A little bit of background:

As some of you may have noticed, my main interest in philosophy is of metaphysics. I've studied philosophy in a very postmodern environment; but contra to the people around me I grew fond of the modern philosophy - of Leibniz and Spinoza, Kant and the Neo-Kantians - and have always pushed back from the postmodern view while still absorbing some of it to my critical thinking.

Throughout all of my readings and arguments (especially since I've joined this forum) I've always questioned my thoughts, and the postmodern post-truth ideas have always lingered in the back of my head. One of those ideas is that metaphysics is "over", it's some kind of a dogma that the 20th century has rid itself of, particularly because metaphysics is the field of interpretation, and as a good Jew I should know that almost everything is interpretable to fit almost anything. And when we can take something and interpret it to fit whatever we want, it'd imply that this something is essentially meaningless on-its-own (i.e. it doesn't contain any objective truth).

Now I'm not going to talk about the benefits of metaphysics, I'm just going to ask if the statement "metaphysics holds no objective truth, only subjective one" holds water? Is there any "scientific" meaning to study metaphysics (other than being an interesting field to provoke thought-experiments that may lead to scientific theories)?

Edit:

I'll try to elaborate a little bit further, influenced by Peter's answer and the comments section in it.

What I'm trying to emphasize here when I'm talking about the "subjectivity" of metaphysics comes to light when we consider metaphysics as mostly the interpretational part of it - where the big ideas such as naturalism, idealism, nominalism, solipsism, etc, comes to mind. As Peter puts it, we can consider the "results" of the purely analytical research of metaphysics to be essentially the same for each and every philosopher that has ever approached it. But the interpretation of these results are, as Carnap said, "serves for the expression of the general attitude of a person towards life", and can't comprehend some objective truth.

That's the subjectivity I'm pointing at here. Hope this clears things up.

  • If metaphysics can be scientifically tested, it's not metaphysics anymore - it's physics. – rus9384 Jul 21 at 14:00
  • @rus9384 that's definitely not what I'm asking. – Yechiam Weiss Jul 21 at 14:29
  • It's definitely not possible to undestand what are you even asking then. It's obvious that any natural scientific theory holds some untestable postulates which we can interpret as metaphysics. But that's wrong that there is no objective truth in it. You can "guess" that truth but can't know if it is truth. – rus9384 Jul 21 at 16:12
  • @rus9384 sorry if my wording was harsh, didn't mean it to be. What I mean is that I'm not talking about testability, and I really don't want to go into that discussion (as I've seen it a lot in the forum). Subjectivity and objectivity doesn't come from the ability to test something; that'd be positivitm at best. Surely you can say that testing a theory may give it more "objectivity", but such objectivity will be a social one, not metaphysical one. – Yechiam Weiss Jul 21 at 17:38
  • Well, if it is to be understood by others it can not be "completely" subjective. And as you seem to know what you describe is the "post-truth" position of postmodernist cultural relativism, which is controversial, and that it is not the only one available. So there can be no answer. Could you rephrase the question to make it more answerable on SE? – Conifold Jul 21 at 21:07

An interesting study may be to compare Berdyaev's work in Eastern Orthodoxy, with Jacques Maritain's "Integral Humanism" (book) and see the Jewish current that runs through them both.

This book here "Nicolas Berdyaev and The New Middle Ages". https://archive.org/stream/nicolasberdyaeva00lampuoft#page/n2

The quote by Berdyaev on the title page of the above book is worth having, in my opinion. A "Return to the Middle Ages", would probably mean a metaphysics as a way of life, hence integral, and the study of metaphysics is right on the cutting edge today, and I think it is a very contemporary subject. Who knows?

Berdyaev on Eastern Orthodoxy, PDF https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d0df1ee4b036ef1e44b144/t/58efc8a6db29d67bb267dc42/1492109479567/Berdyaev.pdf

In this paper by Berdyaev, the Trinity comes down to earth and this is what Maritain "smuggled", at least to some extent, into Catholicism with his integral humanism.

