Welcome to by new blog! I hope you find something worth reading here.

First, a word on the name of the blog: Samma vaca (pronounced something like sum-muh vah-chah) is right speech in the Buddhist tradition. It is the third of the eight factors in the Noble Eightfold Path, the most well-known canonical summary of Buddhist practice.

The aim of this blog will be left somewhat open-ended, and I expect it will include discussions of most of my sundry and scattered intellectual interests, both scholarly and amateur. These include most fields of philosophy, but especially the philosophy of David Hume, which is my main area of scholarly specialization. I also have an abiding love of, and fascination with, the plays of William Shakespeare and their interpretation.

But I will also spend much time thinking through contemporary issues in the political, cultural, ethical or economic sphere. In doing so, I will strive to avoid pointless controversy and discord. I used to blog quite a bit on politics and economic policy, but no longer value or enjoy the sharp, snarky and hostile style of discourse that tends to prevail in the internet public sphere. Our contemporary world is pervaded by verbal, artistic and physical violence, which in my view has contributed to a growing sense of futility and absurdity in our social life, and to a degenerative cycle of increasing stupidity and nihilism. So I will do my best to to adhere to the ideal of samma vaca, right speech, and to foster clarity, peace and concord in my writing, even when dealing with issues about which there are important disagreements.

One among the several places in the ancient Pali Canon where right speech is discussed is the Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya. The following translation, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, can be found at the Access to Insight website:

“And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action?

“There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, ‘Come & tell, good man, what you know’: If he doesn’t know, he says, ‘I don’t know.’ If he does know, he says, ‘I know.’ If he hasn’t seen, he says, ‘I haven’t seen.’ If he has seen, he says, ‘I have seen.’ Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.

“Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord.

“Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing & pleasing to people at large.

“Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal.

“This is how one is made pure in four ways by verbal action.”

— AN 10.176

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