Is it possible to refute metaphysical claims? Seeing that a lot of claims made by Hegel and Heidegger who don't subscribe to the rules of analytical philosophy/logic were never refuted officially, I was wondering if it's simply because we cannot refute metaphysical claims. Was there any discussion over this in the history of philosophy that addresses this question directly or indirectly?

  • In principle: YES. If a claim is contradictory (implies a contradiction) or if it implies the denial of a well-known and empirically verified fact, then we can conclude that the said claim is FALSE. Jan 3, 2021 at 15:47
  • In practice, most metaphysical claims involve ambiguities and undefined terms in such a way that their advocates can assert that purported "refutations" do not apply. Jan 3, 2021 at 15:49
  • Not really. As long as metaphysicians are careful enough to avoid contradictions the only way to refute them is to make equally metaphysical counterclaims. Many metaphysical claims are simply dismissed as baseless, pointless or implausible, not refuted, just like many everyday claims. We often can not refute those either, even when we are fairly certain that people making them are mistaken or lying. Refutation is too high a standard for most discourses.
    – Conifold
    Jan 4, 2021 at 4:24
  • Chalmers makes it plausible that negative results are more likely in philosophy, but his concrete examples are from epistemology not metaphysics.
    – viuser
    Jan 4, 2021 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


The problem starts with the meaning of refutation.

Even in mathematics a refutation may not be so clear. The axioms of the theory could be inconsistent, a "refuted" claim still be substantially true. E.g. in naive set theory assuming the truth of Cantor's theorem leads to contradictions. Still Cantor's theorem was not refuted by this. It survived and instead the recognized inconsistencies in naive set theory were corrected.

Now at some point in mathematics or science experts converge to the consensus that a claim is well refuted. Using this as the definition of "refutation" gets us out of those conundrums.

But in philosophy a consensus is rarely achieved. And a questionable guide anyway. The history of philosophy shows that philosophical consensus has been mostly a result of cultural and political forces and pressures.

Still there are metaphysical claims where consensus has been reached and this consensus has been maintained until the present day. Despite vast cultural and political changes.

In this sense Thales' metaphysical claim that water is the first principle simply is refuted.

But for more sophisticated claims like Hegel's and Heidegger's I think that it's implausible that they could be refuted.

  • 1
    Was Thales really wrong though? "Everything is water" may be wrong by one interpretation of "water," but Thales considered water not as molecular H2O but as a universal substance capable of changing forms. "Everything is a universal substance capable of changing forms" is not so easy to reject. Note also, "everything is a wave" is a consequence of quantum physics :)
    – causative
    Jan 3, 2021 at 7:37

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