Seeing Things in Degrees

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

Incrementality in middle way philosophy is the practice of seeing things as a matter of degree  rather than absolute

Incrementality is the practice of conceptualising the qualities of all objects and events as a matter of degree rather than as discontinuous absolutes, aiding our continuing attention rather than shortcut absolutization. This gets us closer to a systemic view of objects that is not just let-hemisphere formatted. In practice this needs to be done in moments of reflection  (Ellis, 2023, p98).

Tipping points are rapid changes in systems that should not be confused with conceptually important discontinuity. Changes in systems take time, which is why attempts to force a conceptual vision without addressing all the conditions backfire. Genuine change in systems requires change in all the sub-systems, but we often fallaciously attribute a change only to its most immediate and evident cause. We adopt discontinuous social conventions and substitute these for gradual processes, or assume total change has occurred when previous conditions still have an influence (Ellis, 2023, p102).

Practical discontinuity is a requirement for acting in the world, which is necessary to our embodiment. This also means there are necessary social discontinuities such as the law. These practical discontinuities need to be carefully distinguished from ontological discontinuities. Practical discontinuities can be judged better or worse according to how far absolutizations were avoided up to the point of judgment, and this creates the basis of Middle Way ethics (Ellis, 2023, p109).

Applying incrementaility to persons means the we need to treat our descriptions of the qualities or categorisations of persons as a matter of degree rather than as absolute or essential, aiding provisionality. This applies to ourselves as well, offering a helpful interpretation of the Buddhist doctrine of ‘no self’. It can be applied in an array of ethical issues, for instance incrementalising the absolute boundaries of personhood used in the abortion debate. This does not threaten respect for persons, which is dependent on how we judge our responses to others rather than essentialist beliefs about them. (Ellis, 2023, p113).

The discontinuity of time depends on the differing way that our left hemisphere merely sequences, whilst the right experiences time passing. Applying incrementality to time prevents us fixating on one of the three times to the exclusion of others, and thus enables us to identity with our desires at different times. Temporal biases show the differing forms that his absolutization of time can take, with any view of an object having a temporal dimension. We need to shift from abstract beliefs about time to focusing on how we make judgments in time. (Ellis, 2023, p117).

Our sense of the continuity of space is dependent on that of time, and also interacts with conceptual models of lines in space. We can recognise the incrementality of a boundary in physical space dependent on concepts, and also of conceptual boundaries in practice, Bute these can be optimised by contextualising our spatial assumptions. The Middle Way itself is also modelled ins spatial terms, but has not absolute denied boundaries (Ellis, 2023, p122).

Training and learning are subject to tipping points (which create psychological stages) but are nevertheless continuous, and consistently recognising this is a crucial practice. This means avoiding the expectation of instantaneous change, and cultivating a growth mindset in which failure is incrementalised and contextualised. On the other hand, specific achievements in learning in a given field also do not confer absolute authority in it  (Ellis, 2023, p126).

© 2024 EduSynthesis

Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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