• bongo fury
    182
    In terms of definition or reference (which is the y in question), all terms have the ambiguity you refer to re "eternal" for example.Terrapin Station

    Do you mean, as appears to, that metaphysical discourse is in no worse a condition than any other kind of discourse is when it comes to definition or reference? And probably also that that limitation shouldn't in itself be assumed to damn the enterprise? As we notice with fdrake's examples of broken leg diagnosis and war trials conduct? Where, if we are sensible, we get our priorities right and manage not to split the wrong hairs?

    If so, I would be interested to know whether you (or fdrake) regard any metaphysical conundrums as comparable to these examples, either in urgency or in the feasibility of reasonably meaningful thought and discussion about them.

    Actually, I expect you won't say they compare in urgency, but what about feasibility?

    I think the nature of the existence of numbers - the ontology of number, if you like - is actually a clue to the meaning of metaphysics. And I bet when you try and conceive of 'the abstract realm', your mind instinctively tries to imagine where such a realm could be. But 'where' is the 'domain of natural numbers?' Obviously nowhere, and the use of the word 'domain' is in some sense metaphorical in this context; but nevertheless, there is such a domain, because some numbers are 'in' it, and others are 'outside' it.Wayfarer

    But if this is a clue, as you say, won't it make the subject of metaphysics non-urgent in the extreme, at least for the non-Platonist? You don't want to call the cast of characters in a story the "ontology" of the story, except as an IOU for that ontology. I'm not doubting we often get by without redeeming the IOU for the real thing, and even enjoy or use the story better on that basis. But the interesting philosophy would be in how to unpick the metaphor, not how to take it literally?
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    Most abrahamic religion believe that God can see but since God is unlike any other creation as a creator, he is above comprehension. He sees without eyes and hears without ears. He exists but unlike creation, he is above space and time. Do they really understand the words see, hear and exist ( as used in their expression) ?Wittgenstein

    Your words don't convey any real understanding of religious discourse. And I don't think metaphysics is particularly meaningful outside the framework of the various spiritual traditions within which it has been formulated, particularly, in Western culture, Platonist Christianity.

    (Of course, there is also metaphysical discourse situated in the context of science, revolving around the implications of science (e.g. The Metaphysics Within Physics, Tim Maudlin.) But the difference between that, and spiritual/religious metaphysics, is that it is completely divorced from human reality, from the human perspective.)

    But in the context of the Western intellectual tradition, really understanding metaphysics takes some education in the foundational texts, beginning with Plato, and then a lot of further reading. (There's a useful index here.) But it also takes quite a bit of understanding of cultural psychology and the history of ideas. For instance, that the 'scientific revolution' embodied a very specific metaphysical framework, in which our own culture is now so thoroughly embedded that it's almost impossible to see, because we always look through it, rather than at it.
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    I think the nature of the existence of numbers - the ontology of number, if you like - is actually a clue to the meaning of metaphysics.
    — Wayfarer

    But if this is a clue, as you say, won't it make the subject of metaphysics non-urgent in the extreme, at least for the non-Platonist?
    bongo fury

    The point for me is that numbers (and the other intelligibles) are implicit to virtually every thought and speech act - and yet we don't understand the significance of that. I mean, if number (etc), is real but not physical, then it's a defeater for physicalism, right? And as most of think that we're fundamentally physical beings, or that the universe is fundamentally physical in nature, then this undercuts that whole worldview. We're actually creatures of a 'meaning-world', not of a physical world at all; meaning itself is more fundamental, more real, if you like, than the apparently solid objects that we're surrounded by. This has revolutionary implications, when you begin to realise it.
  • bongo fury
    182
    I mean, if number (etc), is real but not physical, then it's a defeater for physicalism, right?Wayfarer

    I said, "at least for the non-Platonist"... who won't accept numbers as the values of bound variables, or whatever. And probably regards them as on a par with fictional characters. Or is a formalist. But isn't, either way, tempted to look beyond physics for their cast of actual entities, on redeeming the IOU.

    Funny thing is, I thought I gathered from reading some of @Terrapin's stuff that he is quite willing to posit fictional characters as mental entities... which could complicate things here.

