Objection #6: It is all far too vague.

This kind of objection presumably arises from the high degree of generality involved in the Middle Way. It is a theory that encompasses all human judgement and its justification, and therefore it has to be put in general terms that are adequate to every possible judgement. For many people it may thus seem vague because it is not about specific situations. However, it is important not to confuse vagueness with generality. A general theory requires more active interpretation to be applied in differing specific circumstances, but that doesn't mean that its general claims can't be put quite precisely (though abstractly).

For some people there also seems to be an unacceptable contradiction involved between any philosophy and practice. They are rightly suspicious of theory because it seems to be unhelpful in pursuing practice, and just to be a kind of specialised but useless hobby, like train-spotting. What this point of view misses is the fact that we are all, to some degree, philosophers with beliefs and ways of justifying them. Philosophy simply considers the justification of beliefs in a wider context. That wider context remains hypothetical for all of us until we have experienced it, but we have all at some point experienced conditions which we had only considered hypothetically before they actually affected us (bereavement is a good example). The abstract and hypothetical can very quickly and unexpectedly become concrete, and then our previous beliefs may rapidly become inadequate. So in some ways philosophy is a kind of insurance: we need to think about wider conditions so that we can respond to them. The difficulties in doing so, which may appear as a kind of thicket of vagueness for some people, can be hacked through with effort and practice.

We do not need to turn to the metaphysical dogmas given out by religious authorities to find concrete guidance in our decision-making. We can gain clarity on how to act by thinking for ourselves either on the basis of the Middle Way itself, or on the basis of provisional moral precepts derived from it. The guidance of wiser friends may also be very helpful in interpreting abstract principles concretely, as long as the basis of our trust in such friends comes from experience and not from insecurity or group pressure. We unavoidably need a process of justified reasoning to turn the Middle Way into specific guidance for action, but that process does not need to be undertaken unrealistically often or without help. A justified position gained through an effort of thought is very much preferable to one dogmatically accepted, because it addresses conditions that the dogma does not.

The Middle Way is thus not essentially vague, but it is very general. I would specifically recommend reading "A New Buddhist Ethics" for many examples of how that general principle can be applied in many different types of situation.

Links to further discussion of how the Middle Way can be made morally particular:

The Ethics of the Middle Way (from thesis)

A New Buddhist Ethics

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