Brief definition

The degree of adequacy of reason we can give for holding a particular belief, which in Middle Way Philosophy depends on the coherence of the belief with other beliefs (including those about observations) and our awareness of the belief’s fallibility.

Detailed discussion

Justification is an important concept in Middle Way philosophy, not because it has a substantially different meaning here than elsewhere, but because it plays a different role. Whereas in most representationalist philosophy, justification consists in reason to believe that a claim is true, in Middle Way philosophy it is recognised at the outset that no claim can more than approximately represent truth, and truth can be no more than a regulative idea (‘truth on the edge’). Justification needs to be separated from any reliance on truth claims, and based instead on integration and objectivity. Justification is always incremental and never absolute.

Justification can be based on the combination of two necessary elements: awareness of fallibility and coherence. Our claims are justified because we have been as objective as we can if we have both considered the coherence of our beliefs with other beliefs we hold (including beliefs about specific observations or experiences) and we have taken into account the possibility of our belief being false. In a scientific context, an awareness of fallibility may take the form of falsifiability in the theory, but for individuals that awareness may affect the nature of the belief in other ways. Without the other, each of these elements does not provide justification. A fallible belief is of no relevance to us if it does not accord with our experience, and a merely coherent belief that seems to accord with our experience is merely dogmatic if it is not provisional, recognising its own fallibility.

However, reaching this position of philosophical balance, meeting both of these requirements, also requires a certain psychological state. In psychological terms, our beliefs become better justified when they are better integrated. If we have overcome psychological conflicts with desires, meanings and beliefs that we currently reject but that would help us address conditions better, then an element of delusion has been removed from our engagement with experience. If we can engage with experience with more of the whole of ourselves, without internally holding dogmatic positions that prevent recognition of conditions, then we can make the fullest use of that experience.


About Robert M Ellis

Robert M Ellis is the founder and chair of the Middle Way Society, and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory 'Migglism' and the more in-depth 'Middle Way Philosophy' series. He has a Christian background, and about 20 years' past experience of practising Buddhism, but it was his Ph.D. studies in Philosophy that set him on the track of developing a systematic account of the Middle Way beyond any specific tradition. He has earned his living mainly by teaching, and more recently by online tutoring.

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