Wednesday 10 July 2013

What does metaphysics mean in relation to Christianity?


Metaphysics is a very interesting subject - doubly so when it interacts with religion.

Interesting - and misunderstood.


Metaphysics describes the ultimate structure of reality - it is about the pre-suppositions or assumptions which underlie more detailed considerations such as specific philosophy (e.g. the philosophy of morals, beauty or specific religions) and science.

For a Christian, the most fundamental domain ought to be Christianity, which originates in revelation and revelation is in itself a complex product of tradition, scripture, authority, reason etc.

After this comes theology - but theology presupposes a particular metaphysics; for example monism or pluralism, serial time or eternal out-of-timeness, and some kind of point at which questions have to stop and the answer 'it just is' becomes accepted.


The underlying difference between Mainstream Christianity and Mormonism relates to metaphysics - Joseph Smith's Restored gospel is based on a different set of metaphysical assumptions - e.g. pluralism, dynamism, serial time, and the stoppage of questions at the terminus of the existence of the stuff of the universe and laws of nature.

The big question is whether a different metaphysics means that Mormonism is not Christian.

And the answer is: obviously not, because metaphysics is a matter of assumptions, and the Christian revelation did not refer to metaphysics.

(Or, at least, the metaphysics of Christian revelation is ambiguous - and can be interpreted in contrasting ways.)


But even though metaphysics is an assumption and not a discovery nor amenable to empirical investigation - it does make a difference.

Indeed, it can (for some people, at some times and/ or places) make a profound difference.

Thus a Christianity based on Platonic, or Aristotelian, or Pluralistic metaphysics will have very different emphases, gaps, biases, strengths and weaknesses.

And these metaphysical systems are incommensurable, meaning that one cannot be mapped onto the other, because each works by a different language - a different lexicon and grammar of belief.

But, they are all potentially Christian - why would they not be?

Christianity is prior to metaphysics.



Kristor said...

Yes. This is as much as to say that *reality* is prior to any metaphysical understanding thereof.

Yet I believe that Platonism, Aristotelianism and pluralism are quite compatible. They each express important truths; so they *must* be compatible; for truths cannot contradict each other. Truths may *appear* to contradict each other, but only on account of some defect of our understanding of what they mean.

This does not mean that it is at all easy to see how they are commensurable. It is not. Yet it can be done.

I'm not sure whether anyone else has done it, but Whitehead has beautifully integrated Platonism, Aristotelianism, Thomism, and the pluralism of Bergson and James. His metaphysics is notoriously difficult, but terrifically powerful.

josh said...

Is Joseph Smith being a prophet commensurable with Christianity is a more difficult question.

It's seems not commensurable with Catholicism.

Adam G. said...

**Yet I believe that Platonism, Aristotelianism and pluralism are quite compatible. They each express important truths; so they *must* be compatible; for truths cannot contradict each other.**

This sounds like something Joseph Smith would have sympathized with. One of his dictums was "By proving contraries, truth is made manifest." A prominent teaching in his revelation was the necessity of suffering and evil in order to know healing and goodness, or, more generally, that light could not exist or at least be understood without the existence of dark. So Smith might say that eternity can't exist as a timeless place free from change unless there is also a realm of change. In other words, apparently incompatible metaphysics might require the existence of their opposite to be true.