    But no - no "revolutionary implications" for physical ontology in fairy or other fictional stories.
  • Wittgenstein
    274

    I've thought about time a lot. So, I guess the questions is - is it real. Yes, I think it makes sense to think of it as real. We measure it. Other properties and behavior of matter and energy depend on it. We can manipulate physical phenomena and affect time. Look up the arrow of time or the direction of time. Wikipedia has a good summary as do other places. Personally, I am most comfortable with the thermodynamic explanation of the direction of time, although, as you'll see, there are many explanations which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
    If the measurements are affected by the relative motion between observer and an object, does that make it less real. Entropy of a closed system will increase with time but consider this thought experiment, suppose two observers, one at rest and the other moving relative to the system observe it, will there be a difference in the observed entropy at a particular instance for both observers ? However,the system is one and its entropy should be same regardless of the observers of it.I would like to discuss time with a philosophical bent.
    What if time is a closed cycle in some way, and let's say a being outside time, like God would see us traveling through time but to him, there is no time. There is a starting point in time, and we maybe be moving along a closed curve and we can't really tell till we reach the beginning point again. It will be moving forward and at sametime backward in a sense. I hope it doesn't sound ridiculous.

    I would definitely say it's a metaphysical question. I personally like my understanding of the Taoist understanding of existence. See below. But there are lots of other valid ways of see existence, depending on the context.
    I can see my thinking on existence going along those lines, but l would replace toa with something else. It appears that the infinity possibility of beings in this world and the uniqueness of each being in a sense of being irreplaceable indicates that a transcendental being ( God) is trying to reveal himself to his creation and he allows the manifestation of his attributes. It is also difficult to understand his essence because it is beyond our comprehension and existence is of his essence. Hence the ultimate existence cannot be understood, it can only be believed in by those who want to. I feel that the driving force behind existence is always love, whether it be the love of the parents for their child or the love of an artist for his craft.

    Whether or not there is free will is a metaphysical question. I've always thought it is a question whether or not it makes sense to hold ourselves and others responsible for our actions. Looking at my own life, I think it usually does. I recognize there are situations where it would make more sense not to.
    We do consciously act and in a sense we tend to experience free will but the determinist believe that our brain has some sort of chain reaction due to cause/effect and we are not in control of this process. From stimulus and sense data to the thought process and finally the act itself are all interlinked in such a way that we do not participate actively. I think there is a middle ground between strict determinism and absolute free will.

    As for the soul and God - things brings up a fly in my ointment. Religious issues are usually lumped in with metaphysics when I think it often doesn't make sense, e.g the existence of a God that exists independent of ourselves and the universe. That seems to me to be a matter of fact, and therefore does not belong as a part of metaphysics. On the other hand, I think the general question of whether it makes sense in some situations to think of the universe as a living, perhaps conscious thing is metaphysical question
    After seeing countless debates on the existence of God, l can sense your frustrations. I think people believe in God for other reasons and using philosophy as hand maiden of religion will always create loopholes in the arguments and pointless debates. It belongs to metaphysics but as l far as l am concerned, it cannot be solved with reason.

    You haven't mentioned anything about rules yet, l have given few objections on the process of making rules and following them.
  • Wittgenstein
    274

    Your words don't convey any real understanding of religious discourse.
    How is discussing the attributes of God irrelevant to religious discourse. How do you define religious discourse. Since you keep using the word discourse, can you justify the existence of different discourses for the same topic as legitimate on their own. Is it all language games and not real philosophical problems ?
    In philosophy there is a grand underlying method of reasoning and the interaction of different discourse happens all the time and causes confusion.

    But in the context of the Western intellectual tradition, really understanding metaphysics takes some education in the foundational texts, beginning with Plato, and then a lot of further reading. (There's a useful index here.) But it also takes quite a bit of understanding of cultural psychology and the history of ideas. For instance, that the 'scientific revolution' embodied a very specific metaphysical framework, in which our own culture is now so thoroughly embedded that it's almost impossible to see, because we always look through it, rather than at it.

    Regarding the current metaphysics behind physics and natural sciences. Do you believe that the laws of science are the natural phenomena or an explanation of them. There was a philosopher who argued that there a many sets of system to explain the natural phenomena and science is just one of them. I think he was sick of scientism but l won't go as far as him.
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    How is discussing the attributes of God irrelevant to religious discourse.Wittgenstein

    It was the question you were asking i.e. ‘how can ‘God’ see if He doesn’t have eyes?’ To me, it conveyed incomprehension of the subject.

