Thursday, June 19, 2008

The possibility of metaphysics

The following was posted as a comment on a Philosophers Magazine Blog article entitled: What is Metaphysics?"

I had written the following note just before reading “What is Metaphysics?”. It is not therefore properly a comment, but still it is, I think, relevant.

Aristotle was not responsible for the introduction of the term ‘metaphysics’, yet he was responsible for the wrong direction the inquiry took and for all the misunderstandings that surrounded it. Aristotle was primarily a scientist: he wanted ‘correct’ answers to questions. Socrates had found that the investigation of the objective world of facts had nothing to do with or to say for the examination of values and ideals he was concerned with. He also found that questions not relating to the sphere of objective facts could not be answered but could be thrashed in questions and ‘answers’ that only raise further questions, but that through this apparently fruitless search both the questioning party and the answering party attain a measure of clarity within their own minds and that the aporia at which they end is translated into insight into themselves. Aristotle misunderstood this Socratic examination – the Socratic elenchus – and consequently represented it as a search for definitions, definitions which were never reached.

Socrates was interested exclusively in moral questions. Plato, who clearly understood that the Socratic aporia could not be – and was not meant to be – surmounted and at the same time also clearly understood its positive value, passed beyond Socrates’ moral questions and posed questions about ultimate reality. He knew full well that these questions are unanswerable. But he also knew that not to ask these questions is to trivialize our mind and impoverish our inner life. The celestial realm of forms in the Phaedrus, the absolute Beauty beheld through the ascent described in the Symposium, the Form of the Good in the Republic, are not ‘answers’, are not fixed ‘truths’, but are question-breeding wonders in wrestling with which our minds live to the full.

Aristotle in his First Philosophy (accidentally named ‘Metaphysics’) gave us an ideal system which exercises the mind as positively as Plato’s, but because Aristotle presented his system as true and demonstrable, it could, in the hands of a Thomas Aquinas, be turned into a system of beliefs that cripple the mind. We are then seemingly faced with the dilemma: either to follow the Empiricists and Analysts and live in a world of unintegrated fragments and depthless Humean ‘impressions and ideas’, or follow the theologians and subject our minds to revealed superstitions.

But the horns of the dilemma are brittle and can be broken. Wittgenstein at the end of the Tractatus frustratedly concludes that concerning that about which we cannot speak, we must be silent. This is regrettable pusillanimity. Rather, what we cannot speak about we must mythologize about, creating myths in which the world becomes meaningful to us and thus enjoy a rich spiritual life free of superstition, of dogma, of prejudice, of conceit, when we know with Socrates and Plato that every answer to a question must in turn be questioned, for philosophy, as Plato insists in the Republic, must constantly destroy all presuppositions.

This is the position I have been putting through in my writings, particularly in Let Us Philosophize (1998, second edition forthcoming) and Plato: An Interpretation (2005), a position which, being so alien to mainstream philosophical thought, naturally cannot be adequately expounded and justified in this short abstract.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

D.R., I agree with this middle position between the cold rationalism of the merely scientific and the crazy literalism of funny-mentalist religion. The values we know internally are not real in a physically scientific sense nor are they real in projection into a secondary imaginary world. They are real however as a direct subjective experience that needs no external explaination. I think this is akin to the work of Joseph Campbell the mythologist www.jcf.org where story, poetry, myth, music and art give us subjective values that transcend their images and impressions. The image is not an end in itself and THAT to which it points is no image at all. They mystic philosopher is a funny man indeed!

6:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin Byrne said...

D.R. Kashaba wrote:

KASHABA:
I had written the following note just before reading “What is Metaphysics?”. It is not therefore properly a comment, but still it is, I think, relevant.

Aristotle was not responsible for the introduction of the term ‘metaphysics’...

REPLY:
That is correct. He called the discipline 1ST OR PRIMARY philosophy. The treatise received its name from its position in the Aristotelian corpus of written works AFTER (Meta) THE PHYSICS, his more popular treatise ON NATURE. Thus one of his students or compilers gave the treatise the name "Ta Meta Ta Phusike" or some diverse spelling which became "Metaphysics" according to English speakers in the "Western Tradition". Continue

KASHABA:
...yet he was responsible for the wrong direction the inquiry took and for all the misunderstandings that surrounded it.

