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A Theory of Moral Objectivity (Section 5e - Integrative practices)

By Robert M. Ellis, originally written as a Ph.D. thesis 'A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity' in 2001. This html version copyright 2008.

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e)      Integrative Practices


Whilst the nature of psychological integration has now been explained in terms of the three levels, little has been said so far about how it may actually be achieved. At least a general account of the kind of practical techniques that can be used is needed here to support my claim that the Middle Way forms a feasible alternative to dualism, and to bridge the gap between theory and practice which is too often left vague in philosophical accounts of ethics. Here I shall be concerned with methods by which integration may be directly cultivated, rather than issues of ethical decision-making, which I will turn to in chapter 8. Here particularly, to a greater extent than anywhere else in the book, I am merely interpreting what is offered by the Buddhist tradition.


This section is intended only to provide a bridge of understanding from psycho-philosophical theory to practice, not to provide the kind of detailed individual instruction which is required to support Buddhist practice. For this, individual contact with an experienced practitioner in the Buddhist tradition is indispensable.


i)                    Cultivating integration of attention


Perhaps the most fundamental feature of integration as I have portrayed it in the earlier sections of this chapter is unified attention. The fragmentation of our attention over time is the main method by which frustration reveals itself, with its accompanying doubt and fragmentation of meaning. I am unable to attain integrated goals and to maintain continuity of meaning and belief because of the continued appearance of “distracting” desires re-asserting themselves from their subjugation by the ego. The practice of cultivating attention is thus perhaps the most direct way of overcoming egoism. The distinction between attention and desire itself is that attention is also subject to other conditions apart from desire. My overall state of health, how much sleep I get, and the use of stimulants may all affect my levels of attention in addition to my desires in relation to the objects of attention. However, desire and attention nevertheless have such a strong systematic relationship of mutual causality that attention nevertheless offers an important medium through which to cultivate the integration of desires.


At some level attention is continually cultivated, in the sense that most people usually manage to maintain the degree of attention which is required to reach egoistic goals. Tremendous feats of concentration are practised in the world every day: examinations are sat, solo piano concerts are performed, complex and delicate surgery is successfully completed, and millions of people drive in rush-hour traffic. Yet such feats of attention are usually more due to subjugation of distracting desires than to integration of them: they thus exact a toll in mental exhaustion and the re-assertion of contrary desires afterwards.


A practice for the cultivation of attention must thus not merely consist in egoistic concentration, even if this is inevitably its point of departure. Its primary feature must be the incorporation of other desires in an awareness which is general or basic enough to include them: the focus must thus be aesthetic rather than conceptual. “Aesthetic” here includes all sensual awareness including kinaesthetic and internal body awareness. What all our desires have in common is a systematic relationship to the body which gives them expression, and it is in a relaxed awareness of the body and of the senses that the ego’s defensiveness can be at least slackened.


So, at a basic level, the cultivation of attention can begin with relaxation and bodily activity: many sports, arts and other recreational activities are practised because of their practitioner’s realisation, at some level, that they help to make their lives happier by reducing the pressure of dualistic oppositions in it, usually by compensating for the over-narrow focussing on a particular type of activity found in the rest of their lives. In the leisure activity, other desires find their expression, and the greater the relaxation of the body achieved, the more easily a range of desires can gain rudimentary expression together. This makes the further subjugation of desires, often in the alienated workplace, more bearable and sustainable, reducing the strain of maintaining attention in them. 


But at this basic level the cultivation of attention has rather limited effects. This is because it works primarily at the level of desire (and at that level only up to a certain point of coherence), only rarely at that of meaning and even more rarely at the level of belief. With the occasional exception of the arts, leisure activities are usually compatible with the established defeasibility context and the conventional beliefs of ones social context. They effectively provide spheres of hedonism within the more dominant context of alienation, relying on coherentism to avoid confrontation with the more intractable alternative desires which lie beyond the zone of compatibility with the dominant egoistic beliefs. I can use mere relaxation to maintain the current egoistic dominance, perhaps integrating a certain zone of desires beyond the “weekday ego” (to be incorporated into the “weekend ego”), but I cannot thus integrate the desires associated with beliefs that are incompatible with that whole context. If I am a business man who plays golf, the golf helps me to continue being a business man, but it does not thereby give expression to the alternative desires, meaning and beliefs that might be represented by quite different lifestyles, such as  being a hippie or an Indian ascetic.


A more profound extension of the attention, then, must also involve the integration of meaning and beliefs. Physical relaxation and concentration is merely propaedeutic to an encounter with our subjugated beliefs and of our emotional resistance to any extension of meaning beyond the ego. Even in taking up a meditation practice which primarily works to extend the attention through maintaining concentration on some purely aesthetic object, a constant encounter with meanings and beliefs is required to create the conditions for such attention. In the terms of the Buddhist classifications, samatha meditation, which cultivates integration of attention and the emotions, is inseparable from and continuous with vipassanŒ, which cultivates wisdom through the directed processes of the imagination. The systematic cultivation of the attention is under the influence of conditions which lie far beyond its immediate scope[29], but nevertheless it can form a starting point for the process of integration.


The samatha practices offered by the Buddhist tradition have various objects of concentration, including coloured discs (kasina), but perhaps the most valuable and widely-taught practice is the mindfulness of breathing (anapana-sati)[30]. This involves an integrated focus on the breathing. Since the breathing is so basic and non-conceptual an object of awareness, sustained attention to it has to be relatively integrated or the distraction of other objects of interest rapidly follows. Sustained attention is built up through regular practice which habituates the mind to returning to focus on the breath after each distraction, gradually enabling a momentum of habitual integrated concentration to build up. Egoistic dominance of the process of returning to the object of concentration can be avoided by the conscious acceptance and incorporation of each distraction (and its manifestation of non-egoistic desire) into the main process, rather than its rejection.


The successful pursuit of this practice may be summarised in the idea of balanced effort[31] (a direct application of the Middle Way): egoistic effort needs to be applied, to some extent subjugating other desires temporarily in order to get going in the practice, but at the same time, this effort must not be so wilful that it prevents the gradual integration that the practice is designed to produce. At one extreme one can hold narrowly to the mere idea of observing the breath; at the other, fall into a daydream in which all directiveness is lost. In between lies an expanding genuine interest in the actual sensations of the breath which is sustained because it is accomplishing a process of integration which can be exciting and energising.


Maintaining this expanding genuine interest is interdependent with other processes of integration than that of the attention alone. The acceptance rather than rejection of the distracting desires that are encountered is dependent on an emotional integration which can be cultivated to some extent through the reflective use of this method, but also cultivated more directly in ways I will discuss in the next subsection. Persistence with the method despite the ways in which it involves confrontation with the unknown also requires confidence and is disrupted by doubt. In this respect it offers a microcosm of the heuristic process involved in any other investigative or integrative activity. I shall be saying more later in this section about ways of cultivating confidence.


The successful practice of the mindfulness of breathing can lead to the state of temporary integration of attention known in the Buddhist tradition as dhyana[32]. Eight different levels of dhyŒna are traditionally distinguished[33], representing increasing levels of integration, in which the directive voice of the ego becomes increasingly subtle, attention completely one-pointed, and emotions increasingly positive and expansive. Such states can also be occasionally achieved outside meditation, for example by artists or visionaries in a state of inspiration. The achievement of such states is temporary, however, and soon subsides as egoistic conditioning reasserts itself. I shall be offering more clarification as to the precise relationship between such temporary integrations and permanent integration in the next section.


ii)                  Cultivating integration of emotion


An alternative and complementary method for achieving the temporary integration of desires works by cultivating the integration of emotion. The integration of either attention or emotion indicates a degree of the integration of desires insofar as it is not merely due to other conditions. However, the possibility of the interference of other conditions places limitations on the scope for integration of desires through cultivating either integration of attention or integration of emotion. Thus where one fails, the other may succeed, though it is also possible that neither will be successful. The kind of physical conditions that I set up to meditate and systematically cultivate the integration of attention or emotion may be difficult to sustain, and I am also subject to many mental conditions arising from my previous experiences. In some economic circumstances, for example, I may need to work for most of my waking hours just to create the basic physical conditions required before I can begin to work directly on the cultivation of integration. Or perhaps, even if this is not the case, the work I do need to do has such a strong conditioning effect in reinforcing the rationalised ego that I am unable to make progress even in achieving the degree of relaxation required for the integration of attention. Given the difficulties of our real situated lives, then, we need as many alternative approaches as possible to the same goal of the integration of desires.


Whilst the cultivation of integration of attention works with a purely aesthetic focus, the cultivation of integration of emotion makes deliberate use of representations. If emotions are understood as our motivating desires with regard to particular represented objects, then, this offers a way of integrating those desires in the particular context of their relationship to those representations. Observing our emotional response to representations, we then attempt to broaden out that emotional response by reflection on the further scope of that representation and by allowing positive responses to it to grow. It thus works with the affective component of meaning to extend the meaning of any given representation. The representation here may be a word, a mental image or sound or other representation to the senses reproduced by the mind, but the crucial aspect of the exercise is that what we previously took that representation to mean gains an extended emotional breadth. To do this we must implicitly assume that our representation does not correspond to any kind of substantial reality, but rather has a contingent relationship to a shifting, projected reality: it does not strictly denote anything, but merely connotes within the moveable framework of a defeasibility context.


One particular practice which adopts this approach in the Buddhist tradition is the metta bhavana or “cultivation of loving-kindness[34]. This works exclusively with our representations of people (and other beings) in an attempt to cultivate positive emotion in which those representations are integrated. The positive emotion of mettaor loving-kindness consists in a temporary emotional integration arising in response to other beings, and is distinguished from narrower and more egoistic responses to other beings such as possessive love or hatred.


