In place of the conspiracy theories of classical metaphysics, Adam Miller, following Latour, proposes an experimental metaphysics. According to Miller, what is the cardinal sin of classical metaphysics? On the one hand, it is reductive. When we are in the grips of a theory, we believe we have mastered the phenomena. Our metaphysics is based on a distinction between appearance and reality, where appearances are the buzzing confusion of all things that exist in the world and reality is the finite set of principles or laws that both explain those phenomena and that are the grounds of the phenomena. Here I cannot resist a hackneyed reference to The Matrix. What is it that distinguishes Neo from everyone else? Unlike the rest of us that see only appearances-- the steak that we are eating, the clothing we are wearing, the car we're driving in, other people, etc --Neo sees the reality that governs the appearances. He sees the code that governs appearances. Neo is the Platonic hero par excellence. Where everyone else sees shadows on the cave wall taking them to be true reality, Neo has escaped the cave, seen the true reality, and now knows the combinatorial laws that govern all the appearances. It is this that allows him to perform such extraordinary feats, for like the scientist that has unlocked the secrets of nature, he can manipulate that code to his advantage.
This is the fantasy of classical metaphysics and is what Miller refers to as a conspiracy theory. The classical metaphysician believes he has unliked the code that governs the appearances and, for this reason, no longer has to attend to the appearances. Alfred Korzybski famously said "the map is not the territory". The classical metaphysician is like a person who gets a map and thinks that because they have a map they have mastered the territory; so much so that they don't have to consult the territory at all. In this instance, the map, the model, comes to replace the territory altogether. The map becomes the reality and the territory itself, such that the territory no longer enters the picture. Perhaps this is one of the reasons people often find philosophers so frustrating. We have our models, we have our metaphysics, and we debate back and forth about the finer points of these respective maps, yet the territory doesn't enter the picture. The map has become more real than the territory (isn't this what Lauruelle is diagnosing in his non-philosophy: the manner in which the philosophy posits its own reality).
I'll say a bit here about what you can expect to find. Some of the article goes over territory I've already covered on Love of All Wisdom and the IPB: I discuss Aśvaghoṣa's worries about severity, Śāntideva's rejection of external goods, the Cakkavatti Sīhanāda Sutta's detached attitude to time. The article does this in more detail than the blogs have, and I also show similar ideas in other suttas and jātakas and from Candrakīrti.
The article also responds more directly to existing engaged Buddhist scholarship. Engaged Buddhist scholars have, so far, been the people actually doing constructive Buddhist ethics. They are not merely describing what Buddhists happen to believe but prescribing a Buddhist way of life, and that much is something I think we need more of. What I don't think they do nearly enough is think about or respond to the points made by the likes of Śāntideva and Aśvaghoṣa. The article explains why they should.
So the article isn't itself a work of constructive Buddhist ethics; I'm not taking a position on engagement or disengagement there. What I am doing is reminding other people doing constructive Buddhist ethics about a large body of ideas that they ignore or silence, and urging them to take those ideas more seriously. My own constructive position on these questions is complicated. I've started to take some of it up on the blog – for example, I think there is some empirical confirmation for the Disengaged Buddhists' psychological claims. That isn't the whole story, though, and you can expect to hear more about my constructive views in the years to come. I am proud of the article as a starting point.