REPLY:
Hardly! Descartes was responsible for turning "Metaphysics" into an examination of his own so-called CLEAR AND DISTINCT "ideas". Aristotle, in contrast, said that the Primary Philosopher examines the peculiar attributes of individual units and individual beings. And that peculiar attribute is CONTRARIETY.

Of course, if you want to argue with Aristotle on his own TOPIC and his own "ground", then you ought to quote him and try to contend with his entirely competent powers of both inductive and deductive reasoning.

Locke, Hume, Berkeley and Kant "followed" Descartes's mistaken idea of "metaphysics" as some sort of self examination of one's own personal "ideas". Aristotle posited no such idea in his treatise on 1st Philosophy, later named Metaphysics.

KASHABA:
Aristotle was primarily a scientist: he wanted ‘correct’ answers to questions.

REPLY:
But he was just as happy with incorrect answers as with correct answers, so that he could profit from the wisdom of his predecessors (if any) and from their errors (if any), so that he would not have to repeat their errors. And he was happy with both incorrect and correct answers given his skill in LOGIC and also given his best defence and explication of the Basic Law of Thought which he explains and defends in THE METAPHYSICS.

In short, when you know that a statement is false, then that statement's logical opposite is true. However, one has to be able to distinguish CONTRARY from CONTRADICTORY statements. Aristotle was quite good at that discipline, since he is alleged, by some, to have discovered the discipline of LOGIC. Of course, in his 6th LOGIC treatise, he gives the lie to that thesis (ie. Aristotle "discovered" logic!) when he speaks of "our experimental researches on the subject of reasoning". Arguably, Plato and the later Academics who became Peripatetics were also among those who engaged in such "experimental researches" at both the Old Academy, under Plato and at The Lyceum under Aristotle.

Someone, like Kant for example, may tell us that "LOGIC can have no empirical part." because, then, "it" would not be a "canon" for correct thinking. But there is no reason to believe Kantian "canons" or "dogmas", given Aristotle's assertion of the "experimental researches", which resulted in the discovery of LOGIC, stated at the close of the SOPHISTICAL REFUTATIONS.

KASHABA:
Socrates had found that the investigation of the objective world of facts had nothing to do with or to say for the examination of values and ideals he was concerned with.

REPLY:
More accurately, Socrates had nothing to do with "physical speculations" after being disappointed in Anaxagoras's mention of MIND being the ORDERING PRINCIPLE of the physical world and then not using that alleged PRINCIPLE at all in his (Anaxagoras's) explanations of the physical world.

Aristotle says the same thing about the early Ionian physicists. They, for the most part, only had one PRINCIPLE, which was some material element or "stoicheon" [air, water, fire or earth] but, despite "lisping", were driven on to investigate the other 3 CAUSES he mentions in his "Metaphysics", to wit, the efficient, formal (Plato and Socrates) and final causes of existent beings.

KASHABA:
He (ie. Socrates) also found that questions not relating to the sphere of objective facts could not be answered but could be thrashed in questions and ‘answers’ that only raise further questions, but that through this apparently fruitless search both the questioning party and the answering party attain a measure of clarity within their own minds and that the aporia at which they end is translated into insight into themselves.

REPLY:
As Aristotle puts it, We are faced with the paradox of The Meno. Either we learn nothing or we only learn what we already know. That paradox is based upon failing to understand that questions and assertions can be turned into each other merely with a "turn of the phrase". In short, there are such things as LOADED QUESTIONS. ie. Socrates's avowal to Meno that he has taught his slave nothing. He has only asked questions. Thus, the slave must have already known Geometry!

But Aristotle later argues, to refute the paradox of The Meno, that questions which lead a learner away from errors and toward the 1st Principles of any Science (Geometry in the case of Meno's slave who knew both Greek grammar and simple Arithmetic; but who did not know how "to square", according to Geometrical Science) are GOOD sorts of "loaded questions", as opposed to "bad" sorts of loaded questions. eg. Have you stopped beating your wife (animals children neighbors etc.) yet?

KASHABA:
Aristotle misunderstood this Socratic examination – the Socratic elenchus – and consequently represented it as a search for definitions, definitions which were never reached.

ON THE CONTARY:
Aristotle fully understood Socratic elenchus (refutation) and characterized Socrates's examinations as BOTH (1) Searches for universal definitions and (2) Exemplary of Inductive Argument, for, as he says, Socrates made 2 contributions to philosophy INDUCTIVE ARGUMENT and UNIVERSAL DEFINITION.

