The Middle Way is a theoretical model and practical principle. It should be written with capitals, as it is a specific kind of middle way between specific kinds of alternative on either side. It does not just refer to a compromise, as ‘a middle way’ means in ordinary speech. The clearest and earliest account of the Middle Way seems to be given by the Buddha, but it is a universal principle accessible to all and can be found to varying degrees in other places. It is justified only through practical experience, not by any authority or tradition.
The Middle Way consists primarily in a response of equidistant balancing between different opposed metaphysical claims. Examples of opposing pairs of metaphysical claims are realism v idealism, absolute v relative ethics, God’s existence v its denial, and self v no self. This navigation requires systematic metaphysical agnosticism: in other words, a clear commitment to not slipping into either a positive metaphysical belief or its negation. Nevertheless, the metaphysical views we try to avoid remain meaningful, and the traditions associated with them need to be explored open-mindedly for the aspects of human experience that they communicate.
The Middle Way has a dialectical structure, meaning that it consists in a quest to get closer to an assumed truth on the edge of our experience by bringing together justified beliefs (and rejecting unjustifiable metaphysical ones) from different traditions. In doing this we rise above the limitations of opposed metaphysical views, and create a gradually more justified synthesised view. The dialectic involved here is an epistemological and moral dialectic, not a historical or determinist dialectic along the lines of Hegel or Marx. The Middle Way is a method of investigation which arrives at progressively better justifications for belief through the casting off of delusion rather than through appeal to any source of ‘truth’ or ‘reality’.
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