The Middle Way and dialectic

Dialectic is the process by which opposed or polarised ideas can be unified. The elements of truth in each can be incorporated into a fuller understanding which goes beyond the limitations of either of the previously opposed positions. This is often described as the process by which a thesis and antithesis become a synthesis. In order to reach a synthesis, whatever limitations created the appearance of opposition between thesis and antithesis need to be abandoned and transcended.

The process of using the Middle Way to reach improved understanding is a dialectical one. Two opposed metaphysical views, one positive and the other negative, create a conflict in which the only solution appears to be to choose one side or the other. However, this conflict is created by the limited metaphysical terms in which the opposition is framed, and a questioning of those metaphysical assumptions can dissolve the opposition. As I have described in relation to philosophical problems, a fuller and more accurate view of the issue leads one to understand it in terms of the incrementality of experience rather than the fixed polarity of metaphysics. This fuller and more accurate view can be described as a synthesis which resolves the earlier conflict. For example, the apparently irresolvable contradiction between freewill and determinism can resolved through the synthesis of thinking in experienced incremental qualities: that of degrees of conditioning in the objects we perceive, and degrees of integration in our ways of perceiving them (See thesis 6.a.v for more details on this).

However, a careful distinction needs to be made in any identification of the Middle Way with a dialectical process. That is the distinction between a historical dialectic as used by Hegel and Marx, and an epistemological dialectic as used by Popper. Historical dialectic rests on the dogmatic assumption of an inevitable process running through history, whereby conflicting forces will inevitably be resolved. The Middle Way could never support historical dialectic, because historical dialectic is based on metaphysical assumptions that the Middle Way by definition avoids. Epistemological dialectic, on the other hand, is simply a mode of investigation whereby a more objective theory is arrived at through the adoption of the strengths and abandonment of the limitations of preceding theories. The Middle Way is an epistemological dialectic, because it can be used by any individual or group investigating the world who are seeking a more objective account of it, less limited by the delusions constraining earlier accounts. It is a tool of investigation rather than a claim about the universe, and thus it is important to distinguish it from the inflated claims about dialectic made by Hegel, Marx, and their followers.

Links to further discussion

Section on Hegel in thesis

Section on Marx in thesis

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