The Good of Metaphysics

Metaphysics, despite what booksellers may offer in the way of do-it-yourself witchcraft manuals and stories of UFOs, is much different than any popular misconception of its meaning. For Aristotle, the starting point of Wisdom, or philosophy, was metaphysics. Modernity has more or less rejected metaphysics in its quest for self-destruction. But metaphysics will never go away, because metaphysics is reality itself – the study of the totality of what is. Metaphysics is the starting point in terms of actual foundations of knowledge and presupposition, yet it comes at the end of the process of pedagogy, as it is the highest science. Nowadays, aside from certain continental philosophers who follow in the train of genius writers like Husserl, theoria and metaphysics have been jettisoned for pragmatism, post-modernism and other forms of self-destructive prattle. And over the length of centuries in the West, there’s been no lack of contributors to this gradual decline.

Unfortunately, certain basic flaws in Aristotle’s own position led to that decline, particularly his adoption of empiricism. Aristotle cut the world off from the possibility of any other world or reality or dimension, and while it took a millennium or two, this ultimately resulted in materialism, positivism and finally the negation of all meaning and purpose. In fact, that last notion was crucial for early moderns like Bacon who did have legitimate disagreements Aristotle. Aristotle had adopted several ideas about the natural world from tradition, such as that the heavens are perfectly unchanged, static realities, or that rocks have an essential quality of “going downward.” Bacon rightly laughed at this, but what Bacon didn’t foresee was that tossing out Aristotle’s final cause, or telos, would result in the total collapse of philosophy.

The place of Thomas Aquinas can also not be forgotten on this slope of decline. Aquinas followed suit with an Aristotelian-Platonic synthesis (so he thought), which placed human reasoning on an independent basis that never touched the divine, since the absolutely simple divine essence, within which the divine archetypes upon which even “natural” reasoning was based, were never accessed by the mind of man in this life. Aquinas upheld this notion due to his idea of simplicity, which was such that the divinity, which is also the ground of human knowledge, never interacts with or connects to the abstracted phantasms of man’s mind, since the exemplars themselves are “in the divine essence,” a “First Cause” that is only able to “reveal” itself by created effects in this life. Bacon departed from these ideas, and turned to a more consistent (so he thought) empiricism. 

We don’t observe a telos, or purpose. We observe cause and effect, and from a human vantage point.  But this is a double-edged sword: If things don’t have any purpose, essence or meaning outside of the arbitrary “meaning” individual given humans ascribe to them, then meaning doesn’t inhere over time, and we end up with the problems Hume elucidated about identity over time.  Certainly Bacon still thought there was a Deity and meaning in the world, but he set in motion the train of (flawed) reasoning that would ultimately dispose of any objective meaning. If we adopt Bacon’s more consistent Thomistic more consistent Aristotelian empiricism, then give it time: we shall end up with Hume’s radical skepticism. And radical skepticism led moderns to adopt bizarre, destructive philosophies like nihilism, post-modernism and other emanations of the humanist faith. Kant was thus right to seek for an answer to Hume in transcendental categories, because that signified a return to the crucial area of a priori notions, where Plato was right and Aristotle was wrong (though Aristotle was right about quite a lot).

Fresco of Aristotle in the Philanthropion Orthodox church on Lake Ioanninon, Greece. By George and Frangos Kondaris, mid-14th century.

Fresco of Aristotle in the Philanthropion Orthodox church on Lake Ioanninon, Greece. By George and Frangos Kondaris, mid-14th century.

For Kant, the solution was to reconcile how there could be a synthetic a priori claim that was true: how can we make an a priori claim about all experience? Kant, following the Aristotelian notion of transcendental arguments, correctly listed pre-conditional necessary categories that were presupposed in any human experience of cognition. However, Kant traveled the road of folly by still ascribing to empiricism, and in so doing, his categories never touched the objective, external world. Kant could never know if any of his claims  and arguments were actually true of the noumenal world, and so he stated they were only true of the phenomena of experience as they appeared. And from there, as a rationalist, he tacked on all kinds of other ideas that would only further the cause of destroying what was one of the greatest insights in the history of philosophy – pre-conditional categories of experience, proven by indirect, transcendental argumentation.

The solution to this imagined dilemma is rather simple: toss out the illusory divide between the phenomenal and noumenal, and hold to a direct experience of the world – to which the transcendental categories do indeed apply – and explain the objective world to which all men are party. This actually approach not only works; it makes sense, and it explains how we do things like see, interpret, walk, analyze, build rockets, form sentences, etc. Brilliant philosophers like P.F. Strawson have carried on this monumental work of real philosophy in transcendental arguments, venturing into the realm that most obviously demonstrates this: that of linguistics. For a human person to make a single sentence presupposes an entire world, structured in a certain way – this is the salvation and continuation of real philosophy, while the prophets of relativism and post-modern fantasists will be left in the dust.

