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6/15/2018 12:44 pm  #1


Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

Having a difficult time trying to show someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual generalizations. It's hard to do this especially when the other person is concerned solely with the scientific facts of reality, thinking that anything beyond them is a generalization. For instance, essence explains the knowability of things but essence just is a generalization of a set of scientific facts concerning a thing, a way to organize reality--and this organization is imposed not inherent.

Any tips?

Last edited by RomanJoe (6/15/2018 1:27 pm)

 

6/15/2018 2:50 pm  #2


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

You might point out that they are taking one side in an age-old nominalist vs. realist debate, which can only be defended metaphysically. Or to put it another way, ask why the "just" in "just conceptual generalizations"? As for defending the reality of concepts, see the Augustinian proof in Five Proofs. And one can point out that no fact, scientific or otherwise, is discernible without a conceptual generalization.

 

6/15/2018 3:58 pm  #3


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

The scholastics divided metaphysics into epistemology and ontology. We do ontology any time we claim that something does or doesn't exist. But I doubt your interlocutor is denying that something exists. He's probably denying the need for “heavy” analytic ontology (e.g. debates over properties, etc.), and then (as SR rightly points out) taking a position in those debates by arguing for the non-existence of properties and what have you.

Is there any way to share more of the conversation?

 

6/15/2018 6:07 pm  #4


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

To see how metaphysics in general (ontology) *can* mean something more than just discussions about human concepts, tell him about how there are scientists working in QM who doubt the real existence of atoms. But there are also those who believe atoms really exist. Who's right and who's wrong? Your friend, if he's reasonable, should at least concede that it's possible (or epistemically possible) that atoms exist. And this is a metaphysical question; it can't just be settled with the science, since presumably we could get the same empirical results whether we take atoms as real existents or as just part of a description model. To take a stand on this issue we must move beyond the sciences and start doing metaphysics. At the very least we can coherently ask such questions (unless your friend is a smelly, absolutely haraam logical positivist of sorts), so why outright curb our curiosity?

And consciousness/qualia is a good example of "something" that we certainly know exists, but not through the methods of natural science. Here we can do more than ask a question, we already know the answer (consciousness is a real feature of reality), even if this answer doesn't come from science. Which is why we have something like the hard problem of consciousness; science all by itself doesn't tell us consciousness *should* exist; we just get a number of correlations already assuming qualia (and we assume them because we know consciousness is real even if science itself can't establish its objective existence).

If however he's just arguing for nominalism, then check out the arguments for realism. As SR mentioned, Feser writes quite a deal about this subject in the Augustinian proof.

Last edited by Miguel (6/15/2018 6:15 pm)

 

6/16/2018 1:43 am  #5


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

SR wrote:

You might point out that they are taking one side in an age-old nominalist vs. realist debate, which can only be defended metaphysically. Or to put it another way, ask why the "just" in "just conceptual generalizations"? As for defending the reality of concepts, see the Augustinian proof in Five Proofs. And one can point out that no fact, scientific or otherwise, is discernible without a conceptual generalization.

This is a good point. He's not very philosophically nuanced, and I doubt he knows what the terms nominalism and realism refer to. I find this to be a constant issue with people who presume a sort of scientism--they are extremely ill-informed when it comes to philosophy. 

     Thread Starter
 

6/16/2018 1:58 am  #6


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

John West wrote:

The scholastics divided metaphysics into epistemology and ontology. We do ontology any time we claim that something does or doesn't exist. But I doubt your interlocutor is denying that something exists. He's probably denying the need for “heavy” analytic ontology (e.g. debates over properties, etc.), and then (as SR rightly points out) taking a position in those debates by arguing for the non-existence of properties and what have you.

Is there any way to share more of the conversation?

