Tuesday 21 January 2020

Why I rant on about "metaphysics"

The answer is that I regard our primary assumptions about the nature of reality (i.e. metaphysics) to be of primary importance (ultimately, in the end, in the long term).

Your metaphysics will bite you - sooner or later, one way or the other.

I don't think this was necessarily always and everywhere the case. Through most of human history, it was apparently possible for someone to have some primary beliefs; and to lead their life in a 'pragmatic' fashion, without taking much notice of those beliefs...

Or maybe it wasn't, maybe this dissociation was only temporary, and only reflected superficial 'opinions' rather than genuine deep convictions... At any rate, if it ever was true that metaphysics was ignorable, that does not apply now.

Whether they know it or not, whether they admit the fact or not, people nowadays live in accordance with their metaphysical assumptions.

And this means that the large majority of people live life 'as if' there is no real life, but asif the universe of reality is partly-determined, partly-random, with  no motivation and going nowhere in particular.

Their own life is lived on the basis that their deepest beliefs and convictions are actually superficial, temporary and of such little importance that they can and should be changed according to convenience, and on the basis of no good reason - or no reason at all - except what seems expedient, what currently makes them feel better about themselves.

The great moral education of modern life is this: that it strips our beliefs down to our basic assumptions. Modern life shows that 'If you believe this; then your world will be like that'.

When there is no real and solid reason for personal motivations, attitudes, behaviours - then we cannot defend them, cannot continue to live by them in face of opposition. Thus modern people are lacking in courage (i.e. are cowardly) to a degree which would have been astonishing to anyone in the past.

Modern people take the easy way because - why not? There is no fundamental reason for a modern person to do anything other than take the easiest way/ the way which causes least trouble or makes them feel better - here-and-now, or (for the more moral/ longtermist among us) is expected or hoped to make them feel better in the foreseeable future.

But modern life is becoming ever more short-termist and ever more self-centred for the logical reason that the happiness of me/ here/ now is much surer and more certain than other-people/ somewhere-else/ in the future. 

Even the fickleness, short attention span, shallow evanescent emotionality that is encouraged (and socially enforced) be the mass-social media is mostly an excuse for the cowardly conformism - it is that there is no reason Not to be cowardly and conformist; that modern metaphysics has it that  there is no real reality that lies behind the fake reality - and even if there was there is no deep reason why we ought to prefer real to fake... Thus people cannot even become sufficiently motivated to resist the addictiveness and brainwashing of mass-social media; because it would be unpleasant in the short term, and there is no believeable long term reason to do so.

I am saying that this is our great challenge from modern society. Modern society has taken-up the anti-Christian materialism that began to dominate the West from the early 1800s, and has made it foundational and worked-through its implications, incrementally, one generation upon another, in one area of Life after another.

Recent history in The West has, in other words, taken our characteristic modern anti-spiritual assumptions (e.g. that there is no creation, no creator, no objective morality, no life of any kind beyond biological death, no soul etc) and has worked these though all all the implications in all of our major social institutions (including most of the churches); to get the kind of society, and the kind of life, that we now have.

These assumptions include no reason for being honest and truthful, so modern society denies its own assumptions: claims it makes no assumptions but instead bases everything upon 'evidence' (despite that what counts as evidence, and what does not, is wholly determined by assumptions).

These materialist assumptions include that morality is arbitrary and changeable, and that is what we find.

The assumptions include that ultimately everything is 'dead' - is mathematics, physics, chemistry (even biology is these) - and that is how people behave... It is now quite normal for human beings to deny their own free will; to assert that their own consciousness is an irrelevant epiphenomenon; to reduce their own deepest feelings such as joy and love to the outcome of a directionless evolutionary process; to advocate their own replacement with robots and Artificial Intelligence - and so on.

Look around! The world that is spread-out for your consideration is a world in which your metaphysics is expressed, implemented, instantiated for evaluation... Yet, because of his metaphysics, modern Man has also decided that his own evaluation is worthless! 

This is why things are 'coming to a point' - because the choices are becoming clearer, starker, and with ever-greater stakes. Nowadays, you don't need to be a philosopher to be concerned by metaphysics (indeed, the philosophers, including theologians, have led the way in ridiculing and rejecting metaphysics!).  

Anybody and everybody can see for themselves (if they let themselves), from their own personal and direct experience (if they can acknowledge its validity), the consequences of their basic beliefs: our fundamental convictions are now Our World.

And that's why I rant on about metaphysics!


William Wildblood said...

And the more you rant the better. We need ranting because we are so stuck in our ways and our unthought through assumptions about life. We need something to wake us up. I don't know why modern people don't believe in hell. What do they think they are living in now? What have they created with their self-centred, lazy cowardice if not a hell on earth?

Now that's a rant!

Matias F. said...

I'd say that the idea that metaphysics can be ignored has a long tradition in Western philosophy. Some of the biggest names (Aquinas, Descartes and Hegel), have set out an explicit goal of bridging in their systematic thought the gap between two extremes, monist idealism (= everything dependent on God's will) on the one hand, radical materialism on the other hand, neither of which would leave a role to free will. The result has, in general, been some kind of dualism, which leaves free will to the individual but argues that the universe and societies function in some systematic way that obligates the individual to conform to the rules of society. The metaphysics behind the various philosophic systems leave a degree of variation between the two extremes.

In 18th and 19th century liberalism, this tendency was very explicit, but to my understanding of the history of Western thought, it was there at the very beginning. In 20th century nationalism, even radical materialist positions were made compatible with traditionalist ideas.

Of course, the implicit background to this kind of philosophical compromises (system-building) was the grounding of society in throne and altar: in a military hierarchy and the control of legitimate opinion, which had authority by tradition. When this 'irrational' element of authority was lost, metaphysics could no longer be ignored as societal order (if any) would have to be constructed on a new basis.

Now we are living on borrowed time as disorder advances.