Thursday 11 May 2017

Metaphysics and God


The great need for me, for everyone, is first to know our metaphysical assumptions and then to reflect on them. Nobody is exempt in modern times; because there are so many forces at work to poison our metaphysics. And a poisoned metaphysic will run life, and beyond life.

For many years I didn’t believe in either the importance or even the reality of metaphysical assumptions; I had the idea that we could and should stick to matters of evidence that were applicable to the business of life. For example, science obviously ‘worked’ – so why not just get on with it? It was perhaps when I realised that science no longer worked, and that people were not getting on with it – but doing something almost entirely different and just calling it science – that I began to realise the importance of metaphysics. When it was too late.

But it is at the personal level that assumptions matter most personally. Life has no Meaning when our basic assumption is that Life has no Meaning (but Just Is – and might not have been) – and Life has no Purpose when it is assumed that everything which happens is either passively caused or else random.  

On the other hand; Life feels very different when our metaphysical assumption is that Life is created, and for a reason.


I have to start with God. We live in God’s universe; and that is the source of all meaning and purpose; and the reason why its meaning and purpose can be known. God is also our Father and we his children: more, he is our loving Father. That is why there is a place for us, it is why we can understand, it is why God made us so that we can understand.

This kind of basis is much more essential that most people realise. We don’t just need an idea of how things are, but how it is that we are able to know how things are. At bottom; we need at least two things: a description of the ultimate realities – and we need assurance that this description is true.

First we formulate the description of ultimates… then what? Then we seek validation by means of what counts at the ultimate validation. What is that? – and is it the same for everybody? We have to stop questioning somewhere and accept  that It Just Is; but how do we know when we could or should stop?

Well, any answer to this question of validation falls into an infinite regress of validation; because it can be (will be) asked why the validation method is itself valid; and any answer to that is subject to the same question… The point is, do we actually want an answer, or do we want to ‘prove’ that an answer is impossible? Because there is an answer, implicit in our behaviour – implicit in our questioning. All questions proceed from assumptions; what are these assumptions?

This is the need for ‘faith’, which is trust. If there is no trust, there are no answers – and there can be no life. The question ‘but who can I trust’ may be answered by the counter-question: ‘who do you trust already?’ Once that is known, then its adequacy may be apparent; we may learn that we are trusting somebody whom we actually – now we think about it – do not trust. (Like when we repeat a story that everybody knows, and argue against an experienced and knowledgeable friend who asserts something else; then realise that our information came originally from a newspaper. Knowing the basis of our assumption, we can then ask: do we trust the friend or the newspaper. But we can only ask this question when we know the nature and source of our assumption.)

There is a cynical pose (most people have adopted it at some time) which effects to doubt all and everything. In practice, when assumptions are exposed and traced, cynicism is either the grossest credulity or more often a false argument used to demolish only that which the cynic wishes to deny (such as a limitation on his desired behaviour).

But, as well as the cynic, there is the despairing doubter – who lives on the verge of paralysis due t uncertainties concerning the validity of… everything. The despairing doubter is transfixed by the possibility that life may really, behind everything – and whether or not this could ever be known, have no meaning or purpose or relevance to us. The despairing doubter is not, fundamentally concerned with the status of knowledge claims or the validity of ultimate descriptions; he is simply unsure about everything – lacks any inner sense of reality.

Whether the despairing doubter actually exists in a full and coherent form is doubtful, but a tinge or tendency of this is characteristic. Yet how seldom is this taken seriously – least of all by its sufferers! The doubts extend to doubting the doubts – such that nothing is done about them, nothing is done about trying to settle the doubts…

Clearly a pathological state; yet common, mainstream, almost universal as at least a fleeting experience. It was the problem that CG Jungs wealthy and leisured private patients often consulted him about, and which he tried to solve by going back to childhood or dream instincts, and building upon them; finding something – some activity, like playing with mud, or sketching pictures - that was apparently self-validating, and using this as a foundation to build upon.

But in the end Jung came back to God; and late in his life he was clearly religious, a kind of Christian; and said that he ‘knew’ the truth of God (did not ‘believe’, but knew). His earlier and more therapeutic answers had proven insufficient, or else his later knowledge rendered them unnecessary.

At any rate, I think we need to know of the reality of God, and of his nature; and we need to know this for ourselves – it is not something that can be learned from others, or taken on trust. We need to know – and what that means, what that implies, is individual and indefensible because it is the basis of other knowledge.  But that is what we need to do, and we therefore need to keep working on it – making it our priority – until it is achieved and we know the reality of God. 


Kirk Forlatt said...

Dr. Charlton, anytime you are tempted to doubt the usefulness or importance of the time you invest in this blog, I hope you will believe that some of your posts --this one for certain -- arrive just at the right time for at least one of your readers. For me to be eloquently reminded that I am not alone in my doubts and struggles is more precious than I can express.

Bruce Charlton said...

@KF - Thank you!