One assumption behind this practice is that negative emotions can be associated with fixed denotations (and hence, conversely, positive ones with flexible connotations). This can be understood merely though the extension of the ideas of confidence and integration of meaning from the previous sections to embrace ones view of oneself and of others: for, just as I need a balanced heuristic to reach the most integrated understanding of the universe available, so do I need to reach the most integrated account of myself or of another. My self-view amounts to a theory about my own nature (resting in turn on a self-meaningfulness) which I must compare with experience, but if I maintain an unduly dogmatic or sceptical approach to this theory and its relationship to truth, then my understanding of myself, and my ability to cultivate integration of emotions, will be limited by this. A dogmatic belief about myself, consisting in the fixed idea of the truth of a particular view of my nature, depends also on a fixed denotation for the terms I use to describe myself. If I believe myself to be either  beautiful or ugly, for example, this over-simplification of the highly complex and conventionalised field of different ways in which I could be aesthetically pleasant or otherwise depends not only on a dogmatic failure to examine the complexity of experience (or a sceptical tendency to be overwhelmed by that complexity and resort to a sweeping dismissal) but also on a denotation of “beautiful” and “ugly” which focuses only on the typical features I believe myself to have. Those who are beautiful may have long blonde hair, or those who are ugly long noses: these become features of the projected “reality” of what beauty or ugliness means, to which I compare my subsequent experiences, just because I (or some other person) have them. I may transfer these desirable and undesirable attributes to descriptions of others through similarly narrow denotations, thus using them egoistically to enable acceptance or rejection in the same way as I have applied such denotations to my view of myself.


My view of myself or of another as having certain desirable or undesirable attributes, then, depends on the limited denotations on which I build the view. If I am to overcome my limited egoistic tendency to accept or reject myself or others, then, I have to create both confidence and integration of meaning. To overcome the fixed idea of myself or another having undesirable attributes, such as an odour, the inability to stop smoking, or an over-dependency, it is thus not the possibility of my having those attributes that needs to be overcome (although more confident investigation of my experience might well reveal that I either don’t have them according to the prevailing conventional definitions or, more to the point, that people don’t regard them as undesirable) but what exactly it means to have those attributes. If I think of a person as having a certain unpleasant odour in one context, in another it may not be unpleasant at all: perhaps because other experiences push the odour into the background or because it becomes clear that only convention makes the odour unpleasant. In stretching the connotations of the person’s odour beyond the immediate fixed denotation in which it is instantly desirable or undesirable, I create the conditions for positive emotion (metta) towards them which is based not on a response to their desirable or undesirable qualities, but rather on the integration of affective meaning which occurs when those qualities are seen in a larger context. My representation of the person extends as my representation of their attributes extends, simultaneously with confident exploration of the full complexity of their setting.


Such emotions are thus not positive in the sense of merely indicating egoistic attraction to desirable qualities, but rather of indicating the response of a larger section of the psyche to an integration of desirable and undesirable qualities. This brings about the unification of energies in the psyche, which may create pleasant sensations including those of dhyana. However, as I shall explain in 5.f.i, such temporary positive emotions (which are side-effects contingent upon other conditions) are ultimately only morally significant insofar as they have a mutual causal relationship with moral objectivity.


To cultivate positive emotion towards the representation of any person, then (whether myself, or another or group of others) I need only to recognise the view of them that I have already and expand the connotations of that representation by considering further possible connotations. In doing this I will be more likely to encounter representations which I can correlate to ones I already identify with, and thus feel positive emotions towards that person, which can be intensified by integration with a broad range of other representations related to them, because the energy of the desires associated with those representations will be temporarily unified within my field of identification. This is the fundamental procedure of the metta-bhavana. It matters little whether the connotations which I expand are concerned with the person’s present, past or future state, or how representationally accurate they are (within the conventions of a defeasibility context): rather, in order to change my view of that person, I need to lose my concern with the idea of there being an accurate representation which I could possess. In extending that representation I also at least temporarily extend my sphere of identification to include the new representations. Repeated practice is necessary to make this extension in representation a habitual one and thus change one’s beliefs about the person, but even one such exercise can begin to push back the sphere of meaning: it at least begins to make sense to regard that person differently, and new options become available to us.


The traditional procedure in the metta-bhavana practice is to cultivate loving-kindness first towards oneself, then to a good friend, a neutral person, and an enemy in turn, then to all four equally, and finally expanding to include all the beings in the universe. This clearly reflects, not only the distinctness of the ego from the individual leading to the requirement to extend ones representation of oneself, but also the universalist aspiration to extend ones identification to all the representations in the psyche. In representationalist terms, the idea of cultivating loving-kindness to all the beings in the universe simultaneously is ridiculous: the representation would be so superficial or inaccurate as a representation of all the actual beings in the universe that we could only be entertaining a massive delusion. However, in pragmatist terms it is the psychological effects of maintaining such a universal aspiration which are important, and the purpose of cultivating the integration of emotion towards representations of all beings consists in the unification of those representations in the psyche.