Aristotle says so in The Metaphysics. Arguably, Mr. Kashaba doesn't know very much about the logical distinction between INDUCTION and DEDUCTION, given "modern philosophy" and modern philosophers.

KASHABA:
Socrates was interested exclusively in moral questions.

REPLY:
Then why would Socrates ask Theaetetus the question, Q. WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?, if he was actually only interested in moral questions. And, again, how come he asks his dialogue partners to examine, with him, whether or not their assertions are TRUE. Even Mr. Kashaba must have heard that OUGHT AND OUGHT NOT "moral or ethical" questions are not the same things as IS and IS NOT ontological assertions, as in Hume's IS-OUGHT fallacy of moral misreasoning. Socrates asked about TRUE vs. FALSE assertions, which are clearly matters of ONTOLOGY and not, strictly, moral questions.

TRUE! Wilfully misplacing one's ontological predicates is, usually, considered a moral failing, commonly known as LYING. However, being ignorant and, therefore, mistaken in one's answers to Socrates's questions is no "moral failing". As Socrates oft argued. Give the best answer you can and then answer his further questions. Then, he may cure you of your own ignorance, or he may learn something from you.

However becoming angry about one's own exposed ignorance was a moral failing shared by Meletus, Anytus and Lycon when they accused Socrates of atheism and corrupting the youth of Athens. But this was not a moral failing of either Plato or Aristotle.

Both learned from Socrates.

KASHABA:
Plato, who clearly understood that the Socratic aporia could not be – and was not meant to be –surmounted and at the same time also clearly understood its positive value, passed beyond Socrates’ moral questions and posed questions about ultimate reality.

COMMENT:
That is Dr. Kashaba's thesis, but is arguably not Plato's thesis. Of course, again, it is certainly not Aristotle's thesis. Aristotle found his way through all kinds of Socratic "aporias", as did Plato himself. As Plato himself, says, the dialogues only demonstrate an exemplary philosopher --- Socrates cleansed and beautified or rejuvenated.

They are not philosophical treatises "because", according to Plato, philosophy cannot be taught by means of written treatises where "writing" cannot answer questions put to "writing" in an orderly fashion!

As Plato further argues, along with Socrates:- You can't teach philosophy from written works. You can only pass on the torch from living philosopher to living philosopher. Arisotle has a slightly different view. We can profit from the wisdom and from the errors of "our predecessors".

KASHABA:
He (Plato) knew full well that these questions (about ultimate reality) are unanswerable.

SARCASTIC RESPONSE:
That is why Plato founded the Academy, so that philosophers could ask questions that have no answers! Dr. Kashaba arguably confuses Plato with Bertrand Russell. However, most people know that Plato founded the Academy so that philosophers could become rulers or, by some gift of Providence, rulers might become philosophers and make GOOD LAWS resulting in good government.

KASHABA:
But he also knew that not to ask these questions is to trivialize our mind and impoverish our inner life. The celestial realm of forms in the Phaedrus, the absolute Beauty beheld through the ascent described in the Symposium, the Form of the Good in the Republic, are not ‘answers’, are not fixed ‘truths’, but are question-breeding wonders in wrestling with which our minds live to the full.

EXPLICATION:
Provided that we have a philsophical disposition or temperament and do not, as a consequence of reading "philosophical treatises" suppose that we have "learned something high and mighty", or, on the contrary, lose heart and think that philosophy is useless questions without answers. Kashaba seems to have adopted both of Plato's warned of ERRORS in his 7th letter. Philosophy is BOTH (1) something "high and mighty" which provides (2) "no answers" to "its" questions and is, "therefore" arguably useless. Aristotle didn't make either of those errors.

KASHABA:
Aristotle in his First Philosophy (accidentally named ‘Metaphysics’) gave us an ideal system which exercises the mind as positively as Plato’s, but because Aristotle presented his system as true and demonstrable, it could, in the hands of a Thomas Aquinas, be turned into a system of beliefs that cripple the mind.

