Defying Dualistic Pressure

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

Agnosticism in middle way philosophy is the practice of not being drawn into the absolutes of opposing group conflict and recognising that because we don’t know absolutely it is often better to take a third (reconciling) position

We can find both non-absolutising and absolutizing views in unexpected places, but the latter particularly require us to be on our guard. Agnosticism is the practically necessary defensiveness involved in refusing to yield to pressure on both sides from polarised absolutizing groups. It also involves wariness to a whole set of absolutist dirty tricks against agnosticism, that try to make absolutism seem unavoidable. These include weakened accounts of agnosticism, appropriation of it, lumping into the opposing view, slipping even-handed positions into negative ones, and creating unholy alliances against it  (Ellis, 2023, p131).

Agnosticism is the practice of critical metaphysics, which needs to be even-handed in ways that previous criticism has often not been. This means an even-handed avoidance of absolutizations poor to any empirical investigation, not necessarily a ‘middle’ position in other respects. Views presented as ‘middle’ can still be metaphysically framed, or wrongly present moderation as necessarily correct. An even-handed assessment of empirical evidence can still incline us strongly to one side, but we still need to avoid even a leaning towards one side of a metaphysical debate, as this validates the metaphysical framework.  (Ellis, 2023, p135).

Contrary to the philosophical assumptions that dominate, ‘strong’ agnosticism (facing up to the state of not knowing) is far more provisional than ‘weak’ agnosticism (not knowing yet, perhaps in future). If the ‘knowing’ of weak agnosticism  were to actually occur, it would require massive absolute assumptions that the strong agnostic avoids through greater decisiveness. An analogy with addiction may make this clear. This topsy-turvy cultural attitude to agnosticism results from a widespread obsession with discontinuous ‘knowledge’ , and has so far presented agnosticism bring applied to all the other issues (beyond God’s existence) where it needs to be applied (Ellis, 2023, p141).

Appropriation defends against the Middle Way by assuming it to be part of a favoured absolutised belief, whilst lumping rejects the Middle Way by assuming it is part of a rejected absolutised belief. This can be done in either case by defining the Middle Way in absolutised terms, by applying the Middle Way in an absolutised way, by seeing the Middle Way as an aspect of an absolutised view, by substituting an absolutised view as an aspect of the Middle Way. This is problematic and requires wariness only because it obscures the Middle Way and results in further absolutization. Appropriation and gumption can also be sure in service of the Middle Way (Ellis, 2023, p145).

Sceptical slippage is the tendency to interpret uncertainty or agnosticism as grounds for denial, when it actually offers no more grounds for denial than for positive assertion. This occurs because a more troublesome two-shift process is needed to reach an agnostic approach, because of the pressure of group biases, and because of the culturally transmitted ontological obsession. Sceptical slippage results in flips substituting for reforms, faced revolutions, and fissiparousness in reform movements (Ellis, 2023, p151).

Unholy alliances consist of normally opposed absolutizing opposites uniting in opposition to the Middle way, so as to defend the side framing for their opposition. This can happen at political or at individual levels. Normally opposed individuals or sub-personalities may unite to reject the Middle Way by caricaturing it as conventionally middle, as indecisive, or as representing a rejected out-group (as the normally opposed are temporarily welcomed into the in-group) (Ellis, 2023, p157).

Agnosticism requires a two-step process, and thus seems to require the capacities of the fifth [postformal] stage of development in Robert Kegan’s scheme. However, judgements do not always match capacities precisely, so this does not justify esotericism or an unqualified power hierarchy. Agnosticism also needs to be applied at the micro level (between opposition shortcuts when transitioning between levels of psychological development) as well as the macro level (between opposing metaphysical ideologies).  (Ellis, 2023, p162).

© 2024 EduSynthesis

Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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