Metaphysics: What does it serve?

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Reply Sun 2 Nov, 2008 10:42 pm
I am sure many of you have heard the historical attacks (critiques, rather) on metaphysics as a philosophical study: it has run its course and has been displaced by the proper branches of science, and by some definitions of the term it is ultimately a "study of the occult," meant for dreamers.

So, what do you think of these matters?
 
nameless
 
Reply Mon 3 Nov, 2008 05:12 am
@zefloid13,
zefloid13;31024 wrote:
So, what do you think of these matters?

These are not real 'matters' as much as they are your own biased fantasy.
Such nonsense is worth no more 'thought'.
Your 'materialism' has been successfully refuted, amongst thinking persons, long ago! Cutting edge science even more so today.
Joust much?
Pffft!

Quote:
Metaphysics: What does it serve?

Truth/Reality, that need no justification.
 
boagie
 
Reply Mon 3 Nov, 2008 06:13 am
@zefloid13,
zefloid,Smile

I am not really familar with the debate, but, where would one draw the line in order to maintain a least one foot in the realm of reality. It seems to me the most natural thing in the world, when from empirical knowledge, which might connote, might have intimations of a greater truth, then it is the nature of man to beat a new path. Wonder is a spiritual quality.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 3 Nov, 2008 08:00 am
@zefloid13,
True, there are many levellers who either think metaphysics to be rubbish; or turn it into a kind of mystical Norman Vincent Peal "feel good" perspective (I suspect more from an economic motive than an attempt at authentic communication); or wish to level it to a diluted pablum for the coffee set to sip during periods of leisure and feel self-important.

Heidegger maintains the opposite: a return to Metaphysics is absolutely necessary to re-establish our connexion with Being in a time when humanity is more and more cut off from it. I think we should listen to him.
 
zefloid13
 
Reply Mon 3 Nov, 2008 05:24 pm
@boagie,
boagie wrote:
zefloid,Smile

I am not really familar with the debate, but, where would one draw the line in order to maintain a least one foot in the realm of reality.


That is part of my question. Metaphysics is next to impossible to concisely define, but I may attempt by saying that it is "to know reality beyond mere appearance." One of the older criticisms thrown at it is that it is inevitably a study of what shall remain forever hidden. I am not suggesting one side or another, simply asking what one may "get out of" metaphysics today. I find it mind-boggling (in a good way) myself.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Tue 4 Nov, 2008 06:55 am
@zefloid13,
zefloid13 wrote:
[I am]... simply asking what one may "get out of" metaphysics today. I find it mind-boggling (in a good way) myself.


... and I think it's a valid question.

REF: Definition from Merriam-Webster: "...a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology"

My opinion: Exploring different concepts of reality and being have worth; but very little on a practical level.[INDENT]To the Negative: The lion's share of what metaphysics comprises consists of people "postulating" many aspects of which there is no resolution (in terms of anything we can reasonably know). These are often the areas that frustrate any empiricist-type minds in that very little metaphysical content can ever be observed and doesn't appear to improve, solve or correct our questions or problems.
[/INDENT][INDENT]To the Positive: One's personal views - the ideals to which one holds - in terms of the nature of being and what reality is, often lie close to their foundation of other postulates. In other words, how you define reality plays a big role in how you behave, plan, etc. Epistemologyis extremely important, in any practical evaluation; what can be known and what is the nature of knowledge. How might one say this is not practically-important?
[/INDENT]So I dunno. I find myself often frustrated by certain aspects of metaphysics that - to me - seem to have no relevance to what we can collectively discuss towards mutual betterment for the human animal. For example, how exactly might we discuss the nature of the universe without devolving into a soup-bowl of mixed, subjective postulates? And even if we could stay on the same track, the pragmatic in me wants to ask: So what?

My dad (PhD in Philosophy: Logic and taught at various colleges for a long time) told me, "It does a lot of good, but keep your feet on the ground because it doesn't pay the bills".

Hope this helps somehow.

Thanks
 
jgweed
 
Reply Tue 4 Nov, 2008 07:09 am
@zefloid13,
Eventually every intellectual journey arrives at First Philosophy, because the ultimate questions simply will not go away. The question of Being is either at the apex of the philosophical vision, or the bottom (ground) of it, depending on how you go about thinking.
 
zefloid13
 
Reply Tue 4 Nov, 2008 11:58 am
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
Eventually every intellectual journey arrives at First Philosophy, because the ultimate questions simply will not go away. The question of Being is either at the apex of the philosophical vision, or the bottom (ground) of it, depending on how you go about thinking.


