Middle Way Philosophy

Middle Way Philosophy according to Robert M. Ellis and the Middle Way Society

Middle Way Society

Middle Way Philosophy is a cross-disciplinary project developed by Robert M. Ellis over more than 20 years, to develop a consistently pragmatic approach to the justification of human judgement. It follows through the implications of the Buddha’s Middle Way, rejecting absolute beliefs of a negative as well as a positive type, in the light of the developing modern understandings of uncertainty, scientific method, mindfulness, embodied meaning, neuroscience, cognitive and developmental psychology, systems theory, Jungian archetypes, and democratic political practice.
Diagnosing the central problem of absolutization that interferes with the justification of human judgement, it then seeks to identify the most effective responses to that problem. It does this through the rigorous application of pragmatic philosophy, drawing on a wide variety of evidence. Overall it thus offers a detailed normative ethical philosophy based in the conditions of psychology, and an overall framework to show the relationship of a variety of practices (from mindfulness to critical thinking) to the universal goal of improving each human judgement.

Volume 1 of the series is entitled Absolutization: the Source of Dogma, Repression and Conflict

What do dogma, repression, and conflict have in common? They all result from human judgement blocked from wider understanding by a false assumption of completeness. This book puts forward a theory of absolutization, bringing together a multidisciplinary understanding of this central flaw in human judgement, and what we can do about it. This approach, drawing on Buddhist thought and practice, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, embodied meaning, and systems theory, offers a rigorous introduction to absolutization as the central problem addressed in Middle Way Philosophy, which is a synthetic approach developed by the author over more than twenty years in a series of books. It challenges disciplinary boundaries as well as offering a substantial framework for practical application.

Volume 2 of Middle Way Philosophy is The Five Principles of Middle Way Philosophy: Living Experientially in a World of Uncertainty

This second book in the ‘Middle Way Philosophy’ series develops five general principles that are distinctive to the universal Middle Way as a practical response to absolutization. These begin with the consistent acknowledgement of human uncertainty (scepticism), and follow through with openness to alternative possibilities (provisionality), the importance of judging things as a matter of degree (incrementality), the clear rejection of polarised absolute claims (agnosticism) and the cultivation of cognitive and emotional states that will help us resolve conflict (integration). These are discussed not only in theory, but with links to the wide range of established human practices that can help us to follow them. Like all of Robert M. Ellis’s work, this book is highly inter-disciplinary, drawing on philosophical argument, psychological models and values that prioritize practical application.

Volume 3 of Middle Way Philosophy is A Systemic History of the Middle Way: Its Biological, Psycho-developmental, and Cultural Conditions

Systemic history is an approach to explaining the past, that tries to maximize our understanding of context. Unlike most history, it does not do this by just narrating a chain of causal relationships for a given group through time. Instead, it shows how simpler systems become more complex over time through the interaction of reinforcing and balancing feedback loops. Systemic history offers the best way of understanding the processes that shape the Middle Way, because the Middle Way involves improving responses to complexity, rather than falling back on shortcut simplifications (absolutizations).

This book examines the history of the Middle Way in four inter-related ways: as the biological development of organisms in relation to reinforcing or balancing feedback loops, as the psychological development of individual humans during a lifetime, as a succession of reinforcing and balancing feedback tendencies in human culture through history, and as a successive development of integrative practice. This shows how the Middle Way is a path distinctive to the human response to complexity, but nevertheless one rooted in the wider processes of all life. In the process it provides a detailed exploration of the relationship between the Middle Way and systems theory, biology, developmental psychology, and world history.

Volume 4 in the series is entitled Embodied Meaning and Integration: Overcoming the Abstracted Grip on Meaning in Theory and Practice

Embodied meaning is a new approach to understanding the significance of all symbols, including those of language, as association in human experience. It has been developed since the 1980’s, but its full practical significance has rarely been applied, nor have the full challenges that it presents to entrenched assumptions been followed through. Robert M. Ellis here develops a detailed multi-disciplinary account of the role of embodied meaning in the Middle Way as a practical path. This includes criticisms of some ways that embodied meaning has been confused with belief. At the heart of his practical case for the applying embodied meaning in our lives are the concepts of fragmentation and integration of meaning. A variety of practices, including the arts, enable us to develop our meaning resources, both ‘cognitively’ and ‘emotionally’, and thus create the imaginative conditions for provisionality of belief.

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Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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