- Something is
- Something is not
- Something both is and is not
- Something neither is nor is not
Monday, January 18, 2010
When it comes to explaining the phenomena we encounter in our world, most people choose one of the following four ontological extremes:
No matter how hard we may try, there simply is no fifth alternative, fifth extreme. Thus, we speak about the four exhaustive ontological extremes.
Let's take an example of a vase. A vase may be sitting on a table, and so we may say that the vase is there. Or, that vase may fall off the table and break into pieces on the floor, at which point we may say that the vase is not there anymore.
However, some of us may be prone to looking at the broken pieces of that vase, and claim that the vase actually still is there, since we can reassemble it from its constituent pieces, but at the same time it is not there, because it has not been reassembled yet.
Finally, the fourth extreme view would claim that the vase is not there, obviously, since it ceased to exist after the accident, but it's also not not there, because its constituent pieces still remain, and could be propped up to give it a new lease on life.
Even though there cannot be any possibility of the fifth extreme, as the above four are absolutely exhaustive, there still is a fifth way: it's the Buddhist way, namely, the Middle Way.
Middle Way is the way that avoids all four ontological extremes. As such, it relies on vigilant practice which ensures that the Buddha's disciples never stray into any of these four ontological extremes. Middle Way is the only possible way out of the world of entanglement we sometimes refer to as samsara.
Sidebar: This article deals with ontological extremes, so it will be useful to keep in mind that ontology is a metaphysical discipline which explores the nature of unchangeable entities. From the metaphysical/ontological perspective, any phenomena that is subject to change is not worth focusing on, since such phenomena are deceptive, or they're the work of the devil (or the work of some such ungodly creature).