He has rarely read any philosophy and hardly understands metaphysics. This is part of the problem with trying to engage with him on this issue--he has a presumed worldview, falling into the "science is just cool" camp. I don't know how to properly break that presumption. He, in effect, believes that any metaphysical principle I bring up is just a lay-person's attempt to make reality manageable despite the rather complex nature of physical beings that scientific analysis gives us. This isn't online so I can't really copy and paste anything but I'll paraphrase a bit:

He mentions something about humans being a swarm of microbes and bacteria operating in a vastly complex ecosystem. I ask him if he thinks this means we are reducible to those microbes and bacteria and, if so, why does the buck stop there? Why can't we bottom-out at the subatomic level and say we are actually reducible to that level and any higher level is just a reconfiguration of our base material constituents. He concedes that we are reducible to our bacteria and cells and that (somehow?) we are also reducible to the subatomic. His proof for this is that scientific analysis shows that human beings, like all material things, are structured by the subatomic level. I argue that the scientific facts of a being only represent one facet of that being's existence--surely our self-perception of our bodily and conscious unity, our oneness, is contrary to the idea that we are reducible to trillions of smaller substances. I go on about form and essence. He says that this is merely a way of re-describing the scientific facts to better fit a common-sense picture of the world. I ask how science undermines common sense.  He answers by saying it shows that we are not one thing but many things--cells, molecules, atoms, etc. I face palm on the inside. 

     Thread Starter
 

6/16/2018 2:00 am  #7


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

Miguel wrote:

To see how metaphysics in general (ontology) *can* mean something more than just discussions about human concepts, tell him about how there are scientists working in QM who doubt the real existence of atoms. But there are also those who believe atoms really exist. Who's right and who's wrong? Your friend, if he's reasonable, should at least concede that it's possible (or epistemically possible) that atoms exist. And this is a metaphysical question; it can't just be settled with the science, since presumably we could get the same empirical results whether we take atoms as real existents or as just part of a description model. To take a stand on this issue we must move beyond the sciences and start doing metaphysics. At the very least we can coherently ask such questions (unless your friend is a smelly, absolutely haraam logical positivist of sorts), so why outright curb our curiosity?

And consciousness/qualia is a good example of "something" that we certainly know exists, but not through the methods of natural science. Here we can do more than ask a question, we already know the answer (consciousness is a real feature of reality), even if this answer doesn't come from science. Which is why we have something like the hard problem of consciousness; science all by itself doesn't tell us consciousness *should* exist; we just get a number of correlations already assuming qualia (and we assume them because we know consciousness is real even if science itself can't establish its objective existence).

If however he's just arguing for nominalism, then check out the arguments for realism. As SR mentioned, Feser writes quite a deal about this subject in the Augustinian proof.

Hmm perhaps I should mention the hard problem of consciousness. I fear that he is unknowingly some sort of epiphenomenalist or eliminative materialist. Not becausee he has put serious thought towards these positions, but rather because it's trendy and fits his worldview. 

     Thread Starter
 

6/16/2018 3:34 pm  #8


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

RomanJoe wrote:

He has rarely read any philosophy and hardly understands metaphysics. This is part of the problem with trying to engage with him on this issue--he has a presumed worldview, falling into the "science is just cool" camp. I don't know how to properly break that presumption. He, in effect, believes that any metaphysical principle I bring up is just a lay-person's attempt to make reality manageable despite the rather complex nature of physical beings that scientific analysis gives us.

I see. Well, this is a problem of literacy, not arguments. To him, you (probably) sound like you're babbling.

 

6/16/2018 3:54 pm  #9


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

RomanJoe wrote:

I argue that the scientific facts of a being only represent one facet of that being's existence--surely our self-perception of our bodily and conscious unity, our oneness, is contrary to the idea that we are reducible to trillions of smaller substances. I go on about form and essence. He says that this is merely a way of re-describing the scientific facts to better fit a common-sense picture of the world. I ask how science undermines common sense. He answers by saying it shows that we are not one thing but many things--cells, molecules, atoms, etc. I face palm on the inside.

Haha. Cut the guy some slack. He's raising an apparent contradiction. People are single entities (your thesis). People are many entities (from natural science).* That is good philosophical method.

The trouble is that the contradiction is only apparent. You can resolve it by saying that people are unities of particles. This, of course, leads to the problem of unity (but trying to go there brings you back to literacy issues).

*There is also a suppressed materialist premise.

 

6/17/2018 12:09 pm  #10


Re: Good way to convince someone that metaphysics isn't just conceptual?

That's a great point about ontologically literacy. I think right now we just operate with two fundamentally opposed worldviews and he seems too swayed by a materialist presumption to properly consider any other view of the world. Any reading recommendations? I thought about Oderberg's Real Essentialism or perhaps the first couple chapters of Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics (I believe he deals with the claim that metaphysics is merely conceptual). 

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