Metaphysics is Meaningless?

  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Metaphysics
  3. » Metaphysics is Meaningless?

Get Email Updates Email this Topic Print this Page

markoos
 
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 01:55 pm
Most of us, I would imagine, are familiar with Hume's proposition that we 'commit to the flames' all metaphysical claims.

The modern verificationists take this as a starting point and carry out saying that all metaphysical claims are utterly meaningless. Note that they do not say they are right or wrong but just meaningless, it is like saying "Dog mountain humble blah chuckle.", a meaningless statement.

The reason is that they are not verifiable (hence the name), unlike science which is empirically verifibale. Therefore, they argue, we have no way of saying this metaphysical argument is any more or less right than this one. Thus, it becomes, Rudolf Carnap says, more like an art, like poetry where a person chooses which metaphysical "theory" he or she likes depending on their persona. He says a optimist is therefore likely to say we have freewill, for example.

Wittgenstein started this whole shebang off. I am just wondering, what do you think?

If you disagree, why? Can anyone forumulate an argument againt the verificationists?
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 02:21 pm
@markoos,
I tend to agree with Wittgenstein, Lyotard, and others.

Think about what verifiability means more broadly: it means that you corroborate something (in this case a proposition) with evidence from a different source.

So if a metaphysical claim, even a convincing logical proof, has no reference at all outside of the human imagination, then how might we decide whether it's true, false, or at all meaningful?

Another way of phrasing the problem is to ask what we know about our own ability to reason and to think logically. In 2009, in an empirically verifiable way, we know that reasoning ability consists in our brain. And reasoning is dependent upon education, intelligence, age, and it is subject to all kinds of injuries and derangements from disease to drugs, etc.

In other words, our brains produce logic; and with the common denominator of language we share logic with one another. But there is no necessary correspondance between logic and the world outside our brain. So if a metaphysical assertion exists only in logic, why should we ever assume that it's a function of reality and not just our imagination and creativity?
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 03:11 pm
@Aedes,
"Dog mountain humble blah chuckle." could be meaningful. It's only through the context of articulate linguistics that we consider it without meaning. What if it was a list of words that one had to memorize for a spelling test? What if it was the words a dying human shouted before having his heart removed (Aztec style)? An individual can attach meaning to anything it perceives, and this doesn't have to fall in line with majority.

Meaning is subjective, and for a few individuals to say something is meaningless means nothing :Glasses:. Clearly, they've defined their perspective and consider it meaningless, and on grounds that isn't even logical. In other words, their logic isn't even logical. Here's why: They've picked out a subset of philosophy "Metaphysics" and denounced it as meaningless because "metaphysical argument isn't any more or less right than another, and it's not verifiable". It perplexes me that they haven't considered all of the other 'meaningless' phrases and words they probably use daily, without even thinking: City, Government, State, President. None of these words are verifiable, as they are notional constructs. There are many unverifiable concepts individuals apply meaning to, but since the particular arguments spawning from metaphysics cannot be verified through their liking, they are objectively meaningless?

From a certain perspective, anything that is perceived could have meaning - it's a way of thinking, it's an attachment of the profound emotions we draw. Frankly, the term "meaning" just pisses me the **** off. It's another arrogant attempt for us to control the world around us. It's not meaningful because we don't like it? What makes us so special? Nothing, we're just another species on this earth. Arrogant, as usual, here in the human colonies.
 
markoos
 
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 08:21 pm
@markoos,
What about the argument that the verificationists claim that metaphysics isn't meaningful because it's not verifiable isn't verifiable itself. That's the first objection that arises in my mind. However, that doesn't prove the other way either, it just shows that their argument falls victim to an infinite regress.
 
Holiday20310401
 
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 09:15 pm
@markoos,
Metaphysics is systematic, what's wrong with it as an exercise? I value it a lot, it just can't be meaningless!
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 10:52 pm
@markoos,
markoos wrote:
What about the argument that the verificationists claim that metaphysics isn't meaningful because it's not verifiable isn't verifiable itself. That's the first objection that arises in my mind. However, that doesn't prove the other way either, it just shows that their argument falls victim to an infinite regress.


