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The ethics and politics of mindfulness-based interventions
  1. Andreas T Schmidt
  1. Correspondence to Dr Andreas T Schmidt, University Center for Human Values/Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, 315 Wallace Hall, Princeton, NJ 8544, USA; andreas.schmidt{at}princeton.edu, andreastschmidt{at}gmail.com

Abstract

Recently, there has been a lot of enthusiasm for mindfulness practice and its use in healthcare, businesses and schools. An increasing number of studies give us ground for cautious optimism about the potential of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) to improve people's lives across a number of dimensions. This paper identifies and addresses some of the main ethical and political questions for larger-scale MBIs. First, how far are MBIs compatible with liberal neutrality given the great diversity of lifestyles and conceptions of the good characteristic of modern societies? It will be argued that the potential benefits of contemporary secular mindfulness practice are indeed of a sufficiently primary or all-purpose nature to qualify as suitable goals of liberal public policy. Second, what challenges are brought up if mindfulness is used in contexts and applications—such as military settings—whose goals seem incompatible with the ethical and soteriological views of traditional mindfulness practice? It will be argued that, given concerns regarding liberal neutrality and reasonable disagreement about ethics, MBIs should avoid strong ethical commitments. Therefore, it should, in principle, be applicable in contexts of controversial moral value. Finally, drawing on recent discussions within the mindfulness community, it is argued that we should not overstate the case for mindfulness and not crowd out discussion of organisational and social determinants of stress, lowered well-being, and mental illness and the collective measures necessary to address them.

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