Wednesday 1 May 2024

How Not to conduct a metaphysical enquiry! (Further responses added 3 May 2024)

Kristor, of The Orthosphere, is very good at expounding his own metaphysical assumptions (which are essentially those of Thomistic Roman Catholicism); but when it comes to making a comparative evaluation of different metaphysical "systems"... well, he just doesn't ever do it!

Kristor is an old internet pal, going back to the time before I was a Christian, and we interact affectionately offline. Indeed I would regard him as a pen-friend, a good person, honest and trustworthy and (so far, at least) On the Right Side in the spiritual war of this world!

But for more than a decade this matter of what it is to conduct a metaphysical enquiry is one concerning which I have been apparently (across multiple online interactions) utterly unable to get across my argument.

In a recent post; Kristor discusses the matter of whether reality is ultimately one (monism) or many (pluralism). By his argument, Kristor apparently supposes that he has logically rejected pluralism as in essence incoherent, therefore necessarily wrong. 

Yet what he has done in his discourse is merely to demonstrate that when someone has accepted the assumptions of monism - then swapped-out the assumptions that everything is one and replaced it with an assumptions of pluralism, the result does not make sense. 

I say again: Kristor believes he is conducting a metaphysical enquiry and comparing different metaphysical systems - but he is not. 

In actuality he is just expounding his pre-existing metaphysics, rooted in pre-existing assumptions (and I assert they are assumptions) concerning the fundamental nature of reality. And then Kristor is correctly demonstrating that his Thomism becomes incoherent if one was to introduce pluralism into it... 

Which is - of course - true! Pluralism does not (and cannot) cohere with an otherwise monist metaphysical system! 

Kristor's argument does not at all mean that pluralism is necessarily incoherent; for example when pluralism is one part of a different set of fundamental assumptions concerning the nature of reality.

I think the fundamental reason why I "cannot get-through" to Kristor on this matter, why we keep having the same non-argument over and again, is that he regards his own metaphysical assumptions as necessarily true; and this blocks his ability (and interest) in making any other assumptions - even for the purposes of philosophical debate. 

And perhaps Kristor regards his own assumptions as necessarily true because he does not acknowledge that they lead to any fundamental problems. 

For example, I think he does not acknowledge the ineradicable depth of the problem of explaining genuine free agency for Men in a reality conceptualized as created from nothing by an "omni-God". Nor do I think Kristor appreciates the ineradicable depth of the problem of accounting for the existence of evil in a reality wholly-created by a wholly-Good (and omnipotent) God.  

And, to speculate further! - I think Kristor does not acknowledge the depth of these problems, because he is satisfied by those abstract and complex "answers" provided by Thomism. 

And (to complete the circle) these are answers that themselves assume the metaphysical primacy of abstractions

(As examples; Kristor - following traditional RC teaching - assumes the fundamental and necessary truth of God's omniscience/ omnipotence/ omnipresence (etc) - and these are abstractions. Similarly; creation-from-nothing (ex nihilo) is assumed to be necessary, and that is an abstraction. More fundamentally; Kristor's understanding of God as God, is an abstract one: his understanding of God is in terms of the definitional necessity of God having certain abstract attributes - such as those above.) 

Although we can note that such a focus seems to date from early in the history of Christianity (albeit there is no evidence of it in the contemporary eye-witness account of the Fourth Gospel) we can still ask why is it that abstraction occupies such a fundamental position in Christian metaphysics? 

And our answer will depends on further assumptions regarding the nature of Christianity. For Kristor (and apparently for most Christians since some time after the ascension of Jesus) there can be no such thing as Christianity except from within the perspective of The Church (however that "The" is defined). 

For Kristor; "The" Church just-is Christianity; and this is not a matter for legitimately Christian metaphysical enquiry. To challenge or doubt what has been assumed for maybe 1900 years; makes no Christian sense: to do so is simply Not to be a Christian. 

To assume (as I do) that "being a Christian" is a primary reality that has no necessary link to any particular metaphysical assumptions; and no necessary relationship to any church in general or particular; does not for Kristor imply the legitimate possibility of further enquiry - but invites explanation in terms of ignorance, insanity or sin. 

This is related to other matters concerning what Christians ought to be doing, here-and-now. 

For Kristor; Thomism is just true, the nature of Christianity derives from the truth and necessity of the RCC; and therefore all legitimately Christian futures must build upon these. 

But for me; this version (as I regard it) of Christianity has deep metaphysical problems, that require better metaphysical solutions (or else, Christianity will continue to disappear). For me; "modernity" has been - in part - an increased conscious awareness of the unsatisfactory nature of traditional Christian (e.g. monist, omni-God, abstract) understandings of human freedom and the origins of evil. 

I regard metaphysical awareness and enquiry as non-optional, as absolutely necessary if Christianity is to avoid (what I see as) the long-term, relentless, and accelerating trend of either explicit or de facto apostasy; which (for me) was made evident in 2020 - when all the Christian churches (including RCC) willingly (and without later repentance) subordinated themselves to the globalist agenda of totalitarian evil. 

So! These apparently trivial interpersonal debates between myself and Kristor - or, failures to debate, as I regard them - are like the tip of an iceberg of differences; that I regard as ultimately sustained by a deep and long-term problem of wrong metaphysical assumptions about Christianity being instead regarded as necessary and true metaphysical assumptions. 

Note added: 

Kristor responded to this post here

@Kristor - I - like you - reject "radical ontological pluralism" - as being incoherent - so everything you say about that subject is (I'm afraid) irrelevant.

Instead, you can and should assume that I regard every single theologian of the past as significantly in error; and that there really is nobody else who has the same metaphysical assumptions as I do.

