July 30, 2023


Metaphysical Skepticism: we can't determine the ultimate nature of reality. (Jacob Bell, July 2023, Philosophy))

Metaphysics can be thought of as an investigation into the ultimate or fundamental nature of reality. In other words, it is the attempt to reveal and describe how and what things really are at some foundational level.The most popular kind of metaphysics seems focused on determining whether the world is best described as fundamentally physical, mental, neutral, or some combination of these. I have no quarrel with many of the questions that metaphysics seeks to investigate. Here I am concerned with the metaphysical doctrines which make grand claims, such as 'everything is physical' or 'everything is mental'. Popular examples of these doctrines include physicalism and idealism. Less mainstream positions which are gaining in popularity include neutral monism and panpsychism. I will settle for brief descriptions of the two more popular positions. Physicalism refers to the thesis that everything which exists is physical, including thoughts, numbers, minds, and consciousness (if these things exist, of course). Idealism, in contrast, is the thesis that everything which exists is in some sense mental or a product of consciousness, including seemingly non-mental physical objects such as rocks, chairs, and planets. I am neither a physicalist nor an idealist. This isn't because I take some other metaphysical theory as true, but because I am extremely skeptical of any position that makes grand sweeping generalizations regarding the fundamental nature of reality. Let me tell you why. [...]

 If a theory is logically flawed it cannot be considered a serious contender. However, many competing theories are logically valid, consistent, and coherent. So an appeal to the inner logic of a theory doesn't seem to be decisive if we are comparing theories which are each coherent. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that a system is an accurate description of reality just because it is internally valid. Many great works of fiction are internally valid, even if they appeal to magic. Likewise, some conspiracy theories contain internally valid systems of logic but don't reflect reality, since they're likely to be using false premises. But imagine that we had no way to empirically verify or falsify the premises of a conspiracy theory. How could we then determine that the theory was an inaccurate description of reality? This parallels the problem of verifying or falsifying premises of grand metaphysical theories. If the premises of some metaphysical theory cannot be empirically or experientially verified or falsified, we seem to be restricted to an analysis of its logical validity and internal coherence which leaves us no better off in determining whether the theory accurately describes reality. And a theory that is logically sound and contains no contradictions, but which has no foot in empirical investigation or experience, could be just a fantastical creation of rationality. 

Posted by at July 30, 2023 5:53 PM