Facing Uncertainty

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

Scepticism in middle way philosophy is the positive practice of recognising uncertainty 

Scepticism is a practical recognition of uncertainty, which should to be confused with falsehood. Its arguments show formal propositional knowledge to be impossible, because we have no access to truth or complete justification. These arguments are that empirical justification is unreliable, rational justification is subject to infinite regression, and all knowledge claims depend on mistaken disembodied assumptions about meaning. (Ellis, 2023, p12).

Scepticism is frequently understood as negative in motive or application, but arguments about uncertainty in no way require falsehood. Assumptions that they do involve an appeal to ignorance, and perhaps the unhelpful application of principles from within empirical judgement (such as Ockham’s Razor or Russell’s Teapot) to absolute clams. We slip easily into assuming falsehood from uncertainty, because the physiologically entrenched meaning of the dualist framework is maintained in mere negation. Challenging that framework requires the practice of agnosticism as well as provisionality and integration. (Ellis, 2023, p22).

The idea that scepticism must be impractical results from confusing the merely meaningful possibilities raised by sceptical argument with recommendations for belief. Sceptical argument interpreted more helpfully is highly practical, supporting embodied confidence rather than certainty. To maintain that benefit we should not weaken the sense of ‘certainty’. Scepticism supports the development of felt rather than absolute responsibility, and greater effectiveness due to reduced conflict. (Ellis, 2023, p29).

Sceptical arguments draw attention to our embodied limitations, and embodied awareness can also help us adapt to those limitations through the dogmatic philosophies of mind that assume a separate observing mind even when they are supposedly ‘physicalist’. Embodied meaningfulness, developed from infancy, is also the basis of the confiedence required to stop sceptical argument being used in alienating ways (Ellis, 2023, p35)

Scepticism must be unselective to operate as such, but the reverse assumption that it must be selective has operated in much philosophy, theology, politics and ordinary life. Selective scepticism is the effect of confirmation bias, but this should be addressed through an expectation of even-handedness in practice rather than entrenched through institutionalised acceptance. Sceptical argument used for the Middle Way is not itself selective, and does not ‘paradoxically’ exempt itself from uncertainty, because it is not externalised or representational (Ellis, 2023, p42).

Scepticism is wrongly accused of threatening meaning. The accusation that it undermines the meaningfulness found in religious traditions depends on the confusion of profound religious experience with absolute beliefs that have no necessary relationship with it. Wittgenstein’s accusation that scepticism is meaningless depends on the questionable assumptions that scepticism makes absolute claims, that belief precedes meaning, and that meaning is judged by communicative function rather than being an experience (Ellis, 2023, p47).

Scepticism challenges the assumption of an absolute distinction between facts and values, given that both kinds of belief are not denied by sceptical argument, but incrementally justified (even if asymptomatically for some obvious factual statements). Both factual and value claims depend on human goals and assumed states of affairs that depend on those goals. The particularity of values does not make them ‘subjective’. Moral beliefs, like factual ones, become more justified as they are more integrated. (Ellis, 2023, p52).

© 2024 EduSynthesis

Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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