Now it would be possible, I guess, for all of the above to be "secularized" into a total ethical system, so again we see the connection to Judaism.

Certainly in the Western tradition, metaphysics only comes out of Aristotle (and his heirs). I like to think of this as "true" metaphysics, if only to have a model to compare the others to; really this is just a convenient tool to assist in working with the idea of "metaphysics" in philosophy, that is, to have Aristotle as the original model.

For a more modern treatment of metaphysics, try to find "Metaphysics, a contemporary introduction, by Michael J Loux, Third Edition, which is floating around the internet as a PDF, or on Internet Archive I think.

Also, since I think you are interested in some of the German Idealists, you may want to read this article: "Logic and Metaphysics from Melanchthon to Hegel" by Ricardo Pozzo, in "Approaches to Metaphysics" William Sweet, Ed., Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004, on Internet Archive.

You ask some great questions.

I would call Metaphysics a science of logic. It produces clear and unambiguous results which may be tested and retested until the end of time in any universe and which will never change. It is, as Bradley notes, an 'antidote for dogmatic superstition' and this is because logical analysis is dispassionate and iconoclastic. Logic forces us to abandon bad theories and to normalise on the correct view.

Metaphysics is not subjective but a matter of analysis and logic. Nearly all metaphysicians arrive at the same conclusions and vary only over interpretation. Thus Carnap, Russell, Tyson, Chalmers, Bradley, Nagarjuna, Aurobindo, Dennett, Wittgenstein and Lao Tsu can all agree on its results. Its results are no more subjective than those of number theory.

(The disagreement between these philosophers is only over interpretation and it disguises a complete agreement over logical results. They all agree that metaphysics does not endorse a positive result but only the Perennialist has a workable explanation for this. Thus what for Nagarjuna and Bradley is the way forward is for Carnap and Chalmers an insurmountable barrier to knowledge. Philosophy is an odd business.)

Metaphysics is misunderstood in the West and vastly underrated as a source of knowledge. (Russell even states that it isn't one). This is because philosophers in this tradition reject the results of logic and prefer to speculate free of analysis. This leads to charges that Metaphysics is subjective, a matter of opinion and a waste of time. However, if we do the sums we arrive at the results and there is no arguing with them.

If philosophers accepted the results of logic then Metaphysics would be understood as a proof of 'what is the case' regarding the nature of Reality. But the preferred approach is to reject them and then accuse Metaphysics of being useless.

If you read the short preface to the current Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics you'll see the problem writ large. In summary it states that Metaphysics is a waste of time. This is how dire philosophy has become in academia. If we do the sums we get the results just as we do in mathematics but not everyone likes those results or makes an effort to understand them and then metaphysics gets the blame for their poor workmanship. But only a bad workman...

I truly believe that our society would be transformed if we started to take Metaphysics seriously but I see no inclination to do so among academic philosophers and scientists. They'd rather assume their logic and reason is faulty in some way and then they can believe what they like about the world. Then other people look at their wide-ranging guesswork and conclude that Metaphysics is subjective.

As for the idea that Metaphysics is only useful as a way of generating scientific thought-experiments, this view cannot arise where it is properly studied. Metaphysics, as a process of logical analysis, cannot prove what is true but as Aurobindo and Bradley note it is an excellent way of detecting erroneous philosophical views. They share this conclusion because they 'shut up and calculate' and do not reject their results.

I would say that Metaphysics is an objective science that produces trustworthy results which we have no reason to question, and that a study of it reveals the truth about the nature of Reality, Consciousness and Existence.