Indeed, it seems that metaphysics blends--or coincides--with philosophy as a whole, since anything philosophy questions is a part of "reality" (or the very question thereof). It is handy, however, to reserve the investigation of more specific topics for their respective branches: epistemology, ethics, logic, aesthetics, etc., as their problems are peculiar to their content.
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Tue 4 Nov, 2008 12:09 pm
@zefloid13,
Metaphysics I would define as the highest order of classification: i.e. the most abstract thinking. It deals with the making of basic definition, unlike physics, which employs definitions already made. Metaphysics, and philosophy in general, is what doubt and skepticism do when left to work freely.
 
Deftil
 
Reply Tue 4 Nov, 2008 04:41 pm
@Khethil,
Hello zefloid13. Like Khethil, I think you bring up a valid point. I like how he has put together his response to this thread and I will make some comments on this topic as I go through some of what he's said.

Khethil;31297 wrote:
REF: Definition from Merriam-Webster: "...a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology"

I always find it useful to define important terms. Sometimes people have different ideas about what is meant by certain words (particularly philosophical terms), so defining the terms help us make sure everyone is one the same page.

In regards to the definition Khethil has provided, I will say that although epistemology (branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity) has often been associated with metaphysics, I personally see it as a sufficiently distinct and productive enterprise as to warrant it being considered it's own field of thought, rather than as a subfield of metaphysics. Also, I'm not sure that cosmology (astrophysical study of the history, structure, and constituent dynamics of the universe) should at this point be considered a subfield of metaphysics. Cosmology has gone scientific, and now, at least, seems to focus on the physical, measurable aspects of the universe, which to me seems to make it, by definition, not a philosophical, metaphysical field of study. These are, of course, just my personal thoughts based on what I know about the topics at hand at the current time.

I'd also like to introduce a defintion of "metaphysics" from Wikipedia now.

When put this way, and considering that the sciences deal with aspects of the physical universe, I have to ask how can one know anything about that which may transcend the physical universe. Maybe this is my empiricist mindset talking here, but my answer has to be that one cannot know anything about those things, but can only form guesses about them that are in no way confirmable or falsifiable. Metaphysics, when thought of this way, appears to possibly be amusing to think about, but not particularly useful.

Khethil;31297 wrote:
My opinion: Exploring different concepts of reality and being have worth; but very little on a practical level.[INDENT]To the Negative: The lion's share of what metaphysics comprises consists of people "postulating" many aspects of which there is no resolution (in terms of anything we can reasonably know). These are often the areas that frustrate any empiricist-type minds in that very little metaphysical content can ever be observed and doesn't appear to improve, solve or correct our questions or problems.[/INDENT]

I'm not sure I see the worth of exploring such concepts, except perhaps as mental exercises, or simply to recognize the utter futility of them. As humans, certain questions tend to occur to us, and often bother us. (i.e. Why are we here?) IMO all metaphysics tell us is that either these questions have no answers, or, if they do, that there is no way for us to rationally know them.

I agree about the "postulating", the empiricist frustration, and that metaphysics doesn't appear to improve, solve or correct our questions or problems.

Wikipedia's page on metaphysics also describes some of the criticisms of metaphysics. I'll copy and paste some excerpts from it below.
Quote:
Metaphysics has been attacked, at different times in history, as being futile and overly vague (or even meaningless), or of no use entirely.
Quote:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
-- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

A.J. Ayer is famous for leading a "revolt against metaphysics," where he claimed that its propositions were meaningless in his book "Language, Truth and Logic". Ayer was a defender of verifiability theory of meaning. British universities became less concerned with the area for much of the mid 20th century.

Another angle on meaningfulness/meaninglessness, independent of verifiability, is that some portions of metaphysics constitute the taking of simple everyday phrases (for example "exists") normally used to describe spatiotemporal affairs (for example the existence and location of physical objects in space), and naively attempting to apply them elsewhere, without questioning whether this makes any sense or not.

Another view is that metaphysical statements are not meaningless statements, but rather that they are generally not fallible, testable or provable statements (see Karl Popper). That is to say, there is no valid set of empirical observations nor a valid set of logical arguments, which could definitively prove metaphysical statements to be true or false. Hence, a metaphysical statement usually implies an idea about the world or about the universe, which may seem reasonable but is ultimately not empirically verifiable. That idea could be changed in a non-arbitrary way, based on experience or argument, yet there exists no evidence or argument so compelling that it could rationally force a change in that idea, in the sense of definitely proving it false.