    The point about ‘domains of discourse’ is that within them at least words have common meanings, there is a shared set of understandings within which agreement and disagreement can take place. Whereas from the viewpoint of scientific materialism the discourse of metaphysics has no meaning. So the materialist and traditional metaphysical world views are not only different, but they’re incommensurable.

    So in answer to the question you asked, ‘is discussion of metaphysics meaningful’, I am responding: ‘yes, if you situate the discussion in the context within which the basic terms of metaphysics - being, essence, reality, contingency and necessity - are meaningful.’ But if you look at the subject from the perspective of positivism, then it’s meaningless as a matter of definition. Why? Because positivism starts with the axiom that ‘metaphysical propositions are meaningless’.
  • Wittgenstein
    274

    It was the question you were asking i.e. ‘how can ‘God’ see if He doesn’t have eyes?’ To me, it conveyed incomprehension of the subject
    " How does God see? " is a valid question as it allows us to understand the usage of "see" when describing attribute of God. If l told you someone is playing football without using legs, you would question the use of "play" here, as it may imply playing a video game, not the physical act itself. So, how does God see ?

    yes, if you situate the discussion in the context within which the basic terms of metaphysics - being, essence, reality, contingency and necessity - are meaningful.
    Are those terms meaningful according to you. If you suggest that their meaning changes with the change of domain of discourse. I would contend that such changes imply that the terms are falsely constructed ( either one domain has got it right or all are wrong) since they all point to single reality ,the world. Metaphysics covers the foundation of many empirical subjects and hence it is not purely a theoretical enterprise but a practical one, which tends to be misguided.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    But if you look at the subject from the perspective of positivism, then it’s meaningless as a matter of definition. Why? Because positivism starts with the axiom that ‘metaphysical propositions are meaningless’.Wayfarer
    Then positivism will end up being self-contradictory, since it makes a number of ontological assumptions and conclusions. You really can't avoid that unless you just stay silent. Even the explicit and implicit ideas around 'sense experience' are ontological ones and thus fall under metaphysics.
  • Marchesk
    3k
    Logical positivists were dumb ? :smile:Wittgenstein

    No, merely human. They based their philosophy on a principle of empirical verification which itself can't be empirically verified. The counter to that is to relax the principle to be more of a guide than a rule. But then one can't just rule out metaphysics a priori. Instead a positivist needs to show why a metaphysical position needs empirical verification to be meaningful before they can rule it out as meaningless.

    Otherwise, empirical verification is itself meaningless.
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    Nobody could accuse the Vienna Circle of being dumb, they were all super-smart. I think one way to understand them is historically: that they were trying to systematically elaborate the basic stance of positivism which was (let's not forget) the brainchild of Auguste Comte, founder of the social sciences.

    Comte's stages [of cultural development] were (1) the theological, (2) the metaphysical, and (3) the positive. The theological phase of man was based on whole-hearted belief in all things with reference to God. God, Comte says, had reigned supreme over human existence pre-Enlightenment. Humanity's place in society was governed by its association with the divine presences and with the church. The theological phase deals with humankind's accepting the doctrines of the church (or place of worship) rather than relying on its rational powers to explore basic questions about existence. It dealt with the restrictions put in place by the religious organization at the time and the total acceptance of any "fact" adduced for society to believe.

    Comte describes the metaphysical phase of humanity as the time since the Enlightenment, a time steeped in logical rationalism, to the time right after the French Revolution. This second phase states that the universal rights of humanity are most important. The central idea is that humanity is invested with certain rights that must be respected. In this phase, democracies and dictators rose and fell in attempts to maintain the innate rights of humanity.

    The final stage of the trilogy of Comte's universal law is the scientific, or positive, stage.

    So the rejection of metaphysics was based on the sense that the entire subject had been historically superseded by Modern Science to which the whole project of modernity was evolving. Part of that, was also the centuries-long attempt to rid philosophy of the dreaded scholastic (read: Aristotelian/Thomistic) dogma (not coincidentally associated with the struggle against the political clout of the Catholic church).

