Can any metaphysical positions be proven?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by wegs, Aug 26, 2016.

  1. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Had a conversation with one of my philosophical friends this evening, and we started talking about how to define reality. And then, the topic of metaphysics came up - a subject that is intriguing to me, yet confusing.

    Here's my questions for you all on this. If we put forth a metaphysical assertion, can it ever be proven? Or are all metaphysical positions based on what we personally believe to be true?

    Although we don't have a stringent method which will reliably establish metaphysical claims (I think?), that shouldn't cause us to go off into completely abstract thinking or that our disagreements can't be rationally argued.

    Further, do you think that any accepted metaphysical position is only as good as the next best one that comes after it? (since it can't ever be proven)
     
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  3. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    You're already answered much of your questions. "Can it ever be proven" and then you state "since it can't ever be proven".

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    I would say metaphysics is subjective, can't be proven and therefore all you can ever do (like much of philosophy) is discuss your viewpoints.
     
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  5. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Well, I'm asking all of you here, if I'm right in thinking that.

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    But how about other genres if you will, of metaphysics - what is the origin of the universe? What caused the universe? Does the universe have a purpose? Doesn't one's answers to those questions require, at least to some degree, evidence? (as much as one can know about these topics)

    Maybe some viewpoints are more accepted than others, and is that how theories are formed? (that we accept) Sorry for all of my spin-off questions, but it's curious to me.

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  7. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    Well, we know that there aren't many members on here so "all of you" may just be me!

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    No, if there was an answer it wouldn't be metaphysics. It would be physics.

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    If you can prove purpose to the universe you can prove God and we know how that's going to go.

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  8. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    One can easily imagine a metaphysical scenario that is falsifiable.
     
  9. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    But, physics explains ''how'' things behave, but not why they've come to exist in the first place. (''things'' being a casual term but hopefully, you know what I mean) Physics is only concerned with what can be observed, but doesn't answer the question as to how it came to be. Is it fair to say that physics is about knowledge, while metaphysics is about perception and wisdom?

    For this thread, we won't go down that rabbit hole.

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  10. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    And what about verifiable? Are you saying that metaphysical positions can be proven to be false, but not proven to be true?
     
  11. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    I don't really know much about what is considered to be metaphysics but your assessment seems about right to me therefore if it's about perception and wisdom it would seem to be a subjective subject matter so I don't know what one can "prove" when the subject matter is subjective?
     
  12. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

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    wegs, I was taught that the 'metaphysical', if manifest in any kind of true(?) actual(?) existence(?), would be entirely outside of any possible human sensory perception of said manifestation.

    Ergo : lack of any means of perception denies any type of evidence collection which would seem to completely halt any "Evidentiary Procedure".

    Maybe think of it like this, wegs : to "put forth a metaphysical assertion" is akin to releasing the tiniest portion of the lightest of "vapors" into the winds of a raging Hurricane - what "proof" could possibly be discerned of that action...after the fact?
     
  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    I'm inclined to interpret 'metaphysics' as the description and analysis of our conceptual tool-kit, the most general categories that we use to make sense of our world.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

    At the forefront of metaphysics is the topic of ontology, the study of what exists. It addresses what it means to 'exist' and various proposed methods to determine what various theories presuppose and what needs to exist to make them true.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existence/

    W.V. Quine (a famous 20th century philosopher) invented a very influential method of determining ontological commitments in 1948. In a nutshell, it takes a set of true statements constitutive of a theory. It translates all of them into the formal language of first-order formal logic. (If that's possible, which is controversial, and if there is only one way to do it, which is controversial too.) Then the theory's underlying ontology would be all the bound variables that theory's quantifiers quantify over. In other words, all the facts necessary to render the formulas in the theory true.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-commitment/

    Metaphysics inquires into a whole host of concepts that we (including the scientists among us) employ in our thinking, without a great deal of critical awareness of what we are doing.

    What are abstract objects and what is the process of abstraction? What kind of reality to universals have? (Universals are general terms like 'red', 'good' or 'horse' that can apply to any number of particulars.) How many universals are there? One for every general term in our language? (That would create a very crowded ontology.) What kind of reality do mathematical objects have?