This should not be mistaken for an idealist position in which representations are all that exist. Rather, it offers a more completely realist approach than any other by being linked to an adequate heuristic: I am more likely to reach a representation pragmatically adequate to the complexity of what others (or even myself) are really like by continually expanding the meaning of that representation and assuming that representation’s inadequacy. Nor is it unimportant to consider that one of the likely effects of changing ones representations of others is to change ones behaviour towards them. However, it is the integrative effect on the emotions which provides the primary context for judging the value of the changed behaviour, without which it will be unclear by what standards the changed behaviour towards others is to be judged good[35].


Cultivation of the integration of emotion is not limited to the metta-bhavana  practice, but can of course take place whenever reflection and the exercise of the imagination enables our representations of people, other beings, or even objects to expand. Any form of representational art may perform a similar function, enabling us to explore the implications of a visual object, an idea, a character and thus develop our sympathies. Broadly construed, the practices described in the next two sub-sections may also be understood as cultivating the integration of emotion.


iii)                Narrative and archetype


I have already considered in Part 1 the views on narrative of such figures as Lyotard and MacIntyre, both of whom recognise its important role in creating social legitimation for conventional values[36]. Lyotard takes a predominantly negative view of this process of legitimation, MacIntyre a positive one: both are, like most dualist views, limited to varying extents by their preconceptions. In the account I shall offer here, the use of narrative is a powerful tool which can be used either to merely egoistic or to integrative ends, and when we can discriminate between these the use of narrative, either as the story-teller or the listener, can thus become an integrative practice. An understanding of the non-dualist uses of narrative is also greatly facilitated by a recognition of the archetypes to be found in significant narratives, first identified by Jung.


For Jung, the archetypes consist in pre-existent psychological forms which are to be found universally in the human unconscious, which he found it necessary to account for causally by attributing to heredity (distinguished from the personal unconscious which he believed to be caused by personal experience)[37]. These archetypes are reflected universally in stories, myths and symbols, although we can only encounter them in this form altered by conscious elaboration. They also appear in individual dreams and visions where they can be experienced more directly[38]. It is not necessary to subscribe to Jung’s somewhat speculative view about the causes of archetypes, or to think of them as Platonic “Forms” in the collective unconscious, to extract the moral significance from his discoveries. It appears impossible to clearly distinguish which aspects of psychological experience are due to heredity and which to personal experience, and the distinction between collective and personal unconscious, like that between conscious and unconscious, is probably useless if taken as a precise distinction. However, the archetypes that Jung identified in dreams and narratives can be just as easily understood in terms of the progression of integration, and thus related to the much more limited theory of human nature I have been developing here, without recourse to “Forms”. Its relationship to integrative practice also makes it more easily testable through experience.


Jung distinguishes four main archetypes in human experience, although he also distinguishes others which may ultimately be subordinated to these four[39]: the Shadow, the Anima/Animus, the Wise Old Man/Great Mother and the Hero. They can be related to the psychology of non-dualism in the following way.


The Shadow clearly represents those desires in the psyche that are unacceptable to the ego: they inspire fear because they embody a threat to the ego’s dominance. Whilst the ego constructs a rationalised sphere of meaning, the Shadow appears meaningless. An encounter with the Shadow produces a response of greater defensiveness on the part of the ego, unless this fear can be overcome. As Jung writes of it:

The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no-one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is. For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad….It is sheer objectivity, as wide as the world and open to the world.[40]


Often this acute fear of what lies beyond the ego gives rise to a crude dualism of good and evil, and this appears in narratives that show evil being conquered and subdued by the ego, rather than the meaninglessness of the Shadow being recognised. The more that narratives come to terms with the real complexity of what they depict as evil, though, the more a genuine integration of the Shadow can occur through their medium. In this way it is possible to make a moral distinction between popular dualistic narratives of adventure and war available on film or in novels, where the Shadow is symbolised but merely overcome, and a more demanding and complex narrative, such as one of the novels of George Eliot, in which our sympathies are stretched in direct appreciation of the psychology of characters that we might otherwise condemn.


The Anima/Animus is, by contrast, the attractive but elusive aspect of the psyche beyond the ego. Usually (though not always) taking the form of a figure of the opposite sex with the associated qualities, it is different from and beyond our current identifications, but represents those desirable qualities which we cannot attain through those identifications. “What is not-I, not masculine,” Jung writes of the Anima, “is most probably feminine, and because the not-I is felt as not belonging to me and therefore as outside me, the anima-image is usually projected upon women[41].


