In metaphysics it is well known that all selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable. Most philosophers infer from this that metaphysics is incomprehensible. I believe this is a mistake caused by ignoring the rules of logic and not accepting its results.

Metaphysical problems take the form of undecidable questions or antinomies. We ask whether this or that is true of Reality and find that both theories give rise to contradictions. As a consequence philosophers often dismiss metaphysics as useless or suggest there is a problem with ordinary logic then go on to endorse logical positivism, dialethism, mysterianism, scientism or the view that the universe is paradoxical.

Yet this pessimistic view only necessary if these problems are not only undecidable but also intractable. The question, 'Does 2 plus 2 = 3 or 5' is undecidable but not intractable. This is because there is a third option such that our question is not a legitimate pair for the dialectic. Thus we do not consider that this question is an indication there is something wrong with ordinary logic.

In the case of metaphysical antinomies we assume there is no third option but is this the case? If we do not know this then we cannot know whether they are intractable. The question 'Does the universe begin with Something or Nothing?' is undecidable, but is it intractable? This would depend on whether there is a third option. If we know there is not then we can use Aristotle's dialectical method to decide the problem. But we cannot decide it, and this suggests there is a third option. Yet philosophers generally arrive at these problems and go no further. They assume there is no third option and this is the end of metaphysics for them.

But here's the thing. For any system of computation it is 'garbage in, garbage out'. Aristotle's rule for contradictory pairs (RCP) states that one member must be true and the other false. If we do not know this is the case for a metaphysical problem then when we attempt to decide it we are abusing the laws of logic.

And, of course, we do not know. So when a philosopher studies metaphysics and concludes it is a waste of time (since all its problems are undecidable), as do Russell, Carnap, Chalmers and others in their scholastic tradition, this is not a conclusion of logic but an interpretation of its results.

In the example of the Something-Nothing question we find that both answers do not work. The correct response would be to assume there is a third option, just as logic is trying to tell us. There is no need to assume logic is flawed or metaphysics is incomprehensible. To do so is to ignore the RCP and reject the results of logic.

If we stick to the rules we can say that logic proves that the universe does not start with (or is not) unambiguously Something or Nothing as we conceive of these states. Rather than rejecting the results of logic and dismissing metaphysics as hopeless we can assume they do their job perfectly well but that Something-Nothing is not a legitimate contradictory pair of the form A/not-A. The same approach can be taken to all metaphysical antinomies.

This is an elementary point about dialectical logic but completely crucial. It is regularly overlooked or ignored by philosophers. The logician John Corcoran makes this point in an essay somewhere but I've never seen much discussion of it.

The additional piece of information that makes this an important issue is that the third option for metaphysical 'dilemmas' is the one endorsed by mysticism and the 'Middle Way' or neutral fundamental theory, which rejects all theories and counter-theories that logic cannot decide on the grounds they are not instances of A/not-A.

So, my question, with an optional secondary question, is...

Do most philosophers ignore the rules of logic?

Is this the reason why they cannot make sense of metaphysics?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Aug 27, 2019 at 17:49
  • "Aristotle's rule for contradictory pairs (RCP) states that one member must be true and the other false." This seems key. How is it decided? Guess I will have to read up. Sep 24, 2019 at 5:22
  • 1
    @JonathanCender - The crucial point would be that it is not decided by the dialectical system but by a judgement prior to entering the theory-pair into the system. Otherwise it's 'garbage in, garbage out'. .
    – user20253
    Sep 24, 2019 at 12:45
  • It is also wholly possible that those approaches you insist dismiss metaphysics are in fact reasonable metaphysical theories. Physicalism is a metaphysics. It has to address all the same problems of any metaphysics. It just chooses to do so with the assumption that those answers take a given form. That may make it wrong, but it does not remove it from the field of metaphysical inquiry as you claim in the second paragraph. Claiming people are dismissing you and therefore dismissing them is just a shell game.
    – user9166
    Sep 25, 2019 at 17:59
  • @Jobermark - Here we go again. Is your comment relevant? I ask a question so why not answer it? It is not 'wholly possible' that the theories I dismiss are reasonable since it for their unreasonableness that metaphysics refuses to endorse them, and it is why nobody can make sense of them such that philosophers who endorse them find metaphysics incomprehensible, This can be established from a literature review. Why niggle in this way when you have the opportunity to state your views in an answer my question?
    – user20253
    Sep 25, 2019 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


The term metaphysics could mean different things to different people. For Aristotle, metaphysics was loosely used as for any topics that were outside of the explanation of physics. For pragmatic people in the past as well as today most people (i.e., scientists, science lovers etc) take the term to express any knowledge claim outside the use of sense verification. The people who frequently think meta physical topics are useless are people outside philosophy. These people are also classified a pragmatic or scientific: it must apply to reality, be beneficial to reality or it is useless. Conceptual individuals are less likely to hold the same view.

