Middle Way Philosophy

The Middle Way itself only gives us only a basic framework. It offers us several basic insights: that metaphysics creates delusion, that metaphysics can make negative claims as well as positive, and that we can make progress by avoiding metaphysics and thus allowing ourselves to learn from experience. It is hoped that these insights can provide the starting point for the society. However, these insights by themselves still leave a lot of attendant questions unanswered:

  • The Middle Way tells us what to avoid, but what are we positively aiming at?
  • What motivates us to follow the Middle Way?
  • How does following the Middle Way give meaning to our lives?
  • Why should we accept this model anyway? Isn’t it just a metaphor?
  • How does the idea of avoiding delusion translate into better judgements in everyday life?
  • How does the Middle Way take account of the successes of science?

It is answering questions like this, which tend to follow on unavoidably from the Middle Way itself and its interpretation, that take us gradually into the realm of Middle Way Philosophy. This is a field that has scarcely been developed. Robert Ellis has tried to make a start in sixteen years of work, and has some answers to offer to all of the above questions, but those answers probably need further refinement. The idea behind the society is to invite others who share the vision sufficiently, to participate in the further development and application of it. The section of the website linked to this page is thus a presentation of this work.

The work has the status of theory, which means that nothing is final. Middle Way Philosophy is an ongoing task, but to contribute to that work, or even to make practical use of it, it will be helpful to understand what has been done already. To participate in the society, you do not need to agree with every point, but you will need to have a sympathy (perhaps an intuitive sympathy) with the overall direction of travel.

Another initial observation: Middle Way Philosophy is complex. You will not be able to understand it fully just by reading one webpage, so this is just a starting point. It requires patient study and reflection. The reason for this is not because it is esoteric in any way, but because it is based on a number of interdependent approaches, many of which go against currently dominant ways of thinking. You need to get a sense of several of these approaches and how they relate to each other, rather than just adding a new section to an existing model.

Middle Way Philosophy is not merely intellectual, but nor is it a question of mysterious non-intellectual rapture or revelation. It is probably best approached by a combination of intellectual thought and a more personal reflection and practice, because you as an individual are responsible for the mental states in which philosophical ideas take root. Ideas are not independent of the people who hold them.Concept relationships in Middle Way Philosophy

Here, then, are some of the major elements of Middle Way Philosophy to start with.  The diagram here shows some key relationships between them (click to make it larger). Each of the boxes in the diagram has a corresponding page linked below.

Objectivity. The concept of incremental objectivity. People do use “objective” in an incremental way in ordinary English (“Can’t you be more objective about that?”). We need to take full possession of this use. The more objective we are (not our beliefs), the better. See Objectivity page for more.

Facts and values. The unity of different types of objectivity: scientific, moral, and aesthetic objectivity are basically all the same phenomenon applied in different ways. See Facts and Values page for more.

Integration. This concept is adapted from Jung, and provides a major additional metaphor in Middle Way Philosophy, a positive counterpart to the Middle Way. Integration is a psychological model applied to our basic desires and drives, and suggests that we make positive progress by getting opposed desires to work together. See Integration page for more.

Self and ego. We are not fixed selves, but rather constantly changing egos with a tendency to think that our current identifications are ultimate. We can’t escape the ego or destroy it (which would destroy us), but we can gradually stretch it. See Self and ego page for more.

All desires are good. There is no such thing as a bad desire in the integration model, only opposing desires that repress one another. Desires motivate us, and the more integrated they become the more valuable our lives are. See All desires are good page.

Desire, meaning and belief. The integration of desire has a loosely-tied relationship to other forms of integration, of meaning and of belief, that could also be understood as specific types of desire associated with symbols and cognitive models. See Desire, meaning and belief page

Embodied meaning. Meaning is embodied and unifies cognitive and emotive senses, but needs to be separated from belief, which is constructed out of it. See embodied meaning page.

Integration and objectivity. Integration of all types is equivalent to objectivity, because our desires, meanings and beliefs are interdependent, and engage with conditions beyond our current assumptions at each moment as they integrate. See integration and objectivity page.

Metaphysics and integration. Metaphysics is a type of belief that blocks integration because of its apparently absolute content. You can’t integrate something that already thinks it’s complete and final. It’s thus the source of all the problems we create for ourselves beyond mere difficult conditions affecting us. See metaphysics and integration page.