... and therein lies the rub Wink ... is verificationism itself "verifiable"? ... heck, is the scientific method "verifiable"? ... and as practicing scientists, can we possibly verify everything, or do we have to do a lot of metaphysical handwaving under the guise of "axioms" and "definitions" and "fundamental assumptions that are verifiable in principle" in order to get anything done? ... so if the underlying foundation of any scientific investigation is left to some degree unverified (literally "by definition"), and the method by which any scientific investigation proceeds is itself unverifiable, can it even be said that science is a valid tool of verificationism? ... and if there are no valid tools by which verificationism can be practiced, is there such a thing as verificationism (or is it just an ideal)? ... sounds like there's a big (metaphysical) elephant in the verificationists' room! Wink
 
de Silentio
 
Reply Mon 19 Jan, 2009 08:08 pm
@markoos,
Who's to say that metaphysics is not verifiable? Just because we cannot verify metaphysical claims as we understand them now, does not mean we will not be able to in the future. There are many things that were not verifiable to science 150 years ago, but are verifiable today. If the logical positivist were around then, would they say that "The theory of 'atoms' is malarkey because we can never verify that they exist"?

On another note, and I may be way of base here, if metaphysics is the investigation of reality (ontology), and experience is part of that reality, why cannot experience be used to verify metaphysics?
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Mon 19 Jan, 2009 08:58 pm
@de Silentio,
... given current definitions of the words "science" and "metaphysics", is it simply that metaphysics is unverifiable by definition? ... that is, as long as a theory (say, String Theory) remains unverifiable it is "metaphysics", but once the theory and/or technology have advanced to the point where the theory makes verifiable predictions it then becomes "science"? ... in which case verificationism again seems to fall short - it appears to be completely blind to the moving boundary between metaphysics and science in that is disregards the value of nascent sciences (i.e., String Theory is the equivalent of "Dog mountain humble blah chuckle.") ...
 
Aedes
 
Reply Mon 19 Jan, 2009 09:10 pm
@markoos,
markoos;43337 wrote:
What about the argument that the verificationists claim that metaphysics isn't meaningful because it's not verifiable isn't verifiable itself.
It's fun to use that to poke a hole, but the thing is that such an argument misses the whole point of verifiability. The real claim is that meaningfulness (not meaning!) requires verifiability. That doesn't require that something be verified. It only requires that it be theoretically possible to verify it. If you make a proposition like Thales, like the entire universe is made of water, you know that's a verifiable proposition. Turns out it can be rejected based on current science. But 3000 or so years ago, it was an unverifiable claim. It was a flight of imagination. And you can say the same for any proposition that offers no possibility of verification.

paulhanke;43678 wrote:
... given current definitions of the words "science" and "metaphysics", is it simply that metaphysics is unverifiable by definition?
Yes, that's 100% true.

de Silentio;43674 wrote:
Who's to say that metaphysics is not verifiable? Just because we cannot verify metaphysical claims as we understand them now, does not mean we will not be able to in the future. There are many things that were not verifiable to science 150 years ago, but are verifiable today.
By definition it will no longer be metaphysics if it becomes scientifically demonstrable.

de Silentio;43674 wrote:
On another note, and I may be way of base here, if metaphysics is the investigation of reality (ontology), and experience is part of that reality, why cannot experience be used to verify metaphysics?
You're using the word "reality" to mean two different things here -- one is our collection of ideas about reality, and the other is our life independent of those ideas. You're also using the word "investigation" imprecisely. Metaphysics is not an investigation the way a paleontological dig or an autopsy is. It's a meditation.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 07:55 am
@markoos,
Disagree that metaphysics is meaningless.

Some thoughts:

  • A good portion of metaphysical ideas I find here (and I'd dare say 'most') are meaningless to me; many bordering on the patently-absurd yet quite entertaining. But.. that is not to say I don't think they have any worth.


  • Shall we anchor ourselves exclusively within the physical world - constrained to only the physicality we collectively know? Who here thinks this is a good idea (pardon me while I drag my wife by the hair back to our cave)


  • I'm not sure I've ever understood this propensity to disconnect metaphysical thought from the everyday human. They interact, play upon our thoughts, actions and motives. From what I understand, there are almost no 'sequestered' parts of the human brain; current flows all around, back and forth - each affecting the other.


  • In those cases where my metaphysical view conflicts with what I consider 'verifiable'; I therein have a task to complete. Completing this task of reconciliation is one of the most rewarding aspects of philosophy. Disregard the one for the other seems limiting, empty and - quite possibly - destructive.


