Basic Notions of Metaphysics: What is Metaphysics Anyway?
After going through a number of metaphysical notions, now, prompted by reader’s query, we finally try to answer the simple question: what is metaphysics? The very fact that one can talk about metaphysics for a long time without explicitly defining what it is gives us an important clue about this type of knowledge, more common that most people think. We sum up some of the notions we expounded upon before and attempt to give definition of “science sought for” in both traditional sense and its modern, we would claim, misconception of the “system of science”. Also we touch upon the possible reasons for shunning it by modern thinkers like adherents of “analytical” philosophy and say few words on technology and its latent metaphysical origin.
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Transcript (please note that for all unscripted podcasts transcripts are edited rendition of what was said, so they syntax is not always congruent to original audio.):
Welcome to Kali Tribune’s regular podcasts Basic Notions of Metaphysics.
We were doing this podcast for, I would say, two years now, and there were a whole lot of questions about specific subjects we covered with the main notions of metaphysics, the notions that we tried to give some qualification of – in the light of our understanding, of course, which is to a large extent colored and qualified as Christian understanding, so let us keep that in mind always; and I was waiting for a moment when someone will put me a real tricky question, that is the question trickiest of all and this question is: what is metaphysics?
Now one of our readers, Jack, asked this question and one other – that is: two other questions I will answer here, so I will try to kill two flies with one stroke to give us some further explanations about notions of metaphysics – this time the very notion of the very metaphysics itself – and to answer this very simple but for that reason very difficult question.
Now Jack asks and I will cut short the question just to keep its substance:
“I am having trouble with very general question of a sort. I can’t understand what is meant by the word metaphysics: is it something impossible to wrap your mind about? It feels like I should phrase it as the “complete understanding” of the world. Am I on the right track?”
To start from the end of the question, yes I would say you are on the right track, but you can very easily lose it because the path of metaphysics is quite a tricky one and one mode and quality of the complete answer to this question surely involves complete understanding, but the nature of complete understanding has to be understood properly and various philosophers, metaphysicians or even religious traditions, if they have metaphysics, and usually they do, had a different answer to this.
Now it is quite natural to have trouble with such general question; on the other hand I would say it is very usual to have some understanding of the answer – it is not only usual: I would posit that it is natural. Ask yourselves, when somebody says “metaphysics” to you or “metaphysical answer” or “metaphysical being” or “metaphysical something” I bet you dime to a dollar that every one of you has some pre-understanding of this, same as we have pre-understanding of the Being. These are things that we do understand on some level but this understanding is initially not articulated.
I would now interject my own standpoint, which is, of course, not my own original contribution to history of philosophy, but stands in the line of what I call Tradition with capital -T and includes Aristotle, Platonists – especially Neoplatonism – it includes Christian metaphysics and to some extent Christian theology, but we don’t indulge in Christian theology here, because while it is really not a separate subject in the sense that it has no connection to philosophy, it is nevertheless a rather different thing; something much higher and it’s very dangerous to confuse the two which more often than not happens, and has happened to much wiser men than I am.
Now, this understanding consists in the fact that we think before we think that we think.
It means that all our knowledge is based upon pre-existing knowledge, that there has to be some knowledge already – there has to be being of knowledge – in order to have further knowledge.
You cannot start from nothing. You can try as, for instance, a great enemy of metaphysics David Hume tried, and say that all knowledge is belief, i.e. belief not in the sense of faith, as in Christianity, but custom, that is to say: of inscribing passively sense data on the organ of intellectual activity that is brain and this then gives us a customary answer to a question, what’s going on, what’s happening, what’s occurring, what’s the contingent situation. So when we know causes and effects and thereby draw from them the so-called laws of nature it is a matter of acquiring a certain quantity of knowledge we transmute, so to speak, into qualitative knowledge of general laws and principles, to put it as simply as I can here.
This I consider to be impossibility. I am not the only one because a lot of philosophers, among them some who even had detrimental influence on metaphysics, would’ve also agreed but from different reasons; to be more precise, I mean this in a quite traditional, medieval and ancient kind of way and this idea that all knowledge is based on pre-existing knowledge in fact comes from Aristotle, more precisely from his Posterior Analytics or Second Analytics, a work that we would nowadays call his, let’s say, metaphysics of knowledge (there are two analytics the Prior Analytics is devoted to explanation of what is syllogism and the Posterior Analytics is to a large extent about these principles of knowledge or first acts of knowledge so to speak). The thinking “before you think that you think” is an expression of being of knowledge and the Being is in a sense the thing that metaphysics revolves around.
To explain more precisely, I would say that thinking and being are congenial in this sense because in order to think there has to be prior thinking; in order to know there has to be prior knowledge, and this prior knowledge is not something that is acquired in time, although we can have an impression that this is the case because we live in time and think temporally, discursively, so we don’t initially see this primordial intuition that is in fact present.
The intuition we are talking about is congenial with reality and this is very important – a very simple thing that very competent philosophers miss because it is so simple and it is so intuitive, but it requires reflection. It is an intuition of the first knowable thing, however not the first thing known to us, because we have to come to it, we have to return, recurring into ourselves in a way, to realize this and it means that Being – the term which is not a concept but an act, an energeia – is something that is present both in us and in what is outside us, so we, in a sense, through it are one with, let’s say: the world in a somewhat qualified sense; one with the Creation in fact, because I’m talking from this perspective. I would say that this is our congeniality with all things because we are all created.
Now to get back to the straightforward answer, what is metaphysics?
Metaphysics, as Aristotle defined it although he never called it ‘metaphysics’ is the science of the first causes and principles. I would reformulate it as science of origins so if I was to say, for instance, that this knowledge of Being, this realization of congeniality of being and mind is the subject of metaphysics, I would not be entirely correct; I would be correct only then when I would add that by realizing this congeniality I at the same instance realize that there is a higher origin to this and that it is the first origin. Metaphysics in this sense is a science as a form of activity, it’s a habitual knowledge based on realization that everything that is, is caused by something that is higher, that the very Being of all beings is provided “from on high” by something that is even, as we would say in Greek, hyperousious, above Being.
This is what I would call metaphysics. It is a habitual knowledge, more like a quality of knower, something that man acquires through his knowing, through his realizations and through his thinking, than a system – it is not a system. Metaphysics is never a system and this I base on interpretation of ancient and Traditional metaphysics. Metaphysicians of the modern age would strongly disagree and 90% or even more of the professors of philosophy would disagree or would just stand puzzled over why I say this.
I listen to a great deal of lectures on internet, some very good professors, very good experts that nevertheless miss this simple fact. Now, this is very important in answering your question because it ends with presumption that metaphysics is some kind of complete understanding of the world and I said that this is more or less correct. However this understanding, in the sense I have just put forward as proper metaphysics, would be the understanding of the whole of Being to an extent that it is possible for the finite human being and it is based on realization of the existence of the original cause or the Creator of Being, the origin, the first that is above Being itself and I would put it in terms of the symbolism of light: it is the knowledge by which we are able to see all things in the light of their Origin.
This is how I understand metaphysics and, mind you, I am not talking about an act of faith. It is, I would say, perhaps a product of faith in the Christian sense of the word but it is not really an act of theological knowledge; it’s not really some kind of religious illumination through prayer; it’s something different – a science, but it is a science in a traditional sense, where science denotes a quality of the soul; it’s a habitus, knowledge you possess as a person and this is very important because today we forget this detail. For example, today we understand knowledge more like a system of correct inferences, but this is not knowledge in an original sense; it is, of course, yielding correct inferences if it is true knowledge, but the very center of it and the origin of it is in the person and relationship of a person with the subject of his or hers – most often his, of course – inquiry.
So I would say you are on the right track with this but you have to discern the details.
Now I’ll expound upon what I consider a false idea of the “complete understanding”.
