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Self-deception: does Buddhism offer a way out of the philosophical paradox of believing what you know is untrue?

by Denis Wallez (@DenisWallez)
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A recent article in Aeon, by Sam Dresser, on Buddhism and self-deception pretends to introduce how « Buddhist thought offers a way out of the philosophical paradox » of self-deception.

Unfortunately, it presents much better the Western philosophical attempts toward a solution, notably the temporal partitioning and the psychological partitioning approaches than the Buddhist approach. On Buddhism, I'd agree that it offers a way out of the philosophical paradox; however, I suspect that the key does not lie in the hand-waving around doctrines like the « two truths (satyadvaya) » and the doubtful use of ‘wilful’ in « wilful ignorance (avidyā) » that Sam Dresser uses.


What the cited account fails to present is that, in Buddhism, ‘wilful’ is not some kind of choice in full awareness… It's not related to “free will,” quite the opposite.

Such a ‘will’ is a tendency; it's a manifestation of conditioning, not of freedom. Hence “wilful ignorance” is misleading most readers, unaware of Buddhist terminology: both “forced ignorance” (seeing the ignorance as a result of factors which preceded it, in a causal stream) and “forceful ignorance” (seeing the ignorance as a cause for what will arise next, in the same causal stream) would better fit with avidyā.

Ignorance is usually not a choice at all, it's merely a habit. “Habitual ignorance” would thus be a lot more accurate that “wilful ignorance”: sentient beings don't choose to have biases, prejudices, views that blind them from the nature of reality… they habitually have these, not even because “that's who I am,” but simply because they don't know —or see or realize— what else to do, how to look at phenomena more constructively, how to handle a contingent reality which neither complies with one's wishes nor accepts to be cornered in little, predictable, convenient boxes… There'

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