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abstract-objects/

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties/

    What are material objects? There's a whole subfield of metaphysics called 'mereology that examines part-whole relations. In a complex system, what's the relationship between the system and its components? What reality does a 'chariot' have if we remove the various parts, the wheels, the axle, the body? Take away all the parts and there's nothing left, so can the Chariot be said to exist? The early Buddhists were famous for examining this problem in the Questions of King Milinda and for answering 'no', the chariot is just a mental construction.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/material-constitution/

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mereology/

    What should we make of vagueness? Is reality always well defined and precise, with vagueness only an indicator of our own ignorance? Or are there intrinsically vague facts?

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vagueness/

    Time presents a host of problems. Does time pass or is that just an illusion? Philosophers talk about A-theory and B-theory, with B-theory attempting to make sense of time without use of grammatical tenses (past, present and future) and only using time intervals and 'before' and 'after. 'A-theory argues that tenses are necessary to understanding time and can't be eliminated or reduced. Time related issues arise with time-travel and with persistence. Is persistence identity over time? If so, what stays identical? Or is persistence a series of more or less separate instants, each an individual connected (perhaps causally) to those before and after?

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time/

    Possibility and necessity constitute the subject of modality.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/modality-varieties/

    Are there essences and essential qualities, qualities that something must have in order to be the thing it is?

    There are no end of questions and issues regarding causality and understanding what the causal relation is and whether it is always the same thing.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-metaphysics/

    I'm not sure that any of this is something that one can prove, or even a matter of true or false. It's more a matter of conceptual clarification, understanding what it that we are doing when we think about things, and of whether our concepts work in the ways we want them to.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2016
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  14. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    "Why" is probably the most subjective question there is.
     
  15. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    No, I mean it can go either way depending on how you word the question. I can imagine ways to prove I have telepathy for instance, or that you have no free will. For instance I say I can prove you have no free will. I hand you an envelope to guard as you see fit. You open it at the end of your day or month and it contains a description of everything you said and did.
     
  16. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Isn't how also why?
     
  17. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Metaphysical affairs fall out of the non-concrete character of reason, and accordingly its intellectual objects aren't particulars that can be "shown-proved" or "shown-disproved" (such as an ordinary claim like "There is an ostrich in the room"). A proposal for "first principles (preconditions)" or an ontological construct can be evaluated in terms of the degree of its internal consistency, and whether or not it adequately fulfills some practical need or argument for usefulness. But that's about it.

    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, phenomenalism and its cohort of positivism made a valiant(?) effort to diminish the influence and dominance of abstractions and generalizations, and the systematizations of them (metaphysical theories and stances). Those efforts eventually failed or fell out of popularity.

    From a conceptual standpoint phenomenalism was contended by some to be a variety of monism itself (perhaps a type of neutral monism). But when referencing what the idea was abstracted from -- our immediate perceptions and sensations prior to being worked upon by reason / intellect -- it placed primary significance upon the particular events and qualities of everyday experience.

    phenomenalism - The monistic view that all empirical statements (such as the laws of physics) can be placed in a one to one correspondence with statements about only the phenomenal (i.e. mental appearances).

    Chris Eliasmith: "A view [phenomenalism] held by A.J. Ayer which was shown by Roderick Chisholm to be untenable. Chisholm showed that would not be possible to translate physical statements into phenomenal statements because phenomenal statements are dependent on physical descriptions of the observation conditions and conditions of the perceiver."

    Henri Poincare (in perhaps the context of phenomenalism / positivism descended from Ernst Mach): "[A] reality completely independent of the mind which conceives it, sees or feels it, is an impossibility. A world as exterior as that, even if it existed, would for us be forever inaccessible. But what we call objective reality is, in the last analysis, what is common to many thinking beings, and could be common to us all; this common part, we shall see, can only be the harmony expressed by mathematical laws. It is this harmony then which is the sole objective reality, the only truth we can obtain." --The Value Of Science, 1914

    However, Ernst Mach's version of "phenomenalism" was actually related to David Hume's bundle theory, where mind (ego) is no more fundamental than material bodies. Both of the latter were composed of elemental sensations that might be treated as objective -- and thus Hume and Mach instead entertained pan-phenomenalism (sensations or experiences outrun mind, are more primary) and not panpsychism (mind is fundamental, everywhere). Mach also contended at times that his view was epistemological rather than ontological, as so many others later construed it.

    Ernst Mach: [...] Bodies do not produce sensations, but complexes of elements (complexes of sensations) make up bodies. If, to the physicist, bodies appear the real, abiding existences, whilst the " elements " are regarded merely as their evanescent, transitory appearance, the physicist forgets, in the assumption of such a view, that all bodies are but thought-symbols for complexes of elements (complexes of sensations). Here, too, the elements in question form the real, immediate, and ultimate foundation, which it is the task of physiologico-physical research to investigate. By the recognition of this fact, many points of physiology and physics assume more distinct and more economical forms, and many spurious problems are disposed of.

