Saturday 13 December 2014

Is it true to say that there is no escaping metaphysics? Yes. And No.


"There’s no escaping metaphysics." 

There is a sense in which this statement is true, but another sense in which it is false - and a snare to Christians.


The sense in which metaphysics cannot be escaped is that our explicit understanding of reality necessarily happens within a structure - so that when we are self-conscious, or communicating, we will be doing so from some metaphysical position.

The sense in which "there is no escaping metaphysics" is false, is that we can change our metaphysics, we can choose our metaphysics - and it is possible and normal for Christians to have a variety of metaphysical positions.


It may be asked on what basis we change or choose our metaphysics? The answer is that these are various, and they vary between denominations.

The Transubstantiation schism in the medieval Catholic church was, as I interpret it, a dispute between the Roman church who asserted that there was only one true metaphysics of the bread and wine at Holy Communion - and that this had been given by revelation to the Roman church - all other metaphysical understandings being false, therefore sinful.

The Orthodox and Anglican Catholic churches refused to make any specific metaphysical system of what happened to the bread and wine 'true' but pronounced it a mystery and - in effect - a matter for personal revelation or local opinion, including having no expliict view at all on the matter.

The Roman Catholic Church is distinctive in making *many* metaphysical and philosophical questions into a matter of general revelation and doctrine - with explicit and specific explanations declared true and all others false. Outside the RCC the emphasis on metaphysics varies with time and place - and some metaphysical explanations are regarded mandatory while others as more-or-less expedient.


But the overall picture of Christendom through the ages is one in which metaphysics is an expedient, which ought to serve a faith whose basis is much more than philosophy.

In sum, Christianity properly regards philosophy as an imperfect, incomplete and biased attempt to make explicit a reality which just is much bigger and more various than philosophy can comprehend.


Therefore a Christian can (and sometimes should) change his metaphysical beliefs without ceasing to be Christian; and there is more than one metaphysical way of being a Christian (although some may be overall better than others, and some will be better than another for particular purposes); and indeed there are (there must be) non-metaphysical experiences in Christianity above and beyond the scope of philosophy - the metaphysics only comes-in when people attempt to make explicit and communicate the basic experience.


In that deep sense, metaphysics is (merely) an artefact of the process of explanation; and it is the limitations on explanation which necessarily cause the limits of metaphysics.


(The above is derived from my response to a posting and a comment by Kristor Lawson at The Orthosphere - ).

1 comment:

Leo said...

Reasoning or metaphysics can never be pure. A Calvinist might say it is a product of a fallen mind. A modern might say our reasoning is a product of our psychology, with Jung's archetypes and collective unconscious (to pick just one school of psychology) serving to replace Platonic thought.