I think the best summing up of the false idea is Hegel’s philosophy, although I do admire Hegel -and this is very typical for philosophy: please understand that criticizing a great philosopher, a philosopher who managed to acquire greatness even in his mistakes, is praise in a way. I respect Hegel, we have, I would say, love/hate relationship; his wrong-headedness is monumentally ingenious as it is monumentally wrong-headed, because complete understanding for him was the real total knowledge. Now what would this entail? Well, for Hegel it would entail an ability to construct the system that is to say: to let the system spring out from your thinking, based on the direct intuition, intellectual intuition (in German: Intellektuelle Anschaung), of the first cause and origin, something that I just said that traditionally was off the limits. It was not off the limits in the sense that you cannot affirm reality of it. Rather, it was off the limits in the sense that you cannot presume that you can “pick its mind”, that you can somehow, by your own efforts, as a human being, conjecture and lay out the mind of God. This is something Hegel tried to do with some spectacular failings and some spectacular successes. He was a very, very subtle – very difficult, very insightful man but in principle he was as wrong as you can be about this. He is the paradigmatic philosopher of modernity and he was very aware of this and he considered modernity to be the proper horizon of thinking that accomplishes or fulfills the ancient and medieval world and thus the history itself, and he considered such attitude to be a Christian notion because he was well aware that Christianity is based on a new age, new aeon, the future aeon of resurrection or the age of the kingship of Christ, or the age of the regeneration of the world. So Hegel’s example is very good to see that Revelation is no joke and that when you go and try to construct the metaphysics of Revelation, and go into prophesizing mode – something that is for some reason very dear to Protestants – Hegel was a Lutheran, a quite traditional Protestant if it is not contradictio in adjecto – and he did this overstepping of the bounds and now we still have his influence in a negative sense, through things like Communism, Marxism and so on, because, when he died, they just flipped his philosophy around into something that is quite detrimental.
So this would be, for instance, what Hegel thought and if you want to have system you have to somehow be in the center of that system, you have to have this unifying principle, the thing that makes all things one, what makes, for instance, mind and Being congenial and one in a certain sense, and it must be completely transparent to you, because you cannot systematize it in any other way, you cannot make a system.
So, for instance, when I say that you cannot make a system of metaphysics, this means that first principle exists, that you affirm it, that you see it as illumination, you see its acts, its energy in everything but you don’t see it itself, you cannot, kind of, lay it out, you cannot identify yourself with it, because, the thing is: in metaphysics one other very important principle is that mind identifies with what it thinks and this is one very important principle and something that is, I think, present in all real metaphysics or even all metaphysics if it has something real in itself and all metaphysics has something real in itself, no matter how deviant it is otherwise; this means that, as I said in the example of the congeniality of Being and intellect: they are identified in a sense, so when you think – you are, and when you are – you think, and things are in a way in a certain mode the same way as you are when you think. Thinking and Being – not what nowadays is called consciousness – I will not go deep into this but keep in mind that consciousness is something else. So thinking and Being are real, because they are both act, they are both product of the same act in different quality, different mode but they are in a certain sense one, so if you say that the origin of the act is someone or something you can put in the system that means to bring God from the sky down to earth; whether you think of God in abstract terms or in personal terms – I don’t know which one is worse, because when you secularize Him in personal terms you turn him into Vladimir Iljić Uljanov Lenin, who cannot die and so has to be preserved as a mummy in the Red Square, whereas when you put God down as a principle you get, well you get the system that explains everything and gets destroyed by reality in a moment.
So these are, I would say, the proper and improper understanding of what metaphysics is.
Now, the second question – and this one is even harder, but it’s very interesting to me and I put it to myself many times – It goes as follows:
“Why the opposition to metaphysics, I’ve read that Vienna Circle really tried to eliminate it practically? (Yeah they did, op.KT) Why were the modern philosophies like analytical philosophy so anti-metaphysical? What is the relationship between metaphysics and our modern science and technology and, also, how do you know something is metaphysics when you see it?”
Again, to start from the end: you know something is metaphysical when you don’t see it yet you know that it is.
This is, I think, quite correct qualification of the metaphysical. Well, guys like Vienna Circle members as Rudolph Carnap, Maurice Schlick and like in UK Bertrand Russell, even in Germany Gottlieb Frege and then in Vienna and later at Cambridge Ludwig Wittgenstein, finally perhaps Karl Popper – the problem with these people was that they couldn’t affirm and accept the existence of the invisible.
