Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why I Value Metaphysics

I hope to share the value that I derive from studying Metaphysics.  In order to do this, I feel like I must first explain what 'Metaphysics' means to me.
I consider Metaphysics to be an analytic discipline concerned with the exposition of principles already contained in our most basic ways of encountering (or being encountered by) beings.  I must emphasize that anything other than simple ways of encountering beings are to be excluded. (However, some beings must be encountered in ways that seem comparatively more or less simple.)
Through the analysis involved in Metaphysics many apparent difficulties are encountered.  Even our simple ways of understanding beings involve the coming together of many distinct terms, and we find ourselves at our limits to account for how these things come together.  Something in us seems to strive always for a truly simple union between the terms of our exposition.  Historically, resolutions to these difficulties have given rise to simple unifying ideas, as well as rejