Friday, 28 April 2017

The question

      For many persons, metaphysics begins and ends with faith.
      This is a clue, for us, because it points to a 'something' that is seen to be of human concern — something to do with there being a world, something to do with right and wrong, something to do with the fear of death and awareness of our finitude ('original sin' in Christianity).
      God is a, or the, metaphysical being.
      God is the greatest, most perfect, infinite — the possessor of every superlative, and more beyond our limited comprehension. God is the answer to every question. God knows infinitely more things that we finite beings can ever know. And so on.
      My charge, my complaint has nothing to do with paucity of evidence — the problem Dawkins and Hitchens make so much of. Evidence is in the eye of the beholder. The philosopher William James recognized the overpowering force of religious revelation. How can you judge revelation scientifically, if you have not been similarly blessed?
      The believer has a point.
      It takes great skill, knowledge and powers of discernment to read a microscope slide, or an X-ray. I am not going to argue with a physician over what those little specks or those faint shadows 'mean'.
      My objection is different. Based on what believers say about their 'God', based on what they do or have done under the influence of their belief, an impartial observer can only conclude that God... is a monster.
      You see an object to love, worship and obey. I see a monster. If God is a person — a question about which there has been much theological debate — then one must judge Him (or Her, or It) on the basis of what is said and believed about that person. Not knowing the individual concerned at first hand, that's all there is or could ever be to base a judgement upon.
      And what is said and believed about God could only be true if God is a monster. How can they not see that?
      It is possible that God exists, or at least some being answering to at least some of the properties attributed to God. In that case, unlike Russell who said 'You should have given me more evidence for believing in you,' my response is, 'Go to Hell.'
      There's no arguing with God. There's no arguing with a true believer. Yet, the true believer and I have something in common which to me is more important than what separates us: awareness of a metaphysical question.
      In the Greek legend of the battle between the Gods and the Titans, the only thing that ultimately distinguished those that were 'Gods' from those that were not, was that a God, by definition, is 'worthy of worship'. The Gods claimed Mount Olympus while the Titans were condemned to incarceration in Tartarus.
      And just as the Greek thinker Xenophanes questioned the worthiness to be worshipped of the Gods on Olympus, so I am questioning the worthiness of Xenophanes' 'one God', in the various hyperbolic descriptions that have come down from religious tradition.
      There is only the question.

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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Why metaphysics?

      'Philosopher' is a political label (the 'lovers of wisdom'). 'Metaphysics' is a library classification ('the books after Aristotle's Physics'). Does it really matter what term you use?
      Somehow, 'metaphysics' seems more apt for what I am doing than 'philosophy'. Fact is, I'm not sure I know what philosophy is any more. I have little in common with the philosophers (so-called) of the Academy. But metaphysics... that's a word, an idea that has always moved me.
      There is something to know metaphysically, or from a metaphysical standpoint. Something apart from empirical science or even logic (or 'analysis').
      I have a question. A metaphysical question. I call it a metaphysical question, because there is no other way to make sense of it. Not that it makes any sense anyway, but it seems to.
      Something is. What is 'is'? Or what is 'what is'?
      I don't even know if that's the fundamental question. Maybe we should be looking for something that comes before is. ('Nothing' or 'is-not' would be one candidate, 'becomes' would be another, Pirsig's 'Quality' would be a third possibility.) That's a question I shall leave open.
      You've got to start somewhere...
      But that doesn't excuse making a false start, or a bad start...
      The thing is, when you've tried so many times, and each time you didn't end up where you hoped you would be — with something that at least 'looked' like an answer — why should this time be any different?
      Why not just admit it: I don't know how to do this.
      Then don't even try.
      Take a step back. There is something else to explain. I can explain how this starts. Instead of trying to 'answer the question', look to see where the question — or the idea of metaphysics — comes from. Catch it at the moment of its birth, if you can. Or if not, take your best guess from the evidence available.
      Instead of seeking a 'metaphysical explanation' of reality, or the world, or 'is', I am setting out to explain metaphysics.

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