The very presence of the Anima or Animus represents at a crude level a recognition of the inadequacy of the ego in fulfilling desires or overcoming frustration: that elusive and fascinating Other is always present just beyond the sphere of what is compatible with present desires, beliefs or meanings. Sometimes this figure is rejected and becomes associated with the Shadow, as in the medieval condemnation of witches, but more often the ego attempts to possess it and rationalise it within its own framework, such as those represented by the conventional ideals of love and marriage. Within such a rationalisation, though, the archetype is lost, so it reappears in a new form, the fascinating expression of subjugated desires. Traditionally, as Jung writes, this fascination is expressed (from a male point of view) in stories of sirens, mermaids and nixies. But “an alluring nixie from the dim bygone is today called an ‘erotic fantasy’”[42].


No quest is perhaps more obviously doomed to perpetual frustration than the attempt to possess the Anima or Animus in projection upon another person. The desire to do so itself contains the egoistic contradiction of Romantic love: the desire to possess something that is Other: when if it is possessed, it is no longer Other, and if it is Other, it cannot be possessed[43]. It is in contradiction to the dualising nature of the ego that a representation can express a desire that is inside the ego and outside it at the same time. Most narratives which express the Anima/Animus archetype merely perpetuate this cycle by depicting the taming and rationalisation of the elusive Anima or Animus, rather than the extension of the ego to incrementally recognise and include the desires which the Anima or Animus represents. In a dualist narrative of love, the hero and heroine merely come to possess one another: but in a non-dualist one, they overcome the more profound challenge involved in taking on each others desirable qualities.


The Wise Old Man represents neither the rejected nor the attractive psyche beyond the ego, but the resolution of the whole moral and epistemological problem created by the separation. A direct encounter with the Wise Old Man is an encounter with personified integration itself, created by a degree of temporary integration. Such an encounter, as Jung writes, overcomes the fragmentation of meaning evident in the encounter with the Anima:

Only when all props and crutches are broken, and no cover from the rear offers even the slightest hope of security, does it become possible for us to experience an archetype which up till now had remained hidden behind the meaningful nonsense played out by the anima. This is the archetype of meaning.[44]


More often we come upon symbolisations of the Wise Old Man in narratives. The Wise Old Man might typically be symbolised by a magician, a prophet, a philosopher, a religious figure, or by God. In a dualistic narrative, though, our relationship to that figure is appropriated by the ego either as a subject or as an object. Particularly after an experience of temporary integration, I might believe myself to be a Wise Old Man, but for that reason fail to actually integrate the desires in the psyche and actually embody his wisdom: I have been led astray by egoistic conceit. Or I may project the Wise Old Man onto someone else and thus try to appropriate his wisdom rather than partaking in it. A non-dualist narrative about the Wise Old Man is concerned with how we become a  Wise Old Man, offering specific inspiration and guidance in doing so.


A parallel archetype to the Wise Old Man which, according to Jung, was more likely to apply to women was that of the Great Mother: instead of wisdom the Great Mother offers universal protectiveness, but otherwise exactly the same considerations apply.


A dualistic use of the Wise Old Man and Great Mother archetypes appears typical of eternalism. The Wise Old Man or Great Mother is taken to embody universal value or to have unique access to it, and narratives (such as the Genesis creation story) are repeated and elaborated so as to establish that value. Egoistic appropriation of the Wise Old Man or Great Mother archetype is often also compounded by the rejection of the Shadow and Anima/Animus, cutting off the gradual process of the integration of archetypes by which the Wise Old Man or Great Mother may be integrated.


The fourth main archetype, the Hero represents the ego in its struggle with the conditions imposed by its egohood. We immediately identify with this figure just as we reject the Shadow which he often faces or identify with his possession of the Anima that he pursues. Again, in a dualist narrative the hero merely overcomes, but in a non-dualist one he prevails by recognising and integrating himself with what he encounters. The struggle remains a struggle of the ego against adverse conditions in either case, the crucial difference lying in the hero’s approach to those adverse conditions.


The distinction between dualist and non-dualist narratives in each case, is, of course, not clear cut, as the narrative varies in its connotations between each hearer. The capacity to understand a non-dualist narrative varies with the degree of integration of the hearer, so that a deeply dualist hearer may interpret even a non-dualist narrative in dualist terms, and a generally dualist narrative may have subtle nuances of non-dualism that are only apparent to a hearer integrated enough to understand them. This does not mean, however, that narratives themselves are devoid of these qualities and that they are entirely projected: on the contrary, they are the subject of the heuristic investigation which comprises literary criticism, which is able to get closer to truth in its theoretical analysis of the properties of the narrative itself according to the degree of integration of the writer. We remain in doubt about the properties of a narrative in itself, but can nevertheless make provisional claims about it which are morally justified by their usefulness in enabling integrative practice.