    For us, therefore, the world does not consist of mysterious entities, which by their interaction with another, equally mysterious entity, the ego, produce sensations, which alone are accessible. For us, colours, sounds, spaces, times, . . . are provisionally the ultimate elements, whose given connexion it is our business to investigate.

    [...] The ego must be given up. It is partly the perception of this fact, partly the fear of it, that has given rise to the many extravagances of pessimism and optimism, and to numerous religious, ascetic, and philosophical absurdities. In the long run we shall not be able to close our eyes to this simple truth, which is the immediate outcome of psychological analysis. We shall then no longer place so high a value upon the ego, which even during the individual life greatly changes, and which, in sleep or during absorption in some idea, just in our very happiest moments, may be partially or wholly absent. We shall then be willing to renounce individual immortality,' and not place more value upon the subsidiary elements than upon the principal ones. In this way we shall arrive at a freer and more enlightened view of life, which will preclude the disregard of other egos and the overestimation of our own. The ethical ideal founded on this view of life will be equally far removed from the ideal of the ascetic, which is not biologically tenable for whoever practises it, and vanishes at once with his disappearance, and from the ideal of an overweening Nietzschean "superman," who cannot, and I hope will not be tolerated by his fellow-men.

    If a knowledge of the connexion of the elements (sensations) does not suffice us, and we ask, Who possesses this connexion of sensations, Who experiences it ? then we have succumbed to the old habit of subsuming every element (every sensation) under some unanalysed complex, and we are falling back imperceptibly upon an older, lower, and more limited point of view. It is often pointed out, that a psychical experience which is not the experience of a determinate subject is unthinkable, and it is held that in this way the essential part played by the unity of consciousness has been demonstrated. But the Ego-consciousness can be of many different degrees and composed of a multiplicity of chance memories. One might just as well say that a physical process which does not take place in some environment or other, or at least somewhere in the universe, is unthinkable. In both cases, in order to make a beginning with our investigation, we must be allowed to abstract from the environment, which, as regards its influence, may be very different in different cases, and in special cases may shrink to a minimum. Consider the sensations of the lower animals, to which a subject with definite features can hardly be ascribed. It is out of sensations that the subject is built up, and, once built up, no doubt the subject reacts in turn on the sensations.

    The habit of treating the unanalysed ego complex as an indiscerptible unity frequently assumes in science remarkable forms...
    https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/mach.htm
     
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  18. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I always enjoy reading your posts, CC! Before digging into the whole post, something jumped out at me, and that being ''the ego must be given up. It is partly the perception of this fact, partly the fear of it, that has given rise to the many extravagances of pessimism and optimism, and to numerous religious, ascetic, and philosophical absurdities.''

    How does one ''give up ego?'' And not so sure that our ego is responsible for our spiritual/religious beliefs. Ego is essentially defined as one's own self importance and self worth, does this mean that people of faith only see their value if they can ''create'' a god of their own selection? Sorry, that just leaped out at me for now.

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  19. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    Anyone can become more humble. That's a start at giving up the ego not that you would want to literally give up the ego entirely. The posters who get angry about whatever position they are attacking are doing so in large part due to their ego.
     
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  20. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    That's a good point. Humility is what we all should strive for, and as we humble ourselves further, I suppose our egos stay in check. Having a balanced sense of self worth though can keep us from getting involved with the wrong people, or being taken advantage of. The concept of metaphysics though is a very important one, however, in that it begs the question if the sum total of our views in life and about life, stem from our ego. CC always gets me to think.

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  21. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Do you mean if we ask how, that should answer ''why?'' Sorry, not quite sure I follow.
     
  22. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Sometimes, science tries to answer why, so we can make sense of the how. ''Because science says so,'' isn't a great answer. lol We want more. The theory of evolution started off as a subjective idea, so perhaps all ideas, concepts, and ''beliefs'' start with subjectivity as their base. Creationists deny the theory of evolution, claiming that the evidence to support it isn't sufficient. But, there is enough evidence to support it, and in my view, it's not a subjective theory. But, to them, it is. To us, creationism is (erroneous) and subjective. Guess it all depends on what lens we're looking through.
     
  23. kx000 Valued Senior Member

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    If you personally believe something, personally do the science.

    EDIT: Theory ≠ Theology
     

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