This is the simplest answer I can give as a kind of introductory remark and it is the most important one, because I’ll resolve everything back into it. I think this is the reason: the invisible means that something is not sensual, it is not an object of sensual experience yet it nevertheless is.
To give an example of this – and there are a lot of examples we already talked about on Kali Tribune, because when you talk about basic notions of metaphysics you are talking about exactly the invisible – someone just asked me a question recently whether the time is considered a transcendental in Scholastics understanding. Well, no it’s not a transcendental but I believe I understand the motive for the question, because time is not a sensual object; it’s not present to senses, yet you have to use it somehow. When you say “time is” you already missed it but you cannot say that it is not. This is seemingly a paradox; however it’s not a real paradox, it is such only if you take it in the sense that all knowledge has to be a presence, that it has to be sensually observable presence from which you can abstract something – “abstract” in the sense of constructing concepts, not in the sense of the act of conceiving which was the case in Traditional metaphysics.
So this is something they didn’t believe in, that they couldn’t accept the reality of.
The other reason is that metaphysics, understood as science in a modern sense and this is something that Kant tried to establish understanding of. He said that it cannot be science, but Hegel and other German Idealists tried to construct this absolute science in the modern sense – metaphysics as science in the modern sense – and these guys saw it as impossibility and to be honest it really is impossibility. But they, in a roundabout way, I think, tried the same thing; the whole of this, as one historian of philosophy said: black comedy that is called English or Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy, for me seems to be just a variation of old empiricism with all its inherent problems. I think that the main motive of this kind of thinking is a quest for certainty and its moral equivalent, i.e. security, because this philosophy is, when you strip off its sometimes fancy terminology, materialism; it’s an attempt to retain materialistic metaphysics because, make no mistake about it: materialism is also a form of metaphysics, I would say: bad metaphysics, inverted metaphysics that takes matter as the principle out of which you explain everything else. Metaphysics is always a twofold relation between origin and what is originated so it’s only question is what the origin is and in modern times people started doing something that was not done before, that is to say, they would project one thing from this world they considered to express the perfection of all beings and called it the first principle. This is something that is in history of philosophy called onto-theology where you take something for origin that is not God. Heidegger was a great opponent of this but he projected it on all philosophy before him and claimed that only, maybe, pre-Socratics were free of that error and this is complete nonsense. I talked about this a lot so I won’t repeat myself – for instance Thomas Aquinas is explicitly not indulging in onto-theology and by metaphysics he thinks rather theo-ontology which is the proper relationship of terms, I would say.
Anyway, as for Vienna circle, I think that those people were motivated by fear, I really think so. And the fear was the fear of unknown and of knowledge that cannot have foundation in human labor, because whether you take metaphysics in a proper sense or whether you take it in inverted sense, that is to say: whether you see principles above you or below you, you are not the one who is creating anything, i.e. you are the one who is answering the call, as it were, of something that is higher or lower than you. In the modern age, I would say, this lower came to prominence so I wouldn’t call Heidegger’s philosophy metaphysics, he would never call it metaphysics himself and he is right. I would call it infra-physics because it’s something that deals with what is below, below the visible – not above it.
I think that these people were scared of this fact, those that were smarter among them. I think some of them were rather impaired in a sense that they simply couldn’t see what most people see because not most people are metaphysicians or philosophers, but most people deal with invisibles throughout their lives. They don’t think about it that much but you cannot but be in it and this philosophy tries to completely close the sky – completely close this upwards pointing vector of thinking and remain on the level of surface; remain with both feet firmly on the ground, indulging in technology and ever-furthering discoveries of possible combinations of sensible objects. But we can see, in this age of post-modernity and dissolution that this is impossible, because once this happened the cracks opened in the materialistic world; the cracks towards what is below and all kinds of infernal things slipped through them. I find it funny, these attempts to counter the revolution of erasing sexuality and, in fact, erasing human beings in post-humanism, whereby people are trying to use materialistic methods in counter attack, so they, for instance, when somebody says that man can choose to be a woman, they invoke biology. But they are looking at the wrong thing because this is beyond biology, this is below biology, this is metaphysical thing – an inverted metaphysics; it is something that comes from, I would say, invisible sources. It doesn’t come from the different understanding of materialism as it seems at first sight because it begins from materialism but it goes deeper, it goes down, so it has this infernal metaphysical dimension and they are not fit to combat this, because they made it possible in the first place. I have no sympathy for anybody thinking in this way who is now faced with what is happening in England or USA with this mania of dissolution of everything, because the very civilizational matrix built on this kind of intellectuality made it possible in the first place, so people who don’t realize this, they don’t really deserve to be taken seriously, in my opinion.
