Daoism and Buddhism in Eastern philosophies emphasize adaptation and flexibility, and critique rationality. They have different frameworks to understand the same phenomenon, and different goals for our reactions to it, and I understand and like them. However, because of their nature, it is necessary that they have different interpretations in different situations, making even practitioners disagree with each others. They may even claim that there are things that can only be understood by direct experience, and are ineffable or inexpressible, making the philosophy inevitably mystical. I think, even when everything is on the right track, we cannot know for sure that our intuition/wisdom is correct without verbalize it. How do they make sure that an interpretation is correct and not just confirmation bias?

(Daoism and Buddhism are just examples because they are familiar with me most. I suppose any philosophical schools can tolerate a degree of vagueness, except logical positivism I think.)

Related: Does following logic necessarily require one to conclude that they are objective and have no bias?

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    Perhaps the seeking against confirmation bias is itself the confirmation bias of seeking to fit exotic (so to say) outlooks into the conventional western -- "make sure interpretation is correct" -- mold? To be fair great western philosophers -- Kant -- did understand that our knowledge of things can never be divorced from our personal knowing of them. In more modern lingo confirmation bias is wired into individuated existence. Or -- speaking as an oriental -- you should love Truth not lust after it
    – Rushi
    Mar 2, 2019 at 5:20
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    They do not make sure that an interpretation is "correct", and this is not unique to Oriental philosophy. Philosophy is not science or mathematics, there is no one "correct" interpretation. There are interpretations that are clearly off, and those more or less traditional, but plurality of interpretations is as much a hallmark of philosophy as it is of art and literature. The art of interpretation is called hermeneutics.
    – Conifold
    Mar 2, 2019 at 5:20
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    no, semiotics is the study of signs... "hermeneutics Dictionary result for hermeneutics /ˌhəːmɪˈnjuːtɪks/ noun noun: hermeneutics the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts." semiotics has a use in hermeneutics, in that if we know how a language works then we are better set to understand what is expressed in it
    – user35983
    Mar 2, 2019 at 12:37
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    oh right you mean that semiotics is to interpretation as metaphysics is to physics. maybe! i wouldn't limit that to just 'semiotics' though, it probably isn't even the only relevant science (it probably helps to understand e.g. logic or contemporary physics to study, say, Galileo)
    – user35983
    Mar 2, 2019 at 12:39
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    'Daoism and Buddhism in Eastern philosophies emphasize adaptation and flexibility, and critique rationality'. Do they use reason to criticise rationality ? Not a hostile just an inquiring question.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Mar 7, 2019 at 9:49

3 Answers 3


The problem you mention is the same for all philosophy schools and also for the sciences. Around a core of skilled and experienced practitioners and scholars there is a fringe of half-informed folk with a variety of opinions and conjectures, and from the outside it may be difficult to distinguish the facts and the actual teachings from the cloud of dust surrounding them.

If you go to the heart of Buddhism and Taoism you find complete agreement as to the nature of Reality and its correct metaphysical description. This is a notoriously subtle view for which words that are rigorous will seem paradoxical. When Heraclitus states 'We are and are not' or when when a Buddhist says the self both exists and not-exists they speak rigorously. Thus when one Buddhist or Taoist says the self is real and another says it is not they are not necessarily disagreeing, just focusing on different sides of the equation. This leads a lot of people to assume there is controversy where there is none.

Confirmation bias may become a problem for anyone at any time but the practices of the Perennial tradition make it virtually impossible to fall for it. Theorising is not considered a substitute for establishing the facts and conjecture is discouraged. Anticipating what one is going to discover would be an obstacle to progress since it restricts our mental freedom and channel us into our own self-fulfilling prophecy. Reality would outrun our imagination and concepts and thus confirmation bias becomes impossible.

It is worth noting, however, that these traditions explain God as misinterpreted meditative experience, and this misinterpretation must have a lot to do with confirmation bias and an overly hasty interpretation of experience. So among meditators confirmation bias is a well-understood danger.

As long as Taoism and Middle Way Buddhism endorse the same metaphysical doctrine then the majority of debates can be settled by reference to it. As noted, however, many of those who endorse these doctrines hold heterodox or 'fringe' views, and this can create an effective smokescreen of debate and disagreement that will take same work to penetrate.

