Middle Way Philosophy 1: The Path of Objectivity 

by Robert M. Ellis

Outline by section

Introduction (text available)

1. The Avoidance of Metaphysics

Middle Way Philosophy begins with scepticism. A wide variety of sceptical arguments are available to show that no absolute beliefs can be justified, and that various philosophical attempts to escape scepticism are inadequate. However, the implications of scepticism are not to deny us the possibility of objectivity, but to force us back to incremental rather than absolute ways of thinking. It is argued that scepticism frees us from metaphysics, and that it is metaphysics that interferes with our capacity to develop objectivity. Philosophical and religious arguments for positive metaphysical positions are rejected, but so are philosophical arguments for the negative denial of metaphysical claims. Relativism and post-modernism are just as metaphysical as Plato. It is only agnosticism that can free us from metaphysical assumptions. Sceptical argument can also free us from the fact-value distinction and from fixed ideas of the self, both of which have dominated Western ways of thinking.

First two chapters of section 1 (on sceptical arguments and the failure of philosophical arguments against scepticism) available for preview

2. The Appeal to Experience

This section looks more positively at what it means for a philosophy to be based on experience. It explores the idea of experiential adequacy, which is crucial to understanding how objectivity can be based on experience rather than needing to be based on metaphysical appeals that go beyond experience. The more our experience is able to engage with conditions, the more objective our judgement becomes. It also distinguishes Middle Way Philosophy from other philosophical approaches that have appealed to experience, in science, phenomenology and empiricism.

3. The Middle Way

This section introduces and explains the 'Middle Way' element of Middle Way Philosophy, first explaining how it is inspired by aspects of Buddhism but not reducible to Buddhist tradition. The Middle Way is understood as avoiding positive and negative forms of metaphysics, and, contrary to the traditional Buddhist account, as being independent of final goals such as enlightenment which go beyond experience. It is explained how the Middle Way itself is a theoretical principle rather than a metaphysical one, and how it links together ideas of moral good, addressing conditions and psychological integration.

First two chapters of section 3 (on the Middle Way in relation to Buddhism) available for preview

4. Aspects of Objectivity

This section argues that objectivity is incremental and dispositional (depending on people and their judgements) rather than abstract or absolute. It also argues that scientific, moral and aesthetic forms of objectivity are distinguished from each other only as a matter of emphasis, not in any basic or definitional way. Objectivity is based on experiential adequacy and can be usefully compared with adaptational qualities that enable us to address conditions in a given environment. Compassion is also a form of objectivity, involving the recognition of others beyond our immediate identifications.

5. Justification

A theory of justification is offered in this section to replace the appeal to knowledge found in traditional Western epistemology. Justified beliefs require both coherentism in interpreting experience and agnostic foundationalism - that is, a recognition of the possibility of error in our beliefs. Falsifiability should thus form a basic aspect of how we justify our beliefs.

6. Integration

This section gives an outline of the psychological theory of integration that will be developed in volumes 2, 3 and 4 of the series, explaining how it is related to the concepts of objectivity and justification and the avoidance of metaphysics. It is argued that metaphysical beliefs require a psychological model which involves conflicts between our identifications at one point and another. On the other hand, beliefs that avoid metaphysics and are falsifiable are also capable of integration with opposing beliefs held at other points. Integration takes place at the three interdependent levels of desire, meaning and belief, and can also accur both at the level of the individual psyche and at the level of group-relations. Integration is a psychological way of describing objectivity.

7. Ethics

The final section puts forward a Middle Way theory of ethics based on the foregoing accounts of objectivity, integration and justification. Ethical justification is argued to be a feature of experience, not of metaphysics, but our experience is morally differentiable according to its adequacy. All existing forms of moral normativity imply the normativity of integration, so our existing feelings about what we 'ought' to do mean that we 'ought' to make our integrate our judgement. An integrated judgement is also a more responsible one. We can cultivate the integration of our judgement through developing virtue, but conventional virtues need to be assessed in relation to how well they support integration. However, we cannot just rely on the development of virtue to guide us in the moral judgements we have to make, but also make use of a toolkit of moral approaches to help us make judgements as objectively as possible. Kantian moral principles can challenge us, but cannot be taken absolutely, whilst the guidance of moral authorities and consequential calculation can help to give more specificity to our moral judgements. The different types of moral theory available to us in Western ethics are much easier to reconcile with each other when we do not take them as absolute metaphysical principles, but as different ways of extending our objectivity from our starting point.


Middle Way Philosophy 1: Contents

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