Sense verification theory requires that human human knowledge MUST use one of the famous five senses at some point: sight, hearing, taste, touch & smell. That is if we can't apply any sense verification science will deny any claim of truth to the statements or topic. For scientists the use of the senses makes us aware the truth value of a statement. In this sense some statements are unknown or undefined because there is no way for others to become AWARE. For instance, you can't become aware if I claim GOD is speaking directly to me and told me to do certain acts in reality.

For the most part sensory experience or experiments is the first, the most frequently used and primary source of knowledge. Topics outside of sensory experience are debatable because many people require proof, which is synonymous and equivalent to sense verification. There are no proofs outside the senses. To merely ask for a proof would require use of one of the senses which frequently are sight (for written proofs), touch (I must use this to write or present a documented proof to you) and speech (people can verbally Express arguments or statements for consideration). How does one prove God exists? How does one prove moral claims? These are topics most people would classify as meta physical.

Meta physical in the context of outside the realm of human senses is usually classified as objective knowledge. Normative ethics (moral claims) is said to be objective whether I can physically provide evidence or not. Diety claims are similar. For pragmatic people to blindly refer to the principle of non contradiction could be a mistake. The mistake being trying ro apply the rule to things that are not contradictions. That is the person believes that the relationship between P and Q are contradictory when they are not. So the propositions All p are q and All p are non q are not contradictions. Many people might think they are contradictory unfortunately. There are many scenarios that have a third alternative or more but people think in terms of duality wrongly. What people are calling contradictory may not really be contradictory. I would say objective knowledge is possible with strict definitions of terms. A correct understanding of what propositions are can help persuade people there is knowledge possible outside of using the human senses. Isn't this what Cogito Ergo Sum is about?

A correct understanding of what objective truth values are can help persuade people there can be knowledge we are certain of without sensory knowledge. Objective knowledge can or may be sensory but for the most part they are not provable at the time needed. A Christian believer makes a claim that the world will end in 2025 is a true claim and unavoidable. Objectively the claim is true or false once it is uttered. However, scientists and mathematicians are in the same boat and will likely deny such a claim as true without evidence which again calls for sensory experience. Objective claims are true independently of humans or science. The idea of meta physical knowledge is difficult for pragmatic people to accept or comprehend because they cant be aware of the truth value of meta physical claims. The idea of objective knowledge is that the truth value must be permanent. If x is morally true, then x must remain morally true. This is often done with topics of abortion for instance. When is abortion ok and when is it not? Whatever the answer is I know for certain if the truth value fluctuates we have a problem with consistency. A moral view point can be proven inconsistent and this demonstrates by definition that the solution given is not an absolute moral solution.

  • Thanks for a thoughtful answer. I can't disentangle all of it but I read your penultimate para as suggesting you would answer yes to both questions. . .
    – user20253
    Aug 27, 2019 at 13:05

Great question, and I think you will hate this answer:

It's a paradox as the rules of logic are developed by philosophers.

So to answer your question directly, do they ignore the rules? A false yes.

However this is part of the rules (ignoring them), considering all rules are grounded in axioms that effectively progress to further axioms.

So in "ignoring" certain axioms new ones are created. An example would be from the philosophy of logic where ignoring the axiom of excluded middle results in a set of axioms for intuitionist logic.

The ignoring of one set of axioms results in the progress to a new set of axioms as a new context in which we perceive reality.

So ignoring the laws of logic is not necessarily a bad thing as it creates a new system of logic.

This progression from on axiom to another is the grounding of logic to begin with: (A -> A) -> B

You will not find a philosopher that strictly follows the laws of logic as you cannot find a logical system that is self-contained that does not rely on outside assumptions to justify it.

Metaphysics, much like logic, is the recursion and isomorphism of assumptions as assumptions:

Isomorphism as inversion where one assumption Inverts to many: A-> (B = A->A )

And recursion where the assumptions repeat (through a variety of forms...see above example).

This isomorphism and recursion is of course assumed, hence maintains itself through a constant linear progressive and circular self referencing form.

No philosopher has went directly into the nature of assumption as a starting point as this would require building a foundation of a fallacy and negating the fallacy. This opens up a pandora's box.

  • And I said the answer will be hated.
    – Eodnhoj7
    Aug 26, 2019 at 5:22
  • Thanks. I don't hate the answer but it doesn't seem to address the question. I feel you've slightly missed its meaning and in a way that is difficult to untangle. But the downvote is not mine.
    – user20253
    Aug 26, 2019 at 12:02
  • That is the problem, logic is created. Aristotle's development of deduction, peirces triadic logic, thales with some brief variation of science, the atomist approach of the presocratics which influenced wittgenstein and Russell, the symbolic notation of euler, the nature of space as apriori thus subjective, etc.
    – Eodnhoj7
    Aug 26, 2019 at 15:06
  • ***space as apriori necessitates axioms of geometry are created.
    – Eodnhoj7
    Aug 26, 2019 at 15:17
  • It's an odd thing then that the universe seems to obey the rules of Aristotle's 'made-up' logic, and we all use them even when we haven't heard of Aristotle.
    – user20253
    Sep 24, 2019 at 12:49

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