You are candid enough to acknowledge your assumption that since I am in a minority of one, therefore I must necessarily be wrong - so (from your perspective) there is no point in wasting time on finding out what I do believe!

I don't blame anyone for ignoring anything - we are each responsible for our own salvation, primarily. But I personally believe that this attitude of seeking truth in (some kind of) consensus of past and status, is both anti-Christian (in the sense of being opposed to what Jesus said and wanted), and (here and now) a guarantee of choosing the wrong side in the spiritual war of this world.

(We are not so alone nor so ignorant as you assume! Much true knowledge is born into us as children, and God has ensured that each of us has sufficient wit to discern his own salvation - with the personal guidance of the Holy Ghost. God would surely not have been so foolish as to depend upon each and every person getting good guidance from his external social environment!)

But, there again we are up against utterly different basic assumptions! Yours is that anything true and important on the subject of Christian theology has already been said - and therefore truth should be sought among external authorities.

My assumption is that the prime reality of our life of salvation and theosis is rooted in a personal relationship between ourselves and Jesus Christ, and that we not only can but must (post-mortally if not before) take personal responsibility for our ultimate choices.

You complain that I do not explain myself in the comments sections of blog posts. True enough! I have given up on that mug's game!

Instead; I have written hundreds of blog posts (as well as the Lazarus Writes mini-book) over the past decade, explaining and re-explaining my metaphysical assumptions and arguments from as many different angles as seemed helpful - and as simply and clearly as I am able.

I have also addressed the specific critiques you make. But I expect you would not find my points acceptable - exactly because your basic assumptions are so completely different.

(For example, your discourse takes place outside of Time/ Time-less/ in simultaneity of Time (sub specie aeternitatis); whereas I assume that Time is (as it were) intrinsic to reality (because the pluralism of primal reality is made of Beings, and Beings are living and "dynamic" conscious entities). Therefore, for me, all fundamental explanations require allowance for Time. This has many consequences. For instance, I believe we began with pluralism, with many uncoordinated entities; and God's creation - which is happening in Time - has-been and is progressively imposing "unity" or cohesion upon that primal "chaos". For me, this explains why both oneness and pluralism, creation and chaos, are part of our mortal experience.)

It's all there, on my blog, for anyone who is interested - of which only a handful of people have been, but those few seem to understand me accurately enough. And if someone is Not interested - well, that's his business, but not mine. After all, my main motive in writing so many hundreds of posts per years, is to clarify and critique my ideas for my benefit. The readers are mostly just looking over my shoulder.

In sum, you have clearly set-out some of the Many reasons why you do not want to engage with what I actually believe. You feel no Need for it, and already assume I Must Be wrong.

While, on my side, my unique theology has happened only because I have already (to my own satisfaction) known and rejected that which you regard as true.

What I am saying is that our decisions rule-out any genuine metaphysical discourse - which explains why this has never actually happened!

While it only takes one side to make a war - it takes at least two people to have a metaphysical discussion!


George Stanley said...

"or else, Christianity will continue to disappear"

Do you mean in a demographic sense, that is, there will be fewer and fewer Christians on earth?

My strong sense is that the relative dying out of Christian faith is a necessary part of the End Times dynamic foretold by Christ, which cannot be rolled back. Disagreements about metaphysical conceptions and experiential modes of Christianity seem of secondary importance compared to the great split between those who are fundamentally dead in their sins, have no awareness of it, want no awareness of it, and hate those trying to alert them to it (virtually everyone now alive) and those who aren't so hopelessly hard of heart and are open in a basic way to the love of Christ. I find that I must regard as a brother anyone who has "endured" long enough to draw this close "to the end" by having the love of Christ, and that I can care less and less over time about the comparatively minor matter of the contents of theological and metaphysical understandings in this period that is so buried in extraordinary sin.

Perhaps I'm completely wrong on this but I have the overwhelming impression that no approach to Christianity can avoid putting off almost everyone in the current times.

Bruce Charlton said...

@George C - Your description seems to have no place for individual agency.

My understanding is that our salvation is a matter for which we each bear individual and personal responsibility.

In other words, the End Times is not an *explanation* for apostasy, it is the end result of many choices of apostasy.

Lucas said...

If you translated 'obedience to the Logos' into Arabic I wonder what it would be.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucas. Well, yes.

As Laeth said in one of his aphorisms:

except for mormons, christians want to have the God of islam, and eat it too. when challenged they go from abstraction to abstraction until the limit is reached and the conclusion, or rather evasion, declared: it's a mystery! stop prying!

George Stanley said...

Even if freely willed, I don't believe the descent into sin will end until Christ returns. John's Gospel certainly seems to indicate that. Some way or other, Christ was able to foresee this. Whether that undercuts free will is a very old debate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@George S - I see you are unfamiliar with this blog! "John"'s Gospel does not reference the Second Coming:

George Stanley said...

Sorry, I had in mind a passage from John's first epistle, which I conflated with the content of his Gospel. Sadly as I'm a geezer these days, I'm prone to such memory errors.

WJT said...

I was nodding along until I actually clicked through and read Kristor’s post. I think he raises legitimate questions which make sense even under my own pluralistic assumptions and which require answers. There does seem to be some underlying unity — a broadly shared nature which makes Good a coherent concept — behind the various Beings, and it is not obvious how to explain this pluralistically.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WJT - Yes, that is the issue for pluralism. The beginning of enquiry.

It's what I've been writing about recurrently for the past decade.

So I've worked out answers satisfactory for myself. But the big problem is that hardly anybody can be bothered to do metaphysical reasoning for themselves, and they don't like reading about it either. Hence two millennia of inertial repetition.