In general confirmation bias is not a problem in philosophy since sound logical analysis is not vulnerable to it. The real problem is unsound analysis caused by philosophical bias.

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    there are surely disagreements in, e.g., buddhism. there may be a near unity of meditative practice, but no, it's not possible e.g. theravada buddhists mean the same thing by 'buddha' as most mahayanist buddhists. to suggest that e.g. disagreements about the universality of buddha nature is different sects talking past each other because they define 'buddha' or 'seed' differently seems wrong. however seductive the idea of a universal religion is, it is bad "hermeneutics " to elide differences and entire definitions or discourses so that everything is One.
    – user35983
    Mar 2, 2019 at 12:47
  • just my two cents, not rubbishing your answer
    – user35983
    Mar 2, 2019 at 14:44
  • i downvoted because you've completely misunderstood buddhism!
    – user35983
    Mar 2, 2019 at 19:25
  • @confused before getting to the question everybody has "why do you think so?", I think this is the perfect example of different interpretations
    – Ooker
    Mar 3, 2019 at 3:21
  • @confused - Yes, I think you'd have to explain why before I can respond. I don't normally receive this complaint even on Buddhist sites. .
    – user20253
    Mar 3, 2019 at 12:03

The entire reason for philosophy is the prevalence of confirmation bias. If we look at the situations in which 'philosophies' first arose, wherever we find them, they are in response to a habit of accepting reality without contesting the accepted interpretations of its most basic properties.

So the methods of disputation that make something philosophy in the first place are aimed directly at confirmation bias. The way to avoid this bias, then, is to do the philosophy right. But we really don't know exactly what that means. This is why the field keeps evolving.

We do know that it has been productive to keep a history of contests between ideas, so that we can avoid making the same old errors over again. We work at requiring that new philosophies answer for the failures to which earlier ones have fallen prey. In this way philosophy, at least in the West, prefigures a certain kind of science that focuses upon skepticism without totally giving in to it a as a basic principle.

But clearly, not every objection has been raised in any given case, so this is not proof against confirmation biases.


Philosophy may fall into all cognitive biases not just confirmation bias.

They may even claim that there are things that can only be understood by direct experience, and are ineffable or inexpressible, making the philosophy inevitably mystical.

Buddhism and Taoism talk about getting a pure state of consciousness that is to say a total thoughtless state of mind. For westerners is complicated since we are used to a Cartesian approach. see my question Descartes vs Buddha and we do not have a meditation culture at all. see my question on philosophy and mental health here.

In eastern philosophies mind and consciousness are two separated entities. The first do not produce thoughts it only witnesses them and in some cases it doesn't even have individuality nor death because it does not belong to the body. The mind (and ego) creates noise when it comes to having those experiences that you may consider mystical or not but the path has been explained numerous times in Yoga , Samatha, the nine paths of meditation here etc.

Language is created in the mind and can give you pointers to experience but in the end words are not enough to communicate an experience. eg. "Trying to explain what the blue color looks like to colorblind person"

  • It is false that the West does not have any kind of meditation culture. Roman Catholicism has only given up popular use of the rosary within my lifetime, and contained much more rigorous meditative practices earlier, such as "The Cloud of Unknowing". The complete lack of meditation is actually a relatively recent occurrence in the West. But our written philosophy has a class problem and a bias in favor of languages that became atheistic or Protestant early.
    – user9166
    Oct 28, 2019 at 21:54
  • Agree (somewhat) with @jobermark. Christianity gets punishment for the sins of Descartes – bogus duality, faux scepticism etc
    – Rushi
    Oct 29, 2019 at 1:53
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    @jobermark Western meditation is mostly prayer, similar to bhakti yoga. It's quite different from achieving a state of pure consciousness or thoughtless mind.
    – user22051
    Oct 29, 2019 at 9:21
  • "Trying to explain what the blue color looks like to colorblind person". Can we know radio wave exists? Yet we can.
    – Ooker
    Nov 8, 2019 at 10:40
  • @Ooker is readying about sex the same as having it?
    – user22051
    Nov 8, 2019 at 11:00

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