Metaphysics - "Criticism" section - Wikipedia

Khethil;31297 wrote:
[INDENT]To the Positive: One's personal views - the ideals to which one holds - in terms of the nature of being and what reality is, often lie close to their foundation of other postulates. In other words, how you define reality plays a big role in how you behave, plan, etc. Epistemologyis extremely important, in any practical evaluation; what can be known and what is the nature of knowledge. How might one say this is not practically-important?[/INDENT]

I don't think most people really consciously "define reality", and I disagree that this is something that plays a big role in how they behave, plan, etc. I think their inherent traits, upbringing, and personality as a whole is what defines this and I don't see it being directly tied to their concept of reality. I agree about the practicality of epistemology for critical, philosophical thinkers, but unfortunately, I don't think the average person even knows what the word means, much less applies concepts from it for their formulation and consideration of ideas. (Hopefully online philosophy forums are changing this a bit though! :bigsmile:)

Khethil;31297 wrote:
So I dunno. I find myself often frustrated by certain aspects of metaphysics that - to me - seem to have no relevance to what we can collectively discuss towards mutual betterment for the human animal. For example, how exactly might we discuss the nature of the universe without devolving into a soup-bowl of mixed, subjective postulates? And even if we could stay on the same track, the pragmatic in me wants to ask: So what?

Yep, I'm with you, Khethil. If one is ok with just taking things on faith with a minimum of logical consideration and grounding, then metaphysics might be right up their alley. Otherwise, it just seem to be an exercise in frustration and futility to me.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Tue 4 Nov, 2008 05:39 pm
@zefloid13,
zefloid13 wrote:
I am sure many of you have heard the historical attacks (critiques, rather) on metaphysics as a philosophical study: it has run its course and has been displaced by the proper branches of science, and by some definitions of the term it is ultimately a "study of the occult," meant for dreamers.

So, what do you think of these matters?


Zefloid13,

Personally, I had built my undergraduate career and senior thesis around metaphysics. It is one of the most abstract sectors of philosophy. I don't believe that it should be dismissed so readily.

I do not agree with the supposition that metaphysics has, "...run its course and has been displaced by the proper sciences." There will always be a need to examine the study of first causes. And that's what it essentially is, a type of pure ontology. Ironically, the name implies a study "after the physics," which is something laid out by Aristotle. Aristotle himself detailed Physics and the nature of "superficial" primary substance long before he developed the abstract reasonings of Metaphysics.

Is it then safe to assume that something that is essentially a science "after physics" has been replaced by a science before the physics which Aristotle did not intend in the essence of the doctrine??? This seems paradoxical! I think somewhere down the line (since the scholastics) the metaphysical doctrine became muddled up.

That it is an occult doctrine meant for dreamers, I suppose you could say that. It is essentially a study of first causes. Ancient metaphysics was relied upon to explain things that required further definition beyond what could be known clearly and distinctly. The same could be said of the modern philosophers like Descartes and Locke, etc.

But have we come so far (said facetiously) that we do not use the abstract reasoning's nurtured by the doctrine of Metaphysics? I don't think so. We use the study of first cause in abstract astro-physics and Quantum theory among other things.
 
Rose phil
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 07:57 am
@zefloid13,
 
Icon
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 08:17 am
@zefloid13,
I would like to argue for metaphysics and my argument is based on the empirical mind. When the world was young we had no divinity, science or understanding of the "true nature" of the world around us. We simply performed our tasks to the best of our ability within the realm of what we could see and understand. Once we began to break out and see things which we could not understand, we placed spirituality in the mix and began to describe things through mysticism and religion. Once religion and mysticism became insufficient, we began to use math and science to explain the world around us. Through the conduit of religion and metaphysics, we began to explore possibilities which were previously beyond understanding.

Though I agree that meatphysics, itself, is almost worthless as it does not provide answers, I also believe that it is VERY important in that it provides possibility. In this way it is similar to science fiction. Long before man made it to space, we designed, through religion initially, creature and vehicle that could traverse the stars. Through this wonderous and magical world of false hopes, we have developed space flight and have since visited other celestial bodies. Prior to the creation of the automobile, we dreamt of horseless carts and vehicles which could travel at great speeds across many terrains. Before there was invention, there was imagination. Metaphysics is the wings on which our progression takes flight. Through the ideas and imagination and process of metaphysics, we can create a foundation for the future of science, math and the physical universe.

