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Book I Chapter 1 - § 4

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« on: January 05, 2023, 09:39:47 am »

§ 4. Our preliminary account of the general character of the metaphysician's problem will enable us to distinguish Metaphysics from some other closely related forms of human thought, and to give it at least a provisional place in the general scheme of knowledge, (a) Clearly, Metaphysics, as an inquiry into the meaning of reality, will have some affinity with religion as well as with imaginative literature, both of which aim at getting behind mere appearances and interpreting the reality which lies beneath them. In one important respect its relation to both is closer than that of any other department of knowledge,—inasmuch as it, like them, is directly concerned with ultimate reality, whereas the special sciences deal each with some one particular aspect of things, and avowedly leave all ultimate questions on one side. Where it differs from both is in its spirit and method. Unlike religion and imaginative literature. Metaphysics deals with the ultimate problems of existence in a purely scientific spirit; its object is intellectual satisfaction, and its method is not one of appeal to immediate intuition or unanalysed feeling, but of the critical and systematic analysis of our conceptions. Thus it clearly belongs, in virtue of its spirit and method, to the realm of science. (b) Yet it differs widely in method from the other types of science with which most of us are more familiar. It differs from the mathematical sciences in being non-quantitative and non-numerical in its methods. For we cannot employ the numerical and quantitative methods of Mathematics except on things and processes which admit of measurement, or, at least, of enumeration, and it is for Metaphysics itself, in the course of its investigations, to decide whether what is ultimately real, or any part of it, is numerical or quantitative, and if so, in what sense. It differs, again, from the experimental sciences in that, like Logic and Ethics, it does nothing to increase the stock of our knowledge of particular facts or events, but merely discusses the way in which facts or events are to be interpreted if we wish to think consistently. Its question is not what in detail we must regard as the reality of any special set of processes, but what are the general conditions to which all reality, as such, conforms. (Just in the same way, it will be remembered, Logic does not discuss the worth of the evidence for particular scientific theories, but the general conditions to which evidence must conform if it is to prove its conclusion.) Hence Aristotle correctly called Metaphysics a science of being quŕ being, (as opposed, for instance, to Mathematics, which studies existence only in so far as it is quantitative or numerical).
Again, as an attempt to discover and get rid of baseless preconceptions about reality, Metaphysics may, in a sense, be said to be "sceptical." But it differs profoundly from vulgar scepticism both in its method and in its moral purpose. The method of vulgar scepticism is dogmatic,—it takes it for granted without inquiry that two perceptions or two speculative principles which conflict with one another must be equally false. Because such contradictions can be detected in all fields of knowledge and speculation, the sceptic dogmatically assumes that there is no means of getting behind these contradictory appearances to a coherent reality. For the metaphysician, on the contrary, the assumption that the puzzles of experience are insoluble and the contradictions in our knowledge irreconcilable is itself just one of those preconceptions which it is the business of his study to investigate and test. Until after critical examination, he refuses to pronounce which of the conflicting views is true, or, supposing both false, whether one may not be nearer the truth than the other. If he does not assume that truth can be got and reality known by our human faculties, he does at any rate assume that it is worth our while to make the attempt, and that nothing but the issue can decide as to its chances of success. Again, the metaphysician differs from the sceptic in respect of moral purpose. Both in a sense preach the duty of a "suspense of judgment" in the face of ultimate problems. The difference is that the sceptic treats "suspense," and the accompanying mental indolence, as an end in itself; the metaphysician regards it as a mere preliminary to his final object, the attainment of determinate truth.

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