Integrative practice in relation to archetypes and narratives, then, can be seen at two levels. At the more basic level, the practice consists in the deliberate control of the narratives we experience: the more we can listen to, read or watch narratives which are at least inspiring us towards incremental non-dualism in their treatment of the archetypes, and simultaneously avoid those which appear to be merely dualistic, the more we can help to create an integration of meaning in which the archetypes are not merely appropriated by the ego. To distinguish effectively between dualist and non-dualist narratives, however, requires the development of skills of literary criticism, in cultivating which a careful heuristic balance needs to be struck between over-discrimination (for example, the sweeping critical dismissal of whole genres on the basis of dogmatic judgements) and lack of discrimination (evident, for example, in much television programming and watching). A judgement as to whether a narrative is dualistic or non-dualistic in its effects also needs to be made relative to our capacity for emotional engagement with it: a narrative which is very non-dualistic may be too refined to be engaged with from a relatively unrefined state.


The cultivation of non-dualist narratives can also be combined with practices which may help to integrate attention and emotion. The integrative effects of creative writing and dramatic enactment, for example, are already well-known in therapeutic and educational contexts, but do not need to be thus restricted. The cultivation of attention in relation to a narrative may also be aided by ritualising either the narrative itself, or the archetypal figures to be found in it. Such rituals are only effective in extending meaning if they are engaged in with attention.


At a more advanced level, though, integration with the archetypes can be more directly pursued. Jung and his followers have pursued this goal through a psychoanalytic route, but in the Buddhist tradition the practice of visualisation in meditation on archetypal figures, or sŒdhana, has fulfilled this function. This is not the place to discuss this practice in any detail, but two points about it are crucial. Firstly, that the artistic representations of the archetypal figures (which may, in differing contexts, represent the Wise Old Man, the Great Mother, the Hero, the Anima/Animus and take such forms as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Taras, Dakinis, and Siddhas) is not merely the result of projection but has arisen out of, or at least in relationship with, the archetypal symbolisations of integration experienced by meditators[45]. Secondly, visualisation of this sort involves not only the perception of the archetype as a projected object but the attempt to absorb its qualities through direct association of the qualities of that object with oneself, sometimes through visualising oneself as the archetypal form. In this way the non-dualistic treatment of archetypes clearly appears to be an important component of this meditative tradition.


The effect of  integrative practices working with narratives and archetypes is not limited to the integration of meaning, since narratives may also embody beliefs. As already mentioned, a heuristic approach to the critical differentiation between narratives is required to support that practice, and thus an integration of beliefs is already required to some extent to support this method of cultivating integration of meaning. Treatment of narratives is thus not separable from the philosophical concerns which are treated at rather greater length elsewhere in this book.


iv)                Friendship


The practice of integrating our representations naturally does not stop with meditation which cultivates their integration, or with the integration of archetypes. It also has an immediate field of practice in our social relationships. Social relationships are not merely the primary field in which integration is applied when it has been developed (the focus of chapter 8), but also a field in which, by pursuing a suitable strategy, integration can be developed. The relationship between integration and capacity for friendship was noted even by Aristotle, who noted that the friend shared the characteristics of the good man “For he is completely integrated, and desires the same things with every part of his soul….and extends to his friend the same relation that he has towards himself”[46]: though Aristotle says less about how the good man becomes good by being a friend.


I will in some ways follow Aristotle, too, in making an incremental distinction between friendships based on “utility” or “pleasure” (though I will define these differently from Aristotle) and those based on a real appreciation of the friend as he is encountered[47]. It is this which forms the basis of the distinction between dualistic and non-dualistic approaches to friendship: the element of encounter with another being, with different desires, meanings and beliefs, who may challenge our own, in a spirit of amity. Such an encounter is inseparable from the non-dualist heuristic: for to encounter the friend as he is I have to understand him as he is as far as possible and allow for what I remain in ignorance of. I have to develop theories about him as the basis of my understanding, without flinching from the contact which may show those theories true or false: neither imposing dogmatic conclusions about what he is, nor using my ignorance as a pretext for avoiding friendship.


It is my dogmatic assumptions about a friend, or perhaps a sceptical diffidence, that stand in the way of sensitivity to his feelings, or that lead to me overwhelming him with inappropriate advice: the relationship then becomes one of mere “utility” in the sense that it is the ego that appropriates the relationship to assert its boundaries. On the other hand, the ego provides the starting point for friendship, as for other integrative activities. All friendships thus begin with some degree of egoism, but can then move incrementally towards the recognition of real grounds for shared desires through the respective integration of both parties.


The beginning of any social relationship, then, is likely to lie in the reassurance it provides to both parties. Such reassurance can provide a condition for confidence as well as for egoism. This could apply, to varying degrees, to the relationship between parents and children, the relationship between lovers, the relationship between those engaged in a commercial exchange, or the relationship between professional colleagues, as much as to those who cultivate a more independent type of friendship involving none of these factors. The reassurance lies in a commonality of beliefs, meanings and desires which are supported and reinforced by the influence of the other: the desires attached to the representation of the person enter into alliance with the existing desires to strengthen them. In a dualistic use of friendship, the relationship goes no further than this, and the conventions of the group within which the relationship occurs are merely reinforced, resulting in the development of dogmatic certainty rather than confidence: for example, two traders may develop a commercial relationship which reinforces the shared values of commerce, or two lovers develop an egoisme àdeux. In such circumstances any challenge can be a  threat to the relationship of reassurance and move the ego to reject the friend, expelling him from the sphere of identification and turning him into an enemy.


