Absolutization - The Source of Dogma, Repression, and Conflict - Robert M. Ellis

Absolutization - The Source of Dogma, Repression, and Conflict - Robert M. Ellis

Criteria for a Response: Universal Aspiration

Absolutization - The Source of Dogma, Repression, and Conflict - Robert M. Ellis

Robert M. Ellis [+-]
Middle Way Society
Robert M Ellis has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Cambridge BA in Oriental Studies and Theology. Originally from a Christian background, he spent about 20 years practising Buddhism, including as a member of the Triratna Order. However, he now describes himself as a Middle Way practitioner without exclusive loyalty to any one religious tradition. Over the last 20 years he has developed Middle Way Philosophy, initially in his Ph.D. thesis. This is best described as a practical and integrative philosophical approach, incorporating many elements not only from Buddhism but also from psychology, neuroscience, and other aspects of Western thought. In 2013 he founded the Middle Way Society (www.middlewaysociety.org) to develop and apply Middle Way Philosophy beyond the limitations of the Buddhist tradition, both in theory and practice. Robert has earned a living for more than 20 years as a teacher and tutor of philosophy and related subjects. He has previously published both academic and introductory books about Middle Way Philosophy, and recently a parallel book on Christianity, ‘The Christian Middle Way’.


a. Top-down and Bottom-up Universality Top-down universality, which creates absolutization, involves generalization from part to whole, followed by deduction from beliefs about the whole. Bottom-up universality, on the other hand, makes use of meaningful concepts for universality to inspire a search for a more complete view. The latter is needed to move practical beliefs beyond parochialism. b. Normativity Normative expectations of what we ought to do are needed to address the absolutizing tendencies either to rely on the fact-value distinction, or to idealized normativity. Normativity is not ‘queer’, but an aspect of embodied practice that needs a motivating prompt from archetypal universals to help us make more provisional judgements. When motivated it stretches what we can do slightly beyond our existing identifications. c. Systematicity Systems thinking also prompts a universal aspiration to motivate us to move from linear to complex thinking, whether on boundaries, categories, causal relationships or goals, which form the basis of our factual understanding of a situation. This is reflected in the development of ‘ideal’ conceptual models as an aspect of problem-solving in soft systems methodology. d. Universality across Groups Universality across groups does not consist in similarity of moral rules, but in similarities in the ways absolutization can be overcome. These appear to be very similar across human populations. To access shared provisionality across group divisions, mediation processes promote mutual recognition of shared needs and conditions. Genuine universality thus comes from addressing psychological conditions rather than finding shared top-down prescriptions. e. Universality across Space Universality across space involves stretching from an embodied experience of space towards an idealized (universal) conception of it, also avoiding a parochial limitation of space. Our identification with spaces is deeply rooted, but requires stretch to address world-scale problems. The Middle Way as a metaphor stretches our bodily experience of moving through embodied space towards a goal in conceptual space f. Universality across Time Universality over time involves stretching our awareness from the present over time, without that awareness being substituted by absolutized conceptual beliefs about it. Such beliefs can be represented by temporal biases that absolutize past, present or future over the other times. Such biases are not removed by reactions that completely deny the relevance of the other time, but require an integrative approach, extending our awareness of responsibility rather than imposing it.

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Ellis, Robert. Criteria for a Response: Universal Aspiration. Absolutization - The Source of Dogma, Repression, and Conflict. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 208-235 Oct 2022. ISBN 9781800502062. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=44331. Date accessed: 06 Dec 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.44331. Oct 2022

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