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Book I Chapter 2 - 11

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« on: January 07, 2023, 09:23:37 am »

II. We may end this chapter with some general reflections on the method required for such a science of Metaphysics as we have described in the preceding paragraphs. The true character of any scientific method can, of course, only be discovered by the actual use of it; a preliminary disquisition on the nature of a method not previously exhibited in actual use is apt to be at best sterile, and at worst a positive source of prejudices which may subsequently seriously hamper the process of investigation. Still, there are certain general characteristics of the method imposed on us by our conception of the problems to be solved which may conveniently be pointed out at this stage of our inquiry. Our method will, in the first place, clearly be analytical and critical in its character. We analyse experience with a view to discovering its implications, and we analyse our various scientific and unscientific theories of the contents of the world-system for the same purpose. Also, once having determined what are the formal characteristics of an all-embracing, systematic whole of experienced fact, we criticise our various concepts and theories by reference to these characteristics as an ultimate standard of reality and truth. Negatively, we may add that our method is non-empirical, and also non-inductive, in the same sense in which pure Mathematics, for instance, may be called non-inductive. It is non-empirical inasmuch as we are called upon to analyse all our data and criticise all our pre-conceived theories. We are not allowed to accept any fact without analysis, or any concept without criticism, as an unchallenged datum upon which we may build without preliminary justification. Hence our method is non-empirical. Also, as our analysis is concerned entirely with the internal character and self-consistency of the data analysed, it is, like the reasonings of pure Mathematics, independent of external confirmation outside the analysed data themselves, and is therefore non-inductive.[1] In precisely the same sense our method and its results may be called, if we please, a priori; that is to say, we proceed entirely by internal analysis of certain data, and are, alike in procedure and result, independent of experience outside  the experience we are concerned with analysing. We can, of course, add that our method is constructive, that is, if successfully carried out it would culminate in an intellectual attitude  towards the world which, as an intellectual attitude, we did not possess before entering on our study of Metaphysics; but as construction, in this sense, is characteristic of all scientific method, it does not seem necessary to specify it as a peculiarity of metaphysical procedure in particular.
 
Historically, our conception of metaphysical method as fundamentally analytical and directed to the detection and removal of internal contradictions in the categories of ordinary thought, is perhaps nearer to the view of Herbart than to that of any other great philosopher of the past. In our insistence upon the non-empirical and, in a sense, a priori character of Metaphysics, we are again, of course, largely in agreement with the position of Kant. There is, however, a most important difference between our own and the Kantian conception of the a priori upon which it is essential to insist.  A-priority, as we have used the term, stands merely for a peculiarity of the method of Metaphysics; by an a priori method we understood one which is confined to the internal analysis of a datum and independent of external reference to outside facts. With Kant the a priori is a name for certain forms of perception and thought which, because revealed by analysis as present in every experience, are supposed to be given independently of all experience whatsoever, and so come to be identified by him as "the work of the mind," in opposition to the empirical factor in experience, which is held to be the product of an external system of "things-in-themselves." Hence Kant's whole discussion of the a priori is vitiated by a constant confusion between what is metaphysically necessary (i.e. implied in the existence of knowledge) and what is
psychologically primitive. This confusion, perplexing enough in Kant, reaches a climax in the works of writers like Mr. Spencer, who appear to think that the whole question of the presence of a non-empirical factor in knowledge can be decided by an appeal to genetic Psychology. It is clear that, from our point of view, the identification of the a priori with the "work of the mind" would involve a metaphysical theory as to the constitution of experience which we are not entitled to adopt without proof.[2]

A word ought perhaps to be said about our attitude towards the "dialectical" method as employed by Hegel and his followers. It was Hegel's conviction that the whole series of concepts or categories by which the mind attempts to grasp the nature of experienced Reality as a whole, from the most rudimentary to the most adequate, can be exhibited in a fixed order which arises from the very nature of thought itself. We begin, he held, by the affirmation of some rude and one-sided conception of the character of what is; the very imperfection of our concept then forces us on to affirm its opposite as equally true. But the opposite, in its turn, is no less one-sided and inadequate to express the full character of concrete reality. Hence we are driven to negate our first negation by affirming a concept which includes both the original affirmation and its opposite as subordinate aspects. The same process repeats itself again at a higher stage with our new category, and thus we gradually pass by a series of successive triads of categories, each consisting of the three stages of affirmation, negation, and negation of the negation, from the beginning of an intellectual interpretation of the  world of experience, the thought of it as mere "Being," not further defined, to the apprehension of it as the "Absolute Idea," or concrete system of spiritual experience. It was the task of abstract Metaphysics (called by Hegel, Logic) to exhibit the successive stages of this process as a systematic  orderly advance, in which the nature of each stage is determined by its place in the whole. As Hegel also held that this "dialectic" process is somehow not confined to the "subjective" or private intelligence of the student of Philosophy, but also realised in the structure of the "objective" universe, it followed that its successive stages could be detected in physical nature and in History in the same order in which they occur in " Logic," and many of Hegel's best-known works are devoted to exhibiting the facts of Physics, Ethics, Religion, and History in the light of this doctrine. The subsequent advances of the various sciences have so completely proved the arbitrariness and untrustworthiness of the results obtained by these "deductions," that some of the best exponents of the Hegelian type of Philosophy are now agreed to abandon the claim of the Dialectic to be more than a systematisation of the stages through which the individual mind must pass in its advance towards a finally satisfactory conception of Reality. But even within these limits its pretensions are probably exaggerated. No satisfactory proof can be produced that, even in abstract Metaphysics, the  succession of categories must be precisely that adopted by Hegel, There are some categories of the first importance, e.g. that of order in Mathematics, which hardly get any recognition at all in his system, and others, such as those of "Mechanism" and "Chemism," which play a prominent  part, are obviously largely dependent for their position upon the actual development of the various sciences in Hegel's own time. Hence the method seems unsuitable for the original attainment of philosophical truth. At best it might serve, as Lotze has remarked, as a convenient method for the  arrangement of truth already obtained by other means, and even for this purpose it seems clear that the succession of categories actually adopted by Hegel would require constant modification to adapt the general scheme to later developments of the various special sciences.

[1] The fundamental peculiarity of "inductive" procedure, in fact, is that, while its object is the internal analysis of its data, which, if completed, would permit of a universal conclusion being drawn from the single case, it is never able to effect the analysis, and is driven to reinforce it by external comparison with "similar" cases.

[2] On the confusion between the metaphysical and psychological standpoint in Kant's own treatment of the a priori, see B. Russell, Foundations of Geometry, pp. 1-4, and Adamson, Development of Modern Philosophy, bk. i. pp. 244-247.

Consult further: F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chaps. 13, 14; B. Bosanquet, Essentials of Logic, Lect. 2; Shadworth Hodgson, Metaphysic of Experience, bk. i. chap. i ;  J. S. Mackenzie, Outlines of Metaphysics, bk. i. chaps. 2 and 4. And for criticism of the Hegelian dialectic: J. E. M'Taggart. Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, chaps. 1-3 ; J. B. Baillie, The Origin and Significance of Hegel's Logic, chaps. 8-12, especially chap. 12; and also Adamson, Development of Modern Philosophy, bk. i. pp. 271 ff.

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