Sunday, May 18, 2014

The death of metaphysics? Part II

Mike D offered a thorough response to my last post regarding the validity of metaphysics. To reiterate from my last post, the denial of metaphysics is such an important and extreme position to take, that I feel obligated to continue this discussion to demonstrate why metaphysics 1) is extremely crucial to everyone’s worldview, and 2) cannot logically be denied, as Mike wants to.

Mike begins his post by agreeing that we are all metaphysicians, in the sense that we all ask ourselves fundamental questions like “what is existence?” or “what is the self?” etc. His problem is whether or not these metaphysical questions are even meaningful, or why they should be delegated to metaphysics and not science.

But, here’s the big problem for such a position: If one claims that metaphysics is simply vacuous speculation that can obtain no knowledge, and that it cannot answer any questions that science cannot, then this is itself a metaphysical assertion! Notice that this is not a claim that science can make, and neither is it a claim any other discipline except metaphysics can make. Such a position is asserting that a particular method is invalid for securing answers about the nature of reality, yet this position is itself promulgating that about the nature of reality, and therefore such a position is metaphysical.  It is simply not possible to deny the reality of metaphysics, for to do so one must engage in it.

Now, this was pointed out to Mike in my last post with regards to his model-dependent realism. I claimed that this was a metaphysical position. This was his response:
 MDR is a statement about our epistemological relationship to reality, not a statement about what reality is[.]
 Fair enough. But, this still doesn’t escape my point. For a claim about one’s epistemological relationship to reality is still metaphysical. In fact, epistemology is widely seen to be subsumed under the umbrella of metaphysics. Why? Because a claim about our relationship to attaining knowledge about reality is still a claim about the nature of reality, since we are a part of reality. Philosopher Peter Coffey articulates:
 The aim of all metaphysics is to arrive at a rational and systematic comprehension of reality[…]this understanding cannot be satisfactory without an investigation into the nature of ‘knowing’ itself.
 So, epistemology complements metaphysics, but it is not a substitute for it. Epistemology is metaphysics. But, let’s say I’m wrong. Is MDR free and clear from being a metaphysical position? No. Take these quotes on MDR from The Grand Design, the very book where MDR is promulgated:
 If there are two models that both agree with observation[…]then one cannot say that one is more real than another.
 [M]ental concepts are the only reality we can know.
 [I]t is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.
 These are very explicit metaphysical propositions on which MDR is predicated, and, therefore, an adherence to MDR necessitates an adherence to certain metaphysical propositions, which therefore necessitates the validity of metaphysical inquiry. Notice, also that MDR makes a very explicit claim regarding truth theories. On MDR, a model is “true” insofar as it pragmatically agrees with our experience. This is a very extreme claim regarding the nature of truth, and one’s view of the nature of truth is a metaphysical position.

Let us now turn to another major contention of Mike’s:
 The laws of logic are a semantic framework for developing a consistent ontology of observable phenomena. It is impossible to know, as human beings, what (if anything) exists ‘beyond our experience’[…] How can we possibly have cognitive access to anything ‘beyond our experience’—given that our ability to comprehend it would, in fact, make it part of our experience?
 First, I never said that we can know what exists beyond our experience. Rather, I said that we can know that certain metaphysical principles will apply beyond our experience—if there is such a thing. Therefore, I never claimed that we can have cognitive access to anything that is not observably accessable to us. To reiterate, I only claimed that due to the necessity of certain metaphysical concepts and propositions, those same concepts and propositions cannot fail to be predicated of anything that exists—whether that be in our observable universe or anywhere else. To this claim Mike said the following:
 [Y]ou’re making the assumption that words like “beyond” or “everywhere” can be (and are) meaningful without the empirical framework from which their meaning is abstracted.  My objection here is that you’ve provided no reason whatsoever why that assumption is justified.
 Mike is wrong here. I claimed that necessary concepts like identity, and essence and propositions like the laws of logic can, and must be, predicated of any existing thing—not words like beyond. And on the contrary, I did provide reasons why they must apply—they are necessary. But, Mike won’t accept this, so let me illustrate with something non-empirical and nonspatiotemporal. (Note: Mike accused me of begging the question here by claiming that nonspatiotemporal things exist—he must have thought I meant supernatural, of which I didn’t.)

Take the set (III) which represents the number “three”. This set is a mere abstraction, that is, it has been abstracted from experience. Now, does that mean that the set itself is spatiotemporal, since it was abstracted from something spatiotemporal? No, the set (III) is merely a concept or a representation. And just because this set is a representation does not mean we cannot predicate properties of it. So, take the concept of identity. Can identity be predicated of the set (III)—which is to ask, is (III) identical (III)? Why, yes it is, and that satisfies the first law of logic. We can also say that (III) cannot be both (III) and (II), but only (III), which satisfies the other two laws of logic. So, what does this prove? It proves that the laws of logic, which are metaphysical, can be predicated of nonspatiotemporal subjects. And if this can happen, then metaphysics is not delegated to only apply to spatiotemporal subjects.

I know Mike will respond that the set (III) is not an actual existing “thing”, in that we cant go out and find the set (III) in the empirical world, and that it is only a representation of empirical things. There are two answers here: 1) even to claim such a thing defeats Mike’s overall position—the death of metaphysics—since such a claim is metaphysical, and 2) a representation or concept can and does still have properties. Take the concept of a unicorn as opposed to a phoenix. The only way to differentiate between these mythical creatures is for one concept to possess properties that the other doesn’t. (Whether these properties are manifest in the empirical is completely peripheral.) But, for anything to possess properties—even non-empirical things, as in this case—must mean the laws of logic apply. So, can metaphysics be launched beyond the realm of the observable? Yes, and therefore one has warrant for adhering to the necessity of metaphysics for anything that exists.

So, our position here is the same as last post. We have seen that metaphysics simply cannot be jettisoned, no matter how meaningless one thinks it is; it is impossible to do so. Second, we have seen that necessary metaphysical propositions are predicated of whatever, empirical or not. (But, even if only the former were warranted--which it is--this would eventually lead to the latter. For if metaphysics is a necessary endeavor, then we must recognize what metaphysics delegates as necessary. And this point alone makes Mike arguments--that metaphysical concepts cannot be applied outside the empirical--completely vacuous.) As philosophers say, metaphysics always buries its undertakers. 

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