All things have their place. The human mind cannot work on science alone, just as it cannot work on metaphysics or religion alone. In order to be a complete being, we must understand, accept and participate in all elements of the possible and impossible.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 08:21 am
@zefloid13,
The history of philosophy, beginning perhaps with Protagoras and certainly Sextus Empiricus (who greatly influenced Hume), has witnessed episodic attacks on the possibility of First Philosophy, the inquiry into being qua being.
Most of these dismiss the study as incapable of producing Truth in an absolute sense and advise men to "commit it to the flames." This family of arguments, depending as it does on a particular definition or view of truth, has not prevented First Philosophy from rearing its ugly head over and over again; one could conclude that metaphysical questions seem to be important ones to ask, and in asking about being the questions themselves indicate that they have meaning to mankind. Mysticism, religion, the highest arts parallel Metaphysics in the subject matter, but differ in their methods; philosophy alone uses reason. With perhaps the unique exception of art, none of these attempts have been "successful," but the asking has been essential to humanity and it would be the poorer in spirit if these questions were not asked.

Note:
Icon's post and mine were almost simultaneous, and interestingly enough, took similar positions.
jgw
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 11:02 am
@jgweed,
Rose,Icon,
Jgweed,


Not only Protagoras, but Thales, Anaximander, etc. before them. They all strove for the primacy of substance. This is the first time in a long time that I have seen someone bring up the Aristotelian account of being as being in itself (being qua being) from book 3 of the metaphysics. Good stuff. As to the rest of your comment, I ecstatically agree with your position on the doctrine. The many theories may not have been right (if the future can ever deliver a right one), but the simple fact of asking the questions that spur the thought is reason enough not to dismiss Metaphysics.
 
Icon
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 11:25 am
@zefloid13,
I find it incredibly easy to appreciate different aspects of thought because all aspects of thought lead to somewhere. I have never experienced a dead end when it comes to rationalizing anything..... Save existentialism possibly.
 
sarek
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 03:30 pm
@zefloid13,
For me metaphysics is my favoured part of philosophy. I believe that it is important because it offers promise. It promises both hope and better understanding. Metaphysics is subject both to logical thinking and to surprising leaps of intuition. It is the most holist of all disciplines and I was born a holist.
I always seek connections between the apparently unconnected and metaphysics is a highly rewarding field for such endeavours.
Metaphysics provides many of the building blocks for my own studies into developing new overarching cosmologies.
 
Deftil
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 11:20 pm
@zefloid13,
I think one of the reasons I might level criticism at metaphysics is because it deals with questions that I've always cared about, but doesn't provide any answers that satisfy me. I've been disappointed b/c I want to be able to reliably answer those questions. Perhaps that could change in the future, but currently, I think I'm still dealing with the fact that many questions that seem very valid and important to me are unanswerable.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2008 11:31 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed;31299 wrote:
Eventually every intellectual journey arrives at First Philosophy, because the ultimate questions simply will not go away. The question of Being is either at the apex of the philosophical vision, or the bottom (ground) of it, depending on how you go about thinking.
Are you sure about this? Not all great philosophers feel that questions about being are philosophically important. The existentialists basically dismissed being as a lowest common denominator, and thus the important philosophical questions for people like Camus, Sartre, and even Nietzsche (sort of a proto-Existentialist) are cultural, ethical, and psychological. The modern philosophers of language and logic, like Wittgenstein, felt that human cognition and linguistics lay at the root of all philosophical questions -- not being. And Lyotard might argue that metaphysical discussions are unto themselves a metanarrative of human thought, but not something that necessarily approaches truth.

I happen to be in complete agreement with this skepticism of metaphysics. I don't think there's any reason to believe that it gets us anywhere closer to truth so long as it exists only in logic. All it takes is one example of where human logic has failed to correspond to reality for us to realize that brainstorming ultimate truth doesn't get us any closer to it.

Metaphysics certainly shouldn't be dismissed as a human endeavor. But I'd be happy to dismiss it offhand as a useful means of understanding our lives, the world we inhabit, or meaning.
 
sarek
 
Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 01:54 am
@Deftil,
Deftil wrote:
I think one of the reasons I might level criticism at metaphysics is because it deals with questions that I've always cared about, but doesn't provide any answers that satisfy me. I've been disappointed b/c I want to be able to reliably answer those questions. Perhaps that could change in the future, but currently, I think I'm still dealing with the fact that many questions that seem very valid and important to me are unanswerable.


Perhaps it is ultimately not the end result that matters most but the way you must go to get there.
I like that view. I doubt there even is such a thing as an ultimate answer.

Q: what is the purpose of the universe?
A: answering the above question.
 
 

 
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