People and beliefs. Metaphysical beliefs are only one strand of the various beliefs in a person who holds them. People thus cannot be wholly evil, and everyone can make progress in integrating the opposed metaphysical beliefs they may start with. See people and beliefs page.

Judgement. Our degree of objectivity is focused at particular moments when we make judgements. Each judgement has to take account of the prior conditions, but can stretch slightly beyond those conditions. Our degree of freedom is ambiguous and a matter of experience. See judgement page.

Ethics is the skill of selecting the best available model as a basis of judgement, that can stretch to take into account more conditions than another. Ethics is thus incrementally objective, not relative or absolute, and not just a matter of social convention or individual choice. See ethics page.

Individual and social integration. All points about integration of different types at the individual level also apply equally at the socio-political level, where conflicts are between individuals or groups in parallel with the represented conflicts within individuals. See individual and social integration page.

Practice. All practices that help us to develop integration can thus be supported and focused by the Middle Way Philosophy model: e.g. meditation, psychotherapy, the arts, critical thinking. See practice page.

Here are some widely held assumptions that Middle Way Philosophy rejects:

  • Scepticism is a problem and a threat to science
  • Metaphysics is an unavoidable part of the cognitive models we use to understand things
  • Justifiable conclusions can be reached just by analysing concepts or appealing to authorities
  • Meaning is essentially representational
  • We cannot avoid thinking of ourselves as fixed selves
  • Ethics is different from science, because science can be ‘objective’ whilst ethics is just ‘subjective’.

So how can the questions at the top be addressed?

  • The Middle Way tells us what to avoid, but what are we positively aiming at? Incremental objectivity and integration. We cannot look too far ahead though, and do not need ultimate goals.
  • What motivates us to follow the Middle Way? Our desires motivate us. The more our desires become integrated, the better they are capable of motivating the practice of the Middle Way and the more likely they are to be linked to beliefs that are tending towards it.
  • How does following the Middle Way give meaning to our lives? Through the integration of meaning, which is loosely linked to that of desire and belief.
  • Why should we accept this model anyway? Isn’t it just a metaphor? It is just a metaphor, but offers a big, widely-applicable model. It could be superseded by a better model which explains the same points, but at the moment it seems to offer the best explanation available.
  • How does the idea of avoiding delusion translate into better judgements in everyday life? We select the best models so as to avoid delusion and address conditions better. One particular model (e.g. utilitarianism) does not offer all the answers for how to make the best decisions, so we need flexibility in the moral models we use.
  • How does the Middle Way take account of the successes of science? Science has made massive progress in objectivity due to the degree of social integration of the scientific community, ensured by the ways in which training in scientific method tries to ensure provisionality. It is incrementally objective, not because its picture of the universe is ‘true’, but because its judgements are more adequate to conditions.

Finally, in case you should be under the false impression that Middle Way Philosophy has emerged out of nowhere, some of the key inspirations from which it has been selectively put together are noted in a diagram on the sources page.

2 thoughts on “Middle Way Philosophy

  1. I read all of that and I generally agree with it, but I think it can be stated more simply. If you passionately believe in something, you cannot be objective. This lack of objectivity, tends to cause members in this group to stereo-type everyone in all other groups. A perfect example would be Evangelicals, who actually believe that their small group(300 million out of 7 billion people), by following their very well laid out course one must follow to get there, will all be snatched up to heaven when their long-awaited and often predicted rapture occurs. All of them will have their bodies snatched up to heaven to — I suppose — play shuffleboard with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for eternity.
    Every bit of human history has been turned into a mass of drek by the struggle between the right and the left — greed of those with power and money opposed by those who would drag themselves from the bottom.
    Every bit of progress the human race has made along the way has been achieved by cooler heads in the middle cleaning up the messes made by the passionate.

  2. Hi Ross,
    Thanks for your comment. One can indeed state it more simply, and simplicity has the virtue of getting across to more people, but also the danger of misunderstanding and distortion. I wouldn’t say that the passionate nature of one’s belief is the main issue, but rather the rigidity and absoluteness. It is possible to believe something passionately and yet be provisional about it, because it isn’t a simple reason v emotion dichotomy such as people have too often fallen back on since the 18th Century. Both religious and political absolutism has bad effects because its absoluteness blocks awareness of alternatives, rather than because it’s held passionately. But I would agree with you that there is a correlation between absolutism and the misuse of power or people’s reaction to it.

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