    So that's a bit of background. Although by way of postscript, for those who haven't seen it, it's always worth reading about A J Ayer's near-death experience.
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    Footnote to the above - from the Wiki entry on Moritz Shlick, founder of the Vienna Circle:

    Schlick offered one of the most illuminating definitions of positivism as every view "which denies the possibility of metaphysics" (Schlick [1932-1933], p. 260). Accordingly he defined metaphysics as the doctrine of “true being”, “thing in itself” or “transcendental being”, a doctrine which obviously "presupposes that a non-true, lesser or apparent being stands opposed to it" (Ibid). Therefore in this work he bases the positivism on a kind of epistemology which holds that the only true beings are givens or constituents of experience.
  • T Clark
    4.2k

    I've been thinking about this more. I think you asked the wrong question. The right one is "Is discussing metaphysics useful." The answer is "yes, very useful."
  • Coben
    1.1k
    Schlick offered one of the most illuminating definitions of positivism as every view "which denies the possibility of metaphysics" (Schlick [1932-1933], p. 260). Accordingly he defined metaphysics as the doctrine of “true being”, “thing in itself” or “transcendental being”, a doctrine which obviously "presupposes that a non-true, lesser or apparent being stands opposed to it" (Ibid). Therefore in this work he bases the positivism on a kind of epistemology which holds that the only true beings are givens or constituents of experience.

    which is a metaphysical viewpoint.
  • PoeticUniverse
    789
    The answer is "yes, very useful."T Clark

    Where is the Light that shines to make me so?
    ‘Twas born from the stars in that milky glow.
    There is a light seed grain deep inside you.
    You fill it up with yourself, or it dies.

    Why do we wander around in the dark,
    In the middle of the night like this?

    Well, if we knew the answer to that one,
    We would have been home some hours ago.

    Did we not tire, e’er walking, looking, lame?
    At first, we did, yes, but then beauty came—
    The grand moment of wings grown; lifting, new.
    The rhythm flies us—our music plays through.

    Such we are stirred, so touched by the starlight,
    That it seems we’ll ne’er be the same again.

    Do we sense the euphony of the spheres?
    Can we fathom the theory of everything?
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    which is a metaphysical viewpoint.Coben

    Yes, although to be fair, he has defined "metaphysics" differently that we have.
  • Wayfarer
    9k
    which is a metaphysical viewpoint.Coben

    Of course, I agree with you and also with your earlier comment which makes the same point. But it's something that only becomes obvious when it's been spelled out. The lecturer under whom I did a unit on positivism used to say that the hardest thing about positivism is that it falls victim to its own criticism. He used to compared it to the legendary uroboros, the snake that swallows itself. 'The hardest part', he would say, 'is the last bite'.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    Sure, but I think it's a problematic and metaphysical definition.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    it’s meaningless as a matter of definition. Why? Because positivism starts with the axiom that ‘metaphysical propositions are meaningless’.Wayfarer

    If I say "This centants is speld rite in stantert inglitch," that don't make it so.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    OK, sure. I also think that people view things as if they have a bird's eye view, rather than being people in situ, waking up and depending on memory and phenomenology and their own intuitive sense of how well these things work in them and so on. But even without getting into that, the positivists eat their own tail, yes.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    ...if all approaches are equally right regarding the world, won't that be a contradiction as there is a single reality out there ?Wittgenstein

    There's one reality, but many possible explanations? These explanations are not "equally right" ... or at least they may not be. The significant fact here is that we can't place a numerical probability value onto these things, so we actually don't know whether these "approaches" are, or could be, "equally right". We are even more ignorant than you think? :chin:
  • Coben
    1.1k
    There's one reality, but many possible explanations?Pattern-chaser
    Which is already a kind of metaphysical assumption. And if we take in multiverse type models, it might be, in a sense or more than that, incorrect. But futher we assume that we all circle with our senses a thing, but perhaps it is vastly more malleable than that.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    Metaphysics itself was never in doubt; metaphysics as a science, never was at all. — Mww


    I think you're saying that metaphysics is clearly not a science. I agree that metaphysics is not a science by itself, but there are a lot of smart people who disagree with you. As I've said, I think it is an indispensable part of science.
    T Clark

    I think part of this issue is the relationship between science and philosophy, in general, and between science and metaphysics, in particular. For myself, I see science as a tool that grew out of analytically-oriented philosophy. Others see science as having replaced philosophy. :gasp: Perhaps the only thing we can all agree on (even if it's for different reasons) is that metaphysics is not a science?
  • Coben
    1.1k
    Perhaps the only thing we can all agree on (even if it's for different reasons) is that metaphysics is not a science?Pattern-chaser
    But that's a bit like saying science is not a language. Well, yes, but uses one. Or Science is data. Well, yes, but...Science is not perception. Science is not logic. Science is not epistemology.
    I am sure their are other examples. Where you have categories that overlap and also are members different kinds of categories.

