Volume 27, 2020
The Buddha versus Popper: When to Live?
The Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, City University of New York
We discuss two approaches to life: presentism and futurism. We locate presentism within various elements of Buddhism, in the form of advice to live in the present and not to allow the future to hinder us from living in the ever present now. By contrast, futurism, which we identify with Karl Popper, advises us to think of future consequences before we act, and to act now for a better future. Of course, with its emphasis on a well-defined path to an ideal future ideally culminating in enlightenment, Buddhism undoubtedly has elements of futurism as well. We do not intend to determine which of these two approaches to time is more dominant in Buddhism, nor how the two approaches are best understood within Buddhism; but simply we intend to compare and contrast these two approaches, using those presentist elements of Buddhism as representative of presentism while contrasting them with those elements of futurism to be found in Popper and others. We will discuss various aspects of presentism and futurism, such as Ruth Millikan’s Popperian animal, the psychologist Howard Rachlin’s social and temporal discounting, and even the popular but controversial idea, YOLO (you only live once). The primary purpose of this paper is to contrast one with the other. The central question of ethics is: How should one live? Our variation on that question is: When should one live? We conjecture that the notion of flow, developed by Csikszentmihalyi, may be a better optimal choice between these two positions. Read article