So we can salute Aristotle in his primacy of metaphysics and be simultaneously saddened in his acceptance of the nascent empiricism that would be the death of the West, a process ending in all-corroding relativism. It may have taken a few thousand years to realize the full implications of the supposedly neutral “scientific method” unto civilization’s collapse, and if there is to be science any longer, it must recognize that theoria and philosophy are vitally necessary. Naturally, it’s a problem not so much of intellect as of the proud human psyche in convincing our fellows to even understand what transcendental arguments are and why they are relevant.

Questions such as these should appeal to Gödelian mathematical types, who are often far better-equipped to tackle these issues than so-called “philosophers” of our modern universities, intellectual harlequins who are in truth nothing other than the sophists Plato and Aristotle once conquered. It’s no accident that the ancient sophists are an unknown rabble, aside from one or two obscure names. Thousands of years later, the world is still blessed to know who Plato and Aristotle are. The sooner the modern sophists pass out of existence, the better. Let us hail a return to Aristotle and logic, purged of its errors – a return to sound reasoning – to the trivium and quadrivium, and to the transcendent and the sacral.


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18 thoughts on “The Good of Metaphysics

  1. Pardon the correction: “…by still ascribing to empiricism…” should be “…by still subscribing to empiricism…” On another topic: Can Husserl’s phenomenology really be called a metaphysics? Does Heidegger really build upon Husserl or take his thought off into la-la land?

    • Early Husserl is roughly a Platonist, so yes in a way. Later Husserl is more Buddhist, so it kinda goes off into paradox and uber mystery. Yes, Heidegger was a student of Husserl, but Heidegger thought Husserl was too rational and not grounded enough in “life-being.” Both have their pros and cons in my view.

      • I am also encountering this weird attitude, and it is prominent among supposed ‘Orthodox’ in the USA and Anglosphere particularly. I have had enlightening discussions with Russians and Serbs on subjects such as metaphysics and metapolitics, but further west they’ve developed a lock-down aversion to it I find rather bizarre.

      • Yes, it’s a result of Americanism, American religion and revivalist Protestantism, converts and anti-intellectualist “spiritualism” that is quite obviously not the attitude of the fathers.

      • I appreciate your post, though I am novice to modern philosophy. But as a translator for Palamas Triads (finishing the last Triad) , a basic metaphysic is absolutely necessary to understand the Dionysian concept of super essence, and heirarchy. More importantly, the heart of hesychasm, mystic or sacred stillness, is the union of the nous with the being beyond being, beyond good. People do not understand that every action has a telos and is directed infallibly toward a chosen good. Would to God the concept of good was recovered. They would see the greatest good is God Himself. Lastly, Aristotle was a dud because he was never initiated. A true spirituality is platonic. Aristotle just devolves to base materialism, hence the Western morass. The Church keeps Aristotle and Plato in the narthex because they best exegete the logos. They cannot explain the mystery of the sanctuary,however. Their light only penetrates to a psychology, not a proper pneumatology, represented by the human heart or the pneuma, or the Hindu altar. Nevertheless, it is a good foreshadowing. Dang, I hate marxist readings of them. Keep up the good posts.

  2. Thank you for this bit of insight! I am certainly convinced I ought think more and speak less, though I will suffer the comment that more metaphysics might tend to help familiarize ourselves with our spiritual (Divine portion) nature as I suspect quantum mechanics also does or at least could do, resulting in the possibility of a better world to live in, rather to pathologically kill and destroy in.

  3. As many pieces I’ve written critiquing western philosophy, absolute divine simplicity and the inadequacies of philosophy, it is nothing short of ridiculous to think I’m saying rationalism and “secular” “metaphysics” is some kind of substitute. I have literally written hundreds of pages of articles against the very idea, and anyone interested can look at the JaysAnalysis archives. Not only that, I have countless talks and lectures and interviews making the same point.

  4. It is a thing of beauty to see the technicalities and details of human thought expressed in such astute and meticulous a manner. That, in and of itself, exemplifies a seemingly lost discipline, namely, the classically formed mind of great erudition. And so it is with much joy that I read this article! And although in the tradition of this thought many others may come to fruitfully contribute, some neo-Platonics and Berkeley come to mind, albeit many more and variant they are, what is being inquired upon and considered is that part of our experience that is not readily demonstrable in a quantifiable way, that is to say, those aspects of experiencing our human condition that are qualitative and properly objective so as not to be inter subjectively verifiable but in need of faith to be shared and spoken of at all. Yet, to be sure, it is of particular delight to see theoria and philosophy paired and expressed matrimoniously, as well as it is of great significance and merit to uncover and understand the love of wisdom to be well and alive in the realm of linguistics where there may even be a handful of those who cannot but utter Him who is the Word when speaking at all.

    Yet, may we resist the appearance that they are not us and we are not them. Yes, harlequins there are, but they are my brothers and sisters. After all, I am Adam. It was me all along and I now wish not to complain about the complainers lest I will have joined them. A fallen world it is and to undertake the greatest adventure of all, namely, to attempt to step out of its fallenness, I stand in great need to come to the admission that it is my own doing. How else may I ever admit fully to being a sinner? How else can I take responsibility for it all? Remembering such as telos is good news, good news indeed. Let us pray for all.

    In Christ,

    Silouan

  5. Pingback: The Good of Metaphysics | John Drake

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