Boris Smus

interaction engineering

The difficult middle

Monism gives life meaning through a single all-encompassing doctrine. Examples include some political ideologies, religions, and variants of rationality. History has not been kind to those that have fervently followed such doctrines. But once you see flaws in Monism, it can be tempting to decide that life has no meaning at all, falling into the trap of Nihilism.


The choice between these two extremes is a false one. Rationalists know this. Buddhists know this. Philosophers know this too. David Chapman writes a whole blog devoted to exploring the space in between. But I have found Isaiah Berlin's synthesis to be the most compelling:

Sobered by the 20th century’s failed utopias, [Berlin] argued for a more modest liberal pluralism that makes room for multiple, genuinely conflicting goods. Family and work, solidarity and autonomy, tradition and innovation are really valuable, and really in tension. – Alison Gopnik

In this view, we are condemned to an eternal balancing act, sometimes peering too far into the meaningless abyss, and other times relaxing too deeply into meaningful certainty. On balance, I hope to end up in this difficult middle.