To the extent that a relationship becomes non-dualistic (to the extent that it is a real friendship in the Aristotelian sense), though, that reassurance gradually becomes intermixed with challenge. If the friendship is sufficiently well developed, a challenge will not be interpreted as a threat, to be met by egoistic defensiveness, but rather as a spur to further reflection and inquiry. The shared goal of the friendship will then be one of objectivity rather than mere reassurance, the Middle Way to be trodden then being one which balances the two factors of challenge and reassurance.


The same point can be understood alternatively in the terms of the last subsection, of the integration of archetypes. In the ongoing narrative of which the ego is the Hero, the Shadow, the Anima/ Animus, and the Wise Old Man/ Great Mother are constantly being encountered in our projections onto others. In friendships, so long as they remain amicable, it is usually the Anima or Animus which we encounter, since the friend represents an attractive aspect of the Other beyond us which we attempt to possess[48]. Our approach to a friend therefore needs to parallel that to the Anima/Animus in narratives, not appropriating but recognising and engaging. 


By entering into relatively non-dualistic friendships, then, it is possible to cultivate the conditions in which integration can be developed. Such friendships can provide much stronger objective feedback, both confirmatory and falsificatory, than could ever be provided by mere observations of the universe; for, despite the need to retain a balanced interpretative heuristic of ones own in relation to such feedback, it nevertheless has the great advantage of being apparently formulated by another intelligence, and can offer the benefit of another’s thought and experience. This is especially the case where the friendship is “vertical[49], meaning that one of the friends is generally significantly more integrated than the other. Such vertical friendships form the basis of moral authority of a type I shall be discussing in 8.a.


In some respects any relationship can turned to non-dualistic effect, even one with a strongly dualistic and perhaps hostile person. Even the criticisms of oneself by an “enemy”, may be useful in containing elements of objectivity, even if this is mixed with purely egoistic reaction on the part of the hostile person. However, a high level of integration is required already in order to adopt such a purely positive approach to direct hostility on the one hand, or the seductions of forms of relationship that are usually based only on reassurance (such as romantic love) on the other. The cultivation of friendship is thus probably best pursued by the deliberate development of friendships which are relatively free of such strong positive or negative expectations, preferably with friends who share the same aspiration, and preferably including some vertical friendship. In the monastic traditions of Buddhism, and more recently in the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order founded by Sangharakshita, practical experience of the implementation of a practice of friendship with these kinds of non-dualist concerns has led to the development of single-sex institutions, which have been found to offer the best available conditions for the development of these sorts of friendships[50].


v)                  Sceptical argument and the cultivation of  wisdom


For the sake of completeness this needs to be included in my list of integrative practices, though relatively little need be said about it at this point, since the theme of Sceptical argument and its importance is treated in enough detail elsewhere in the book[51]. It should have become clear from my account of nihilism in what ways Sceptical argument can be used for dualistic purposes, and from my account of the relationship between doubt and confidence how important the recognition of Sceptical doubt also is to the progress of the integration of beliefs.


The practice of Sceptical argument, maintained in the philosophical traditions of both East and West, thus offers the prime moral value in the study of philosophy and the development and exercise of philosophical skills. It offers a truly flexible and powerful method for the incremental eradication of dogmatism from the beliefs of oneself and others. Nevertheless, it is relatively ineffective without the support of the other integrative practices I have outlined. All four of the other integrative practices I have described so far can contribute to the prior development of the confidence which is required to avoid the common dualistic responses to Sceptical argument, since confidence depends in turn on the integration of desires and meaning to some degree. Without a degree of confidence, Sceptical argument (whether as part of an individual’s reflections, or part of a discussion) can produce either dogmatic dismissal or a partial and inconsistent dogmatic adoption in the form of the negative metaphysics of nihilism. Whilst Scepticism evokes only egoistic acceptance or rejection, it cannot be a tool for the creation of provisionality.


If the other practices provide a necessary launching-pad for Sceptical argument, though, they can also create dogmatic beliefs of their own for which Scepticism is perhaps the only solvent. For example, the successful pursuit of one sort of integrative practice for a while may result in the belief that that practice alone has produced total integration (perhaps this may involve the premature appropriation of the Wise Old Man archetype to oneself). This indicates that the ego is re-erecting boundaries which had become weakened and extended through the conceited and exaggerated appropriation of limited integrative achievements: this is rationalised through a belief in these achievements which is not adequately compared with experience. Genuine (rather than selective) Sceptical reflection, however, can soon sweep away the insecure foundations of such beliefs.