COMMENT:
The contrary of truth is indemonstrable is one of those "mentally crippling" assertions of Aquinas, which is taken directly from Aristotle's Metaphysics. That's true. Other "crippling" assertions are like, for example (also taken from Aristotle's Metaphysics) CONTRARIES are SUBJECTS of the same SCIENCES.

eg. The art or science of medicine deals with health and its contrary, which is disease. The art of LOGIC deals with rational argument forms and their contraries which are irrational argument forms. These are very "mind crippling" propositions, according to Kashaba, but not according to either Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Aquinas or the art (science; discipline) of LOGIC.

KASHABA:
We are then seemingly faced with the dilemma: either to follow the Empiricists and Analysts and live in a world of unintegrated fragments and depthless Humean ‘impressions and ideas’, or follow the theologians and subject our minds to revealed superstitions.

REPLY:
Or, alternatively, we could hunt down the errors of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume and actually understand all of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle because both Descartes's metaphysical error and Locke's metaphysical error (same one) are in the first few sentences of both men's written treatises.

KASHABA:
But the horns of the dilemma are brittle and can be broken. Wittgenstein at the end of the Tractatus frustratedly concludes that concerning that about which we cannot speak, we must be silent. This is regrettable pusillanimity.

REPLY:
It sounds like arguably good logic to me. If you can't speak about something, then you must be silent, as when, for example, some people have strokes which affect the speech centre of their brains. Then they can't speak. Or in the cases of non-human animals, the sounds they make are significant. But those sounds are not symbols of mental experience because brute animals only live by sense and memory and do not have the "art" of speech, which is to use conventional symbols to express mental experience.

Wittgenstein's truly pusillanimous statement was something to the effect that the only task left for philosophy to do is to analyse language. But language continues to move on beyond Wittgenstein, given actual Scientific research into the CAUSES of being --- mostly into material and efficient causation as mentioned by Aristotle in his treatise on Primary Philsosophy.

One doesn't BREAK THE HORNS of a DILEMMA. One goes through the horns of pusillanimous dilemmas.

KASHABA:
Rather, what we cannot speak about we must mythologize about, creating myths in which the world becomes meaningful to us and thus enjoy a rich spiritual life free of superstition, of dogma, of prejudice, of conceit...

QUESTION:
And the difference between a MYTH and a SUPERSTITION is what? Verily as Aristotle argues BARDS tell many a lie. And as Heraclitus argued:- Homer ought to be turned out of the lists and whipped (for "giving" human failings to 'the gods')!!! But as Socrates also argued, some people may be divinely "inspired", even though they can't pass on their inspirations by teaching. Otherwise many of the sons of leading Athenians would have also become brilliant leaders, which, quite often, did not happen --- an argument to which Anytus took extreme offence, near the close of Plato's MENO.

KASHABA:
...when we know with Socrates and Plato that every answer to a question must in turn be questioned, for philosophy, as Plato insists in the Republic, must constantly destroy all presuppositions.

OR ON THE CONTRARY:
We could actually hear Socrates tell us that anyone can refute Socrates. But no one can refute the truth, as in

SOCRATES:
No, no dear Agathon. Its the truth you find unanswerable, not Socrates. [Symposium 201c]

COMMENT:
Socrates never questioned true assertions. He questioned people who thought they knew something and actually knew it, such as the Athenian craftsmen who taught him many fine things, which he did not know, and the politicians and poets who thought they knew what they did not know. That was because he was both a philosopher and a philanthropist. But he never questioned TRUE ANSWERS as if they were mere "suppositions", which had to be eternally questioned until they became turned into "myths".

KASHABA:
This is the position I have been putting through in my writings, particularly in Let Us Philosophize (1998, second edition forthcoming) and Plato: An Interpretation (2005), a position which, being so alien to mainstream philosophical thought, naturally cannot be adequately expounded and justified in this short abstract.
posted by D. R. Khashaba at 6:46 AM on Jun 19, 2008

REPLY:
Yes, I have noted that position in various postings. One of my favorite postings by yourself was where you argued, to the effect

KASHABA:
god is an idea
god is real
"Hence" god does NOT exist.

Don't you know that it is ILLOGICAL to draw a negative conclusion from 2 positive premises??? The simple refutation is

Kashaba is an idea (False)
Kashaba is real (True)
"Hence" Kashaba does NOT exist (false).

You need to hone up on your logical skills, Mr. Kashaba. They are not up to the simple standards of Socrates, Plato or Aristotle.

Kevin Byrne

6:26 AM  

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