    Physics and specfically cosmology is really focusing a lot on metaphysics. All science is based on specific conclusions in metaphysics. Paradigmatic shifts that have taken place and in all liklihood will take place will have metaphysical aspects. Any scientist trying to decide what a model is and what it means about future research or what anomolies mean in relation to models, is likely mulling over metaphysical type stuff.
  • Mww
    1.2k


    Metaphysics wouldn’t hold with peer reviewed, experimentally grounded predictions for the explanation of observations, so metaphysics wouldn’t be an empirical science. But if metaphysics holds with a certain rigidity, an internally consistent, logically non-contradictory theoretical foundation for the explanation of something else, it might be considered a science of that something else.

    The doing of science is of a different category than that to which science is done. Just as physics is the scientific evaluation of the the known predicates of real objects from which a posteriori knowledge is given, so too can metaphysics be the scientific evaluation of all the possible predicates of pure reason from which a priori knowledge is given. In each case, the object of each science is different, but the doing of the science can be similarly rigid and potentially explanatory.

    We treat the world scientifically in an attempt to understand it; we treat metaphysics scientifically in an attempt to understand ourselves.
  • Mww
    1.2k
    All science is based on specific conclusions in metaphysics.Coben

    This is true, if one considers the fact that no empirical science whatsoever, is ever done that isn’t first thought. Even if all empirical science is itself fundamentally grounded in observation, which has nothing to do with pure thought, what the empirical scientist does with that observation, is entirely predicated on his evaluation of it, which is necessarily an a priori determination. The study of that evaluation, and all such evaluations, would be the purview of a non-empirical science.

    So the question really boils down to.....is a non-empirical science possible.
  • Coben
    1.1k
    This is true, if one considers the fact that no empirical science whatsoever, is ever done that isn’t first thought. Even if all empirical science is itself fundamentally grounded in observationMww
    Yes, the word 'observation' is key. Or to look at what 'empirical' means.
    So the question really boils down to.....is a non-empirical science possible.Mww
    It's not science. It's something else. Even if it is possible, it's not what eliminative materialists are doing or basing their conclusions on.
  • Mww
    1.2k


    I find it odd that the human mind, a generic placeholder for the totality of intellect, is required for any scientific thought, and the same human mind then tells us there are things we are not allowed to think scientifically about. Metaphysics is by definition “something else”, other than empirical science, but metaphysics can still be treated scientifically, that is to say, adhering to, and governed by, a set of rules specific to it.

    If the fundamental precept of eliminative materialism is the idea that a rational agency in itself has no right to the confidence intrinsic to the contents of its own mind, we are thereby met with a blatant contradiction, insofar as any such eliminative materialist must employ the very thing he denies, at least to some significant degree. While I admit some contents of my own mind are rather unsubstantiated, I certainly claim the right to them.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    Physics and specfically cosmology is really focusing a lot on metaphysics. All science is based on specific conclusions in metaphysics. Paradigmatic shifts that have taken place and in all liklihood will take place will have metaphysical aspects. Any scientist trying to decide what a model is and what it means about future research or what anomolies mean in relation to models, is likely mulling over metaphysical type stuff.Coben

    I see what you're getting at, but if I had written what you just did, I would have written "philosophical" every time you wrote "metaphysical". In fairness, metaphysical is not well defined to begin with, and we simply disagree about vocabulary. But I think there's more to it than just that.

    Of course there is a philosophy of science, and it has a great deal to do with science. Maybe it 'belongs' with science. And then there's metaphysics, which is the cache of tools we use to investigate vague stuff, stuff where there's no evidence, and no chance of finding any, and so on. The stuff I'm describing here, as I do my (poor) best to define/describe metaphysics, is inaccessible to science, and cannot be dealt with by science. Just as there are a million things that science can deal with, but metaphysics can't even approach. They're different and complementary, science and metaphysics. I'm sorry if my vocabulary proves confusing, but just remember that when I write metaphysics, I'm referring to that branch of philosophy that considers truth, beauty, the nature of Objective Reality, and so on. Some of these things impinge upon science peripherally, but none of them are central to science. Those (the things central to science) are covered by (what I call) the philosophy of science.
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