  • To ask "which is more important" denies their interaction and interplay. The question "which has more value" - similarly - can't be answered en-masse since it'd be dependent on situation, conviction and most importantly; who's asking the question.


  • I believe the most important metaphysical issues are those that directly-impact our behavior in everyday life. I'd say all do, but some more profusely than others.

Nice question - thanks for posing.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 08:37 am
@markoos,
markoos wrote:
Most of us, I would imagine, are familiar with Hume's proposition that we 'commit to the flames' all metaphysical claims.

The modern verificationists take this as a starting point and carry out saying that all metaphysical claims are utterly meaningless. Note that they do not say they are right or wrong but just meaningless, it is like saying "Dog mountain humble blah chuckle.", a meaningless statement.

The reason is that they are not verifiable (hence the name), unlike science which is empirically verifibale. Therefore, they argue, we have no way of saying this metaphysical argument is any more or less right than this one. Thus, it becomes, Rudolf Carnap says, more like an art, like poetry where a person chooses which metaphysical "theory" he or she likes depending on their persona. He says a optimist is therefore likely to say we have freewill, for example.

Wittgenstein started this whole shebang off. I am just wondering, what do you think?

If you disagree, why? Can anyone forumulate an argument againt the verificationists?


I might point out that a question like "What time is it?" is not verifiable since questions are not verifiable, but questions are not meaningless. The same goes for an exclamation like, "Hooray for the N.Y. Yankees!" Exclamations are not meaningless either. So, in what sense of "meaningless" is metaphysics supposed to be meaningless?
 
goethe10
 
Reply Tue 20 Jan, 2009 09:58 pm
@markoos,
Yes, metaphysics is only meaningless in the sense that it is impossible to verify. But it is also the very ground we stand upon!
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Sun 25 Jan, 2009 01:47 am
@Khethil,
No philosophy is absolutely true, but of course any statement of any kind shares the same deficiency. Truth is absolutely relative (haha). Philosophy is an activity, like painting or bird-house making. This was one fo the most important revelations I've ever had. For a long time I felt that there was some 'problem' with philosophizing and then one day at a coffee shop that phrase, "philosophy is an activity," popped into my head. Incidentally, it relates to my entire view of life: that it is a self-validating thing, because there is nothing with which to compare it. Just some thoughts.

Note: this does not make philosophy useless, unless of course you find life to be useless.
 
goethe10
 
Reply Sun 25 Jan, 2009 09:15 am
@markoos,
I agree "Philosophy is a way of life".
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 28 Jan, 2009 10:41 pm
@BrightNoon,
BrightNoon wrote:
No philosophy is absolutely true, but of course any statement of any kind shares the same deficiency. Truth is absolutely relative (haha). Philosophy is an activity, like painting or bird-house making. This was one fo the most important revelations I've ever had. For a long time I felt that there was some 'problem' with philosophizing and then one day at a coffee shop that phrase, "philosophy is an activity," popped into my head. Incidentally, it relates to my entire view of life: that it is a self-validating thing, because there is nothing with which to compare it. Just some thoughts.

Note: this does not make philosophy useless, unless of course you find life to be useless.


"Philosophy is an activity, not a study" Wittgenstein. I suppose it is a case of two great minds with a single thought.
 
hue-man
 
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2009 07:20 pm
@markoos,
markoos wrote:
Most of us, I would imagine, are familiar with Hume's proposition that we 'commit to the flames' all metaphysical claims.

The modern verificationists take this as a starting point and carry out saying that all metaphysical claims are utterly meaningless. Note that they do not say they are right or wrong but just meaningless, it is like saying "Dog mountain humble blah chuckle.", a meaningless statement.

The reason is that they are not verifiable (hence the name), unlike science which is empirically verifibale. Therefore, they argue, we have no way of saying this metaphysical argument is any more or less right than this one. Thus, it becomes, Rudolf Carnap says, more like an art, like poetry where a person chooses which metaphysical "theory" he or she likes depending on their persona. He says a optimist is therefore likely to say we have freewill, for example.

Wittgenstein started this whole shebang off. I am just wondering, what do you think?

If you disagree, why? Can anyone forumulate an argument againt the verificationists?


