Stephen Batchelor’s reinterpretation of the Four Noble Truths as a fourfold task to facilitate human flourishing is undoubtedly the most well-known aspect of his effort to develop a secular approach to the dharma and to make Buddhism relevant for our contemporary world.
While strongly supportive of Stephen’s approach, Mike Slott’s Reexamining ‘truths’ and ‘tasks’ in secular Buddhism raised concerns about Stephen’s view of the relationship of truths and tasks.
Winton Higgins responded to Mike’s article, which was then followed by Mike’s rejoinder to Winton.
Responding to both Mike and Winton, Stephen Batchelor explains why it is crucial to highlight the radical shift from truth-based religion to a task-based ethics in the Buddha’s teachings.
Reviewing the dialogue, Jonathan Golden uses Kuhn’s notion of the ‘paradigm shift’ to support Mike’s argument.
Below are brief summaries of the articles, with links to the full articles.
Mike Slott – Reexamining ‘truths’ and ‘tasks’ in secular Buddhism
While Stephen Batchelor’s emphasis on the pragmatic and ethical meaning of the Buddha’s teachings has been crucial in the development of a secular approach to the dharma, Mike Slott argues that Stephen has not adequately addressed a legitimate concern about the role and meaning of truth in his approach.
Winton Higgins – Response to Mike Slott’s ‘Reexamining “truths” and “tasks” in secular Buddhism’
Winton Higgins responds that the issue is not the epistemological status of truth but about how we should live and practise. Dharma practitioners do have to choose: they can’t wish-wash over the truths/tasks distinction.
Mike Slott – Rejoinder to Winton Higgins on ‘Reexamining “truths” and “tasks” in secular Buddhism‘
In his rejoinder to Winton, Mike contends that in rejecting metaphysical truths as the basis of Buddhism, we don’t need to reject entirely the notion of truth as correspondence. To develop a viable secular dharma, we need to have a notion of truth which is both nuanced and rooted in common sense understandings.
Stephen Batchelor – Dharma in the shadow of Buddhism: a response to Mike Slott and Winton Higgins
Stephen Batchelor continues the dialogue by framing the discussion from a broader, historical perspective. Stephen argues that the Buddha’s radical move was to depart from the truth-based perspective of Brahmanic, Indian culture to teach a fully committed ethical life that is not underwritten by any ultimate truth.
Jonathan Golden – Secular Buddhism as a ‘paradigm shift’
Jonathan Golden uses Kuhn’s notion of a ‘paradigm shift’ to discuss the issue of ‘truths’ and ‘tasks’ in secular Buddhism. He argues that Kuhn’s perspective is consistent with Mike Slott’s view of truths and tasks; while there are no absolute truths, our beliefs (provisional truth claims) are a necessary precondition for our practice, and practitioners should not be required to make a binary choice between truths and tasks.