as to facilitate integration of “good ideas from other traditions in our own form(s) of life,” (iii) to see “whether there are common solutions across cultures to the perennial concerns of being good and living well, and whether and where there are genuine, possibly intractable disagreements about matters of deep metaphysical and ethical significance,” (iv) to begin exploring the relation between the modern scientific image of persons and traditional lived philosophies” with a view to reconciling the “twin commitments to an identity-constitutive form of life, often with ancient, nonscientific sources, and to an objective scientific picture of persons and their place in the universe,” and (v) “to nudge philosophy as a discipline away from its parochialism.”

“Review: Naturalism, Human Flourishing, and Asian Philosophy: Owen Flanagan and Beyond”, L. K. Gustin Law, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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