Owen Flanagan (Ph.D. 1978, Boston University) came to Duke as Chair of department in 1993, a post he held until 2000. Since then he has returned to teaching and research full time. He also holds appointments in Psychology and Neurobiology and is a Faculty Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience.
He was previously Class of 1919 Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Wellesley College.
During the 1985-86 academic year, he was a visiting member of the Department of Philosophy at Duke University.
He has also had visiting positions at Brandeis, Princeton, Harvard, and La Trobe in Australia as well as several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 1993-94 Flanagan was President of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology.
In 1998, he was recipient of the Romanell National Phi Beta Kappa award, given annually to one American philosopher for distinguished contributions to philosophy and the public understanding of philosophy.
In 1999, he was invited by the Mind and Life Institute to attend a small conference in Darhamsala, India with the Dalai Lama on the topic of "Destructive Emotions." A book on the meetings, Beyond Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Collaboration With the Dalai Lama narrated by Daniel Goleman, appeared in 2003.
Besides writing many articles, reviews, and contributions to colloquia, Flanagan has written or edited the following books:
He was awarded a Fulbright Research Award in 2001-2002 to study Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self. In 2006 he gave the Templeton research Lectures at USC in Los Angeles on *Human Flourishing in the Age of Mind Science.*
In this chapter I ask the question: Why are Buddhists and Confucians more tolerant, less conflict prone, less war-like, etc. than Abrahamic peoples IF THEY ARE?1 A proper analysis that positioned us to adequately answer this question would require defining the different concepts—“tolerance,” “conflict-prone,” “war-like”—producing evidence that it is true that there exist significant differences between adherents of these different traditions, and then using something like Mill’s methods to rule out political, economic, or material culture explanations of the differences, thereby making the reli- gious differences the most plausible candidate for the difference-maker.2 Here I do something less than what is needed. I operate on the assump- tion that it is true that Buddhists and Confucians are more tolerant, less conflict-prone, etc. than Abrahamic people, all else equal.3 Then I formulate a hypothesis for why the difference-maker may have to do with God, or better, with beliefs about God’s nature and modus operandi. I say “may” because I am not convinced that my hypothesis is true. The hypothesis is not that Buddhism and Confucianism are more rational, less superstitious than the Abrahamic religions. It is that Buddhism and Confucianism have theologies that differ from the Abrahamic ones in ways that make a difference. The core idea is that the belief in the Abrahamic God (Yahweh, God, Allah) engenders or supports attitudes and actions that demand epistemic and normative conformity across peoples with different customs, habits, and beliefs. Buddhist and Confucian theologies differ from each other in important ways, but share the following two features (Flanagan 2008; Flanagan 2011):
To understand a complicated psycho-bio-social phenomenon(a) such as addiction to alcohol one wants ideally a phenomenology, a behavioral and cognitive psychology, a physiology, and a neurobiology -- all embedded in a sociology. One wants to know what it is like to be alcoholic – if, that is, there is any commonality to the experiences of alcoholics (Flanagan 2011). One wants to know about such things as whether and if so what kind of loss of control alcoholics experience in relation to alcohol (as well as, any and all affective and cognitive deficits). One wants to know what the brain is doing and how it contributes to the production of the characteristic phenomenology(ies) and control (and other cognitive and affective) problems. One wants to know what effect heavy drinking has on vulnerable organ systems, e.g., the brain, the heart, and the liver. And, of course, all along the way, one should want to know how the sociomoral-cultural-political ecology normalizes, romanticizes, pathologizes, etc. alcoholism and its relations, heavy drinking, recklessness-under-the-influence, etc. Some scientists and philosophers worry that the program of A.A. biases our understanding of the phenomenology, psychology, physiology, and neurobiology of addiction and prevents a unified, or at least a consilient, account of the nature, causes, and treatment of alcoholism from emerging. I have experience in the rooms of A.A., as well as in seminar and conference rooms with experts on addiction. From this perspective, I assess this claim that A.A. is part of the problem, not of the solution, and suggest some ways to increase mutual understanding between the various modes of understanding alcoholism, which if abided would yield sensitive and sensible interaction among the practical program of A.A. and the sciences of addiction. One consequence is that A.A. would need to acknowledge that as a therapeutic social institution it is a repository of some practical knowledge about what works to help some people recovery and stay abstinent, but has no expertise on alcoholism or even on “how it works” if, that is, it does work.