Monday, 3 August 2020

How is it possible to discuss metaphysical assumptions?

One reason for the near-universal uninterest-in/ hostility-towards metaphysics (i.e. the philosophy of our primary assumptions about reality) is that people assume that there is nothing to say about them.

Person 1 claims to assume ABC, while Person 2 asserts BCD, while 3 asserts E and F... and where can we go from there? Each person argues from somewhat, or totally, different premises - and no real discussion seems possible; merely each party asserting his own (possibly unique) point of view...

In practice, however, there is work to be done before any such negative conclusion is possible.

Firstly, most people deny they have any (un-proven/ un-proveable/ un-evidenced/ not-derived-from-logic) primary and foundational assumptions - they would need to come to a point where they acknowledged that they did simply-assume some things as valid (even though unaware of them).

Others might claim assumptions, but closer examination reveals that their self-knowledge was in error: either their true assumptions are significantly/ altogether different than supposed; or else the people have not sufficiently and correctly articulated their own assumptions - and when these assumptions are better stated, perhaps they will no longer be accepted as valid?

One way in which such errors come to light is by identifying assumptions and following them to their implications - to make sure we endorse the implications. Another 'check' is that all the assumptions are compatible, and do not contradict or clash.

So, there is usually a fair bit of work to be done before engagement.

Perfect coherence is not necessary; because all linguistic or mathematical statements of assumptions are secondary and indirect 'models' of reality; simplified hence ultimately wrong; being necessarily selective and biased models of the fullness of reality. 

Once assumptions are acknowledged and indentified and found to be sufficiently coherent; then their origins can be looked-into. From whence did these assumptions arise, and what kinds of check have been applied to them?

Are they perhaps spontaneous and intuitive, or were they arrived at from external experts, or from logical analysis; or are they scientific hypotheses - and if so, what is the foundation of the validity of testing them?

What is regareed (assumed to be) the best origin for assumptons - and why? 

When one has oneself done metaphysical work, one becomes able to identify others who have done (or are doing) this. Even when/ if that other person settles upon different assumptions, or reaches different conclusions from them; then it is often interesting and helpful to see how they proceed.

I personally am well-disposed towards any well-motivated writer who is making an honest and sustained metaphysical effort - and will usually feel I am learning something worth learning.

In a world where unconscious, unexamined, denied and incoherent metaphysics is not just the norm - but increasingly mandatory and the necessary rationalisation for strategic evil - I feel among friends when I read any real metaphysics, from anyone.


Anonymous said...

Ah How refreshing it would be to be
able to humbly discuss ones metaphysical assumptions, as a valid arena for constructive and mutually beneficial intelligent discourse; instead of being howled down rapidly by someone who denies there are any assumptions to begin with...what a difference that would rapidly impart on the world and the course it is taking, it would doubtless, if pursued honestly, produce a remarkable and permanently good set of outcomes for everyone...still, that can't be allowed to get in the way with the devil's schemes and thus so much effort devoted to discourage and villainize such discussion.


Sean G. said...

I don't really have anything to add, I just wanted to say that I appreciate your posts on this topic. My faith used to wobble in a light breeze before I really began examining my metaphysical assumptions.

Jacob Gittes said...

Thoughtful post.
And insightful.
Most people with whom I try to discuss such things become very emotional when you try to dig into the underlying metaphysical assumptions.

Joseph A. said...

Whitehead: "Every scientific man in order to preserve his reputation has to say he dislikes metaphysics. What he means is he dislikes having his metaphysics criticized."

I wonder why contemporary men are so adverse to acknowledging their fundamental assumptions . . . why they avoid metaphysics. Perhaps because materialism, our age's dominant metaphysics, is so obviously false (how does one account materialistically for the structure of an atom? By waving one's hands and changing the subject . . . ). Or maybe because modern science has given the human race unprecedented power without requiring men to understand how it really works -- and power is more enticing than truth to most men in most places. Modern science is like the shortcuts that appeal to us so much -- gain muscle without exercising, lose weight without changing one's diet, feel good about yourself without reforming your character, get rich without working hard and making smart plans . . . Unlock the power of nature, and you don't even have to understand why it ultimately works. Metaphysics is "useless" in the domination of nature. And so it can be discarded.

Owen said...

Maybe people are afraid of deep discussion because they're afraid of deep vulnerability? There's a certain point where such conversations cease to be intellectual and wander into the territory of broken-hearts, existential dread, and crushed dreams - places of nude primal emotions and deep spiritual nakedness. Jesus talked about removing beams from eyes, but the eyes are exceedingly sensitive and delicate, and dreadfully exposed once one lifts the eyelids.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Owen - I could understand that would be a rational response from somebody who was already a religious adherent - and who did not want their existing faith to be undermined without any guarantee that it would be replaced.

But since most people nowadays already exhibit the symptoms of pathological nihilism and despair (even - apparently - most of those who express and claim to be religious adherents); one would have supposed they had Nothing To Lose... except if they are active servants of evil, which is the likely explanation. Since they have no hope of joy, their primal fear is of punishment and greater suffering inflicted by the powers of darkness.

Owen said...

Is it a fear of facing the void within itself, with no hope of anything to replace it? It's like an alcoholic's fear of facing the truth of his problem.

But I take your point. I can't believe more people aren't more desperately religious - religious even in the absence of real belief or religious experiences. Even a "fake it until you make it" cargo cult religion would be better than a life of monotonous nothingness. With nothing to lose (except "guilt-free" sexual fantasies), surely a bit of real desperation is in order? But no. So ends the harvest of blindness.