Objection #10. When you apply the Middle Way to practical ethics, the results just seem to be your opinion.
This is an objection that can be raised against the arguments on practical ethics issues in "A New Buddhist Ethics". Quite often an attempt to avoid common metaphysical illusions and balance thinking on a practical ethics issue results in a moral argument that is extremely disputable. Very often it depends on one's understanding of the facts of the case. One obviously has to select dogmatic beliefs to highlight as standing in the way of objective assessment of the issue, and make a case as to which conditions most need facing up to most. For example, the argument about migration at the end of "A New Buddhist Ethics" chapter 9, by advocating unrestricted migration, offers a very controversial stance. Others who were writing about migration in the light of the Middle Way might feel that the more important conditions to be addressed were those of possible cultural conflict which we should avoid, and thus take a more conservative view.
What this reveals is that the theory of the Middle Way itself does not determine its application, even though it justifies it. To apply the Middle Way we have to take into account conditions as we understand them, but our understandings will differ. The actual conditions we are in will also differ, for example in terms of temperament, culture and environment. People also differ in their degree of objectivity, even if they are sincerely trying to be objective. This clearly means that no two people applying the Middle Way to the same issue are likely to come up with exactly the same conclusions.
So, the objection is certainly correct in stating that the attempt to apply the Middle Way to practical ethics in "A New Buddhist Ethics" is just an opinion. However, in responding to this point it is important to bear in mind that an "opinion" is not automatically absolutely subjective, but depends on the objectivity of the person holding the opinion. All objectivity of opinions is also incremental. Someone who is attempting to apply the Middle Way should, by doing so, reach the maximum objectivity of which they are capable given the conditions they are working under at that time. No more than this imperfect claim to truth can be expected of anyone.
The main purpose of the arguments in "A New Buddhist Ethics" is not to demonstrate final solutions, but to show how the Middle Way can be applied to a range of issues. If you disagree with them, it is important to clarify exactly what you disagree with. Is it the precise application of the Middle Way in this case? Or is it the Middle Way method in general? It may be that you can apply the Middle Way better yourself, in which case the problem may only be with a flawed application. It is obviously up to you to set how many applications of the Middle Way you can disagree with before concluding that the underlying principle is at fault: but to be judicious, quite a few are probably needed.
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