  • 1
    Carnap authored Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language, where he argues in particular that "the statements of metaphysics are en­tirely meaningless" and "serve for the expression of the general attitude of a person towards life", but being "a substitute, albeit an inadequate one, for art... through the form of its works it pretends to be something that it is not". I do not believe that Aurobindo and Bradley can agree on his results. – Conifold Jul 21 at 23:25
  • @Conifold I have to admit that although this question boiled in my head for quite some time, I only posted it after reading what Carnap had to say about metaphysics because it sometimes does seem like that "expression of the general attitude of a person towards life". That is what I mean by the subjectivity of metaphysics. – Yechiam Weiss Jul 22 at 10:18
  • @Conifold - Carnap's results are in agreement with those of Aurobindo and Bradley. It's only his interpretation that is different. Carnap could not find one so he concluded that metaphysics is meaningless, as do most of his fellows. This is not a dispute over results but over how they should be interpreted. I will make an edit to clarify this point. It is difficult in metaphysics not to reach the same logical result as Carnap, Bradley, you, me and everyone else since the sums are the same for all of us, but our interpretations will vary. – PeterJ Jul 23 at 10:49
  • @YechiamWeiss - Ah. I took 'subjective' here to mean something different. – PeterJ Jul 23 at 11:00
  • @PeterJ your reply to Conifold is touching the core of what I'm trying to point here - the "interpretation" that varies, is the subjectivity in metaphysics. Maybe the results are all the same (which completely makes sense to me), but the results aren't what people are interested in with metaphysics, but rather the interpretations, so we can pretty much say that the results on their own are "meaningless" for the topic of metaphysics. – Yechiam Weiss Jul 23 at 12:48

Yes metaphysics are subjective, i.e. metaphysicians contend with "what is true to metaphysicians" not "what is true." Metaphysics are little more than unjustifiable descriptions, in short: not philosophy. The conclusions of metaphysics are solicitations to agreement, not the advancement of knowledge claims, nor confirmation of hypotheses.

See chapter one from A.J. Ayers "Language, Truth, and Logic" - "The Elimination of Metaphysics"

It is true, however, that although the greater part of metaphysics is merely the embodiment of humdrum errors, there remain a number of metaphysical passages which are the work of genuine mystical feeling; and they may more plausibly be held to have moral or aesthetic value. But. as far as we are concerned, the distinction between the kind of metaphysics that is produced by a philosopher who has been duped by grammar, and the kind that is produced by a mystic who is trying to express the inexpressible, is of no great importance : what is important to us is to realize that even the utterances of the metaphysician who is attempting to expound a vision are literally senseless; so that henceforth we may pursue our philosophical researches with as little regard for them as for the more inglorious kind of metaphysics which comes from a failure to understand the workings of our language.

As the propositions comprising metaphysics are imponderable, i.e., cannot be rendered a truth value, they are epistemically vacuous. As they are epistemically vacuous, no claim to knowledge can be made. As no claim to knowledge can be made, no basis for wisdom can be derived. As philosophy means love of wisdom, and metaphysics is wholly incapable of providing it, metaphysics cannot be philosophy, and this no matter what Wikipedia or junior college philosophy courses may suggest to the contrary.

"Metaphysics" is not a term which either Plato or Aristotle used. It originated with Andronicus of Rhodes (~150CE). Lacking a significantly coherent statement in the beginning of the writings to work with, as would have been customary for a title in his day, Rhodes' organizing principle for the extant works of Aristotle (essentially categorizing a hodgepodge into a collection) was simply that they were placed on the shelf after the books on physics: ta meta ta physika biblia, i.e. "the books that come after the books on physics." Only later was this categorical placeholder naming considered taxonomic and thus began a pernicious history of metaphysicians soliciting agreement with weltanschauung and proferring the hermeneutical as if it were heuristic - all under the banner and misnomer of "philosophy".

This is not to say that metaphysics are entirely without worth, just that they are not philosophy. Furthermore, any subject under the heading of "metaphysics" (whatever the term may be used to mean) is adequately addressed by epistemology (study of knowledge) and ontology (study of existence) and can be analyzed with the tools of logic, rhetoric and reason. Finally, it is worth pointing out that even the urgings of the sly little weaver to agree that the emperor is adorned with fine raiments of gold can be considered "metaphysics."

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