I don't think that metaphysics should be discarded, but metaphysical questions should be based on some empirical knowledge. Metaphysics is about necessary questions, and even supernatural questions deserve to be asked, but they can always be discredited by more parsimonious, natural explanations for reality. I feel like metaphysics should be based more on questions than actual claims, and those questions should be based on the empirical knowledge we have acquired thus far.

I feel like the verification principle applies more directly to epistemology than it does to metaphysics. In other words, the verification principle applies more to what we can know or, what we do know.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2009 07:29 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
I think that metaphysics if fine as long as it is not full of supernatural, mystical garbage that embarrasses the sub-field. Metaphysical questions should be based on some empirical knowledge. Metaphysics is about necessary questions, and even supernatural questions deserve to be asked, but they can always be discredited by more parsimonious natural explanations for reality. I feel like metaphysics should be based more on questions than actual claims, and those questions should be based on the empirical knowledge we have acquired thus far.

I feel like the verification principle applies more directly to epistemology than it does to metaphysics.


I like how you articulated this thought. Perhaps we can then equate metaphysics to a realm of imagination. That is, like you say, metaphysics should be based on questions instead of actual claims; it is the reaching out to grow knowledge. We should use metaphysics to question the world around us in order to spur more empirical evidence to be used in actual claims. We perch with actual claims that can be backed by facts and evidence, and then fly off into a realm of imagination to seek more truth, but never for an instant assuming our imagination is truth, only that it is potentially a truth (to be verified later by empirical evidence!). If there was never any 'out-of-the-box' thinking, there would never be progression. "Science-fiction is only fiction relative to the period one is alive"

Nicely done, hue-man.
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Mon 2 Feb, 2009 07:59 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
"Philosophy is an activity, not a study" Wittgenstein. I suppose it is a case of two great minds with a single thought.


Wowza, wowza...watch out, I'm succeptable to flattery. :bigsmile:
 
Fido
 
Reply Mon 2 Feb, 2009 08:52 pm
@markoos,
markoos wrote:
Most of us, I would imagine, are familiar with Hume's proposition that we 'commit to the flames' all metaphysical claims.

The modern verificationists take this as a starting point and carry out saying that all metaphysical claims are utterly meaningless. Note that they do not say they are right or wrong but just meaningless, it is like saying "Dog mountain humble blah chuckle.", a meaningless statement.

The reason is that they are not verifiable (hence the name), unlike science which is empirically verifibale. Therefore, they argue, we have no way of saying this metaphysical argument is any more or less right than this one. Thus, it becomes, Rudolf Carnap says, more like an art, like poetry where a person chooses which metaphysical "theory" he or she likes depending on their persona. He says a optimist is therefore likely to say we have freewill, for example.

Wittgenstein started this whole shebang off. I am just wondering, what do you think?

If you disagree, why? Can anyone forumulate an argument againt the verificationists?

I can't... if it is possible to know something, it is possible to verify it... Which leaves out a huge chunk of the world we live in; the moral world for which there is a mountain of evidence and no proof... So I can't say I know anything about an emotion, for example....Yet, I know as much as anyone else... In you example about free will, the answer one gives cannot be verified against reality, but it gives an answer in regard to the person saying it, which might be verified... Or at least supported...As human beings we have always done more than our evidence would ever justify... If that does not suggest free will I don't know what would; but as humanity is an infinite, human will is also an infinite so we can say not the first nor the last thing truthfully about it...
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Mon 2 Feb, 2009 08:58 pm
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
I can't... if it is possible to know something, it is possible to verify it... Which leaves out a huge chunk of the world we live in; the moral world for which there is a mountain of evidence and no proof... So I can't say I know anything about an emotion, for example....Yet, I know as much as anyone else... In you example about free will, the answer one gives cannot be verified against reality, but it gives an answer in regard to the person saying it, which might be verified... Or at least supported...As human beings we have always done more than our evidence would ever justify... If that does not suggest free will I don't know what would; but as humanity is an infinite, human will is also an infinite so we can say not the first nor the last thing truthfully about it...


If it is possible to know that the moon was made of rocky substances rather than cheese how would you go about verifying that fact? Most (read pretty much all) have no means of getting to the moon, and experts are often wrong. So, how are we safe to assume that the moon is not cheese, but instead can say that the moon is a kind of rocky substance?
 
 

 
  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Metaphysics
  3. » Metaphysics is Meaningless?
Copyright © 2020 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.04 seconds on 10/25/2020 at 07:53:36