So what is the real relationship between metaphysics and modern sciences and technology? Well you have the metaphysics of modern science and technology – it’s posthumanism, because it is an attempt to model the man on paradigm, that is to say, upon the image of his knowledge. For instance, if you are modeled in the image of metaphysical knowledge in a proper sense you won’t rely on modern technology, on what is applicable, or anything like that. It will never be the first thing you are looking for because your intention will be the intention of your knowledge, that is to say logos of your knowledge would be the resolution into Origin. It will always be kind of like moving backwards, going home, so to speak, into center; returning to center. And then, perhaps, from the center you build things like technology and so on, but they would never be like what we have now. Thing with technology is that it is not a tool. I will quote J.R.R Tolkien on this, he was very insightful man, people don’t read his letters to his son where he talks about his worldview; a very insightful man. He said that technology is not a tool – it’s an expression or materialization of desire and in this, I think, he had hit the nail on the head. It is the materialization of desire, it is the desire to control or to put oneself in the center, the metaphysical center of all, by having that complete understanding you asked me about Jack. In a sense it is highly perverted and the ironic consequence is the complete loss of understanding because this kind of knowledge disperses into nothing. Nowadays you have dispersion of not only science into branches but branches branching further into infinity or impossibility of communication and, on the other hand, the possibility of constructing every conceivable form of gadget. But this also means complete externalization of human being and posthumanism would be the metaphysics of such externalization – when you, as a human being, would have nothing inner in you; this would mean you would have no soul, you would have no mind, and you would be akin to a machine – something that is dead but moving efficiently.
So okay, we’ve already broken our time limit, and I think this will suffice. There was still one question but it is out of context. I’ll answer it nonetheless so you don’t think that I consider it irrelevant. It’s about the “Conspiracy of Enlightenment” series: will I ever finish it. I’m not sure because I kind of put aside conspiratorial research. That’s a very tricky subject and although I do have respect for Abbe Barruel and I think he was slandered, especially by Umberto Eco in his pop culture books on history of ideas; the thing is it is very difficult, the last part of that four volumes book of his. It is about Illuminati, a very, very difficult thing to pull off properly and if I would be doing this I would do the whole thing all over again, give it some kind of digest maybe. I would do that for all four parts because it is an analysis of Illuminati documents and all kinds of shenanigans that were happening at the time before French Revolution in Germany; of their infiltration of Freemasonry. Then you also have to take into consideration the critics of Barruel. It is a huge work and I’m not sure am I able to do it because I’m not a historian by profession. This requires really a historian.
As for your question, I quote: “do you have any ideas where from the internet it first started?”, that is to say the idea of illuminist conspiracy: it came, as far as I know, from the joke by Robert Anton Wilson, an American … I don’t know what: acid freak or whatever.
But I will tell you in conclusion just one thing about Illuminati. I watched online the protests in London, it was I think last week, David Icke and other loony beans were having some kind of demonstrations. He was giving a speech, completely laying out these delusions of his as a reality with absolutely not a milligram of doubt in himself and at one point he started screaming: “No authority! No authority! No authority!” Well, if you want to have the essence of Illuminati doctrine, this is it: no authority. The purpose of Illuminati was, well, I would say anarchist individualism in a sense of something that is more akin to metaphysical Libertarianism, a Socialist Libertarianism, than anything else. And all those conspiracy theories, when you scratch the surface, are in fact holding exactly this kind of principle as something that is desirable or something that means freedom. So go figure.
So I don’t know, maybe I’ll try to make a digest to finish the job and conclude the series but I can’t promise it.
Anyway hope this answer was a satisfactory answer to your question Jack.
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