A philosophy of regret: Replacing regret with the four brahmaviharas Event as iCalendar

(Philosophy, School of Humanities)

22 August 2018

4 - 6pm

Venue: Pat Hanan Room, CLL Building (207-501)

Matthew Hooton

This presentation considers the duhkha (suffering, dis-ease) known as regret. It was inspired from participation in alcohol and drug group-counselling sessions, and thoughts and statements such as “I wish I had spent more of my early twenties in the library and the gym and less time at the pub”. Drawing on the view of the self of the Buddha, David Hume, Derek Parfit and Galen Strawson, it finds – especially in the context of hard determinism or hard incompatibilism – that such regrets make no metaphysical sense. The I* that exists now does so only because of the time spent at the pub and had no choice about whether to exist. To feel regret, therefore, is to wish for one’s own non-existence.

This view of regret, however, conflicts with a powerful intuition that never feeling sorry about any of the events necessary for our present existence – from those prior to our conception to recent events for which we have direct agency – would be morally cretinous. The presentation therefore explores how we might achieve the necessary detachment from the unfortunate events that are ultimately necessary for our current existence without adopting a stance to the past which we would conventionally regard as reprehensible. It reviews recent literature on regret; considers identity and non-identity; explores the metaphysical basis of the self, both ultimately and conventionally; and addresses the implications for moral responsibility. It then suggests a middle way, to replace our feelings of regret with Buddhism’s four brahmaviharas (divine abodes) of maitra (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (appreciative joy) and upseka (equanimity).


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