The unknown realm: metaphysics as the science of the mysterious

I was having a chat to a postgrad on Friday night when I was with Michael. This fellow told me that he was working under famous metaphysician and Hume Scholar (and son of a very very important philosopher)! I had a nice chat to him about metaphysics, and he made a suggestion to me, which has been made to me once before by my reading of Martin Hollis. The suggestion is this:

Metaphysicians have this personality trait/psychology whereby they believe that there is some fundamentally hidden aspect of our reality. Like the hidden orchestra box and the stage tricksters in an Opera (Hollis, 1989); or the hidden mathematical laws that construct our physical world.

People like Hume, and the Oxford ordinary language philosophers, up to even the contemporary philosophers, one prominent example in my department who is well loved by all, believe that metaphysics is a sham. We need to stop doing it; there is NO mysterious reality of ‘properties’ or ‘natural kinds’, or ‘substances’. All we have is what we see, and we have a damn good capacity to understand that, so we don’t need to go on all the time about this numinous, Godly realm!

I don’t want so much to defend or attack the metaphysician’s project. But what I found interesting was a suggestion/interpretation of rationalism as an attempt to understand the ‘hidden’, and corollorary to that, a personality which believes in the mysterious.

I was having a discussion a few weeks ago, and this one person elicited a view that if we are to understand the natural order of reality, we lose the sublime, or awe-inspiring beauty of its mystery. A suggestion there that ignorance makes us see the beauty, and explanation takes beauty away.  This seems like a very common view among people, that if we know more about reality, we become more dispassionate and less appreciative, or even, less capable of loving nature because we see only numbers and process where before we saw ourselves in some metaphorical, pre-theoretic way.

When I read the Critique of Pure Reason, I did so independently of Masters Destre and Sinistre. It was so painful, so dry, so boring. But I loved it! I was hoping Kant had a solution to this metaphysical problem he was constructing, but then in his appropriation of the limits of reason, I was upset that there wasn’t a way to understand reality proper, and our mental powers must limit themselves in virtue of their natural pretentiousness. Despite this, I began to see the world in a bizarre quasi-Kantian way. I saw the categories, I realised the beauty of the a priori and the concept preceding intuition. I then began to feel a sense of wonder, in the rigor of Kant’s mind. What kind of man can see the world in this way? Philosophers amaze me in the way that they try to bring together all the intuitions of their day in a single uncompromoising vision. It is this project that tries to cast light into our dark cave, to explore our furniture. Is this really an acceptance of the hidden underlying our reality? Good question…

I don’t like the suggestion that nothing is hidden. Psychology would disagree with psychoanalysis; Leibniz with Newton; or perhaps even Aristotle with Plato (arguably very weak). In our daily lives, there is so much that is hidden. Destre’s true self is very hidden, Sinistre’s hidden self is the one you don’t expect; when the mask is one’s nudity. The subconscious, if such a thing is conceivable, is a very frightful component of ourselves. What about numbers? How is it that we have such a reliable system of mathematics that is an idealisation of a model that when applied to the real world, we can make bridges and computers?

There is much that is hidden; that is certain. Can we possibly know of this hidden reality? THAT is the question that an empiricist should ask the rationalist. If we answer positively, perhaps the empiricist wins, if the latter; we may need a more complex and unfriendly route to reality…

Michael (collaborated with Sinistre)


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