Selectivity of Sceptical argument, however, is only completely abandoned at the point of stream-entry, where non-dualist beliefs become completely implicit and systematic. Whilst imagination allows the representational extension of Sceptical argument beyond its current point, the full extension of it to all implicit beliefs requires a process of detailed reflection in relation to particular experiences rather than mere argument to achieve rational consistency. It is at this point that Sceptical argument becomes inseparable from (rather than merely complementary to) the cultivation of integration of attention and emotion. The questions that one asks of each new experience become Sceptical questions: What belief is implied by this desire? What foundation does this belief pretend to? The answer reveals not only the source of distraction, narrowness or conflicting emotion in our experience, but also its lack of self-justification  in the light of an increasingly certain foundation of the absence of all foundations. Without sufficient integration of attention we are unable to bring our experience into sufficient awareness to begin with, without integration of emotion its meaning is too narrowly understood, and without Sceptical argument, we have no means of breaking through its egoistic defences.


It is in this way that Sceptical argument, more closely aligned to the details of our experience, concentrated in individual reflection, and allied to other practices, develops into a form of meditation known in Buddhism as insight practice or vipassana. The coherentist assumptions which marked samatha practices now give way to negative foundationalism, for I am now no longer so much trying to integrate myself as break down my implicit belief that I have a self or that there is a substantial correlative world. Vipassana practices in the Buddhist tradition thus consist in systematic reflections (not merely at a cognitive level but at increasingly subtle levels of implicit thought), on the absence of substantiality in the objects of experience and in oneself[52]. Such reflections can take one much further into the examination of implicit belief than any merely generalised philosophical discourse such as this one.


[29] My treatment of issues of freewill and determinism here remains deliberately and unapologetically indeterminate: “conditioning” being a term which is not necessarily intended to imply determination. For a clarification of the view of freewill and determinism on which this is based see 6.b.v.

[30] For a canonical source on this and other practices see The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness: Digha Nikaya ii.290 ff. For one of many excellent modern expositions see Kamalashila (1992).

[31] See Buddhaghosa (1991) IV.66-73

[32] See previous references to this in connection with Christian mysticism ( and Schopenhauer (3.j.iii). I use the Sanskrit dhyana in preference to the Pali jhŒna only because of its wider currency.

[33] See Buddhaghosa (1991) IV.79-202 & X

[34] See ibid. IX.1-76

[35] This raises important questions about the relationship between integration and moral normativity which will be discussed in chapters 7 & 8.

[36] See on Lyotard, 4.b.iv on MacIntyre.

[37] Jung (1969) §87-90

[38] ibid. §5,6

[39] My assertion that these are the “main” archetypes is not ultimately based on Jung but on the usefulness of so regarding them: however, some indication that Jung at least regarded the Shadow, the Anima/Animus and the Wise Old Man as basic (and other formulations of archetypes as explicable in terms of them) is found in the fact of their inclusion in his introductory account of the archetypes, “The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” (Jung 1969 §1-86). Strangely, though, the Hero, which plays almost as basic a role, is missing from this account.

[40] ibid. §45-6

[41] ibid. §58

[42] ibid. §54

[43] This is the endless frustration of sexual relationships as described by Sartre (see above 4.h.iv). For a recent account of the subject by a social scientist showing how a similar pattern emerges in ordinary women’s accounts of their relationships, see Langford (1999).

[44] Jung (1969) §66

[45] See Vessantara (1993) p.32-4

[46]Nicomachean Ethics 1166a14 ff.: Aristotle (1976) p.293-4

[47] ibid. 1156b10/ p.263: “And it is those who desire the good of their friends for the friends’ sake that are most truly friends, because each loves the other for what he is.”

[48] If this hypothesis is correct it has the interesting side-effect of overcoming the (characteristically dualistic) discontinuity often perceived between sexual relationships and other kinds of relationship: since all friendly relationships, being based to some extent on projections of the Anima/Animus, will be to some extent “erotic” (in the broad sense of the term as used in Plato’s Symposium [Plato 1951]).

[49] “Vertical friendship” is, as far as I know, a phrase coined by Sangharakshita together with “vertical communication” (see Subhuti 1994 p.155-8): although the practice of the master-disciple relationship on which it is based is very ancient and widespread.

[50] See Subhuti (1994) p.162 ff.

[51] See particularly 4.b.i, 4.e.ii, 5.d.ii and much of chapter 6

[52] See Kamalashila (1992) p.206-234, and, on subtle types of thought, ibid. p.178-188


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A Theory of Moral Objectivity: quick links to other sections


1. introduction

2a. Psychology of belief

2b. Heuristic process

2c. Psychology & philosophy

3ab. Eternalism

3cd. Plato

3e. Stoicism

3f. Christianity

3g. Kant

3h. Hegel

3i. Marx

3j. Schopenhauer

3kl. Utilitarianism

4a. Nihilism

4b. Scepticism & Aristotle

4c. Hume

4d. Analytic Philosophy

4e. Wittgenstein

4f. Pragmatism

4g. Nietzsche

4hi. Existentialists

5. Integration

6. Philosophical Problems

7. Normativity

8. Middle Way Ethics

9. Conclusion

10. Appendix



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