Monday, May 19, 2014

The death of metaphysics? Part III

Mike D has posted yet another response to my last post regarding the utility and validity of metaphysical inquiry. Mike has articulated that his response was his last seeing as how we’ve both layed our cards on the table, and there’s obviously no need to rehash our arguments ad nauseum.  So, this will be my last response as well, and I would like to thank Mike for his cordiality and his erudite argumentation. It’s refreshing to converse with someone who challenges my views in a respectful yet engaging manner.

 That being said, let’s get started. Before I begin to quote pieces from Mike’s post, I want to address a topic that he brought up throughout, and one which seems to be his last line of defense. Mike articulated that one major problem he has with metaphysics is that the term, as well as its application, is ambiguous. He seems to think that my argument of pinning the label of metaphysics to his statements only seems compelling because the term is so poorly defined.  

 Fair enough. I agree that metaphysics can seem quite obscure, and that philosophers quibble about the details of such a discipline. However, metaphysics is not so poorly defined such that we have warrant for jettisoning the whole philosophical endeavor. While philosophers might quibble about certain aspects of metaphysics, they are quite in unison about recognizing metaphysics when they see it. One way to tell when metaphysics is being employed is to contrast it with science—our other mode of inquiry. That is, metaphysical inquiry goes where science cannot.

 For example, take the question “What is identity?” This is a very serious philosophical question—since logic is predicated on such a concept—but, it is one that science cannot answer. You can’t conduct any experiments that will tell you what identity is; you can’t find identity in a test tube, or in a particle accelerator. On the contrary, science presupposes the concept of identity in order to function—otherwise we would not be able to identify the empirical. So, only metaphysical inquiry can take the reins here.

 Or, take the claim that metaphysical inquiry is meaningless—the essential argument that Mike is making. This is not a claim that science can make. The person making such an argument is claiming that the method of inquiring about the fundamental structure of reality (that is, metaphysics) is invalid. This, to reiterate, is a metaphysical claim—that is, a claim about the fundamental structure of reality that science cannot make. So, while metaphysics might not be as properly defined as Mike wants, we can still recognize when and why it is employed. And therefore Mike’s death sentence to metaphysics remains a metaphysical claim.

 Mike then continues to find fault with my claims about model-dependent realism:
Model-dependent realism does not make claims about what constitutes reality; the entire point is that it jettisons the question of what is 'real' entirely. Steven's position seems to be predicated on the idea that Absolute Truth is 'out there', and that we can somehow know this reality independently of models.

Mike is partly right and partly wrong here. The definition of MDR might not deal with the metaphysical—though I still would disagree with this partly. Ok, fine. But, that’s not exactly what I was claiming. I was claiming that an adherence to MDR entails one to accept certain propositions that are metaphysical.  Heck, I even quoted these propositions from the pen of Stephen Hawking himself! I also articulated that MDR is predicated on a very specific theory of truth, which is metaphysical. Mike had nothing to say here, and I fail to see why. If adherence to a position necessitates adherence to metaphysical propositions, then how can one escape metaphysics?

 Mike then turns to the part of our discussion that deals with semantics:
If we can't know whether there actually is anything 'beyond our experience', then it's nonsensical to suggest that metaphysical principles would still apply to it, precisely because these metaphysical principles are abstracted from and given meaning by our experience.

First, I didn’t say there is some existing thing (x) beyond our experience which we don’t know exists, nevertheless, metaphysical principles (a) and (b) still apply to it. Rather, I said that there are certain metaphysical principles—most important are the laws of logic—which must describe any existent. So, if there does happen to be some existing thing that is not in the realms of our observable experience, then this thing would also have to have the laws of logic predicated of it.

 Mike continues:
The word 'beyond' is a spatiotemporal metaphor that Steven used to describe the ability of the laws of logic to describe supernatural/non-empirical/non-spatiotemporal phenomena; my point is that the very act of doing so, of cantilevering a semantic structure derived from empirical experience into realms purportedly beyond it, renders the semantic structure meaningless.

Mike seems to not have noticed that I intentionally dropped such words so that my argument made more sense. In fact, the very quote Mike utilizes from me is free from spatiotemporal semantics. Saying “metaphysical principles apply to any existent” is not meaningless.

 Let us move on to the topic of metaphysical principles and spatiotemporally. In the last post I gave an example of the set (III) which represents the number “three”. I articulated that metaphysical principles can be predicated of such an abstraction, and since this abstraction is nonspatiotemporal, then we have a simple demonstration of metaphysical principles applying nonsptaiotemporally. Here was Mike’s response:
[A] representation or concept does not have properties – it has conceptual abstractions of properties – i.e., 'if X existed, it would have Y properties'. And whether or not a conceptual abstraction actually corresponds with reality requires the construction of testable models of reality.

My claim wasn’t predicated on whether an abstraction’s properties were conceptual or not; rather, my claim was that metaphysical principles can be predicated of concepts. And Mike had nothing to say here. The question is easy: can metaphysical principles be predicated of a concept? If yes, then metaphysics is not restricted to the spatiotemporal; if no, then metaphysics is restricted. Now, the answer is easy to figure out, as I demonstrated last post. Is the set (III) identical to itself?  Yes it is, and therefore the first law of logic—a metaphysical proposition--applies to a concept, which is not spatiotemporal.

 As we wrap up this very interesting discussion, there is one and only one crucial point that sticks out to me: metaphysics cannot be denied. We can discuss whether metaphysics can be applied here or there, or which focus of metaphysics is pragmatic etc. But, we simply cannot deny metaphysics itself. We all harbor a worldview, whether it be theism, deism, naturalism etc. And each worldview contains a multitude of metaphysical propositions and assumptions. The worldview that attempts to deny metaphysics is making a very explicit claim about the nature and structure of reality—that science cannot make. As such, the metaphysical undertaker is trying to bury the very thing he’s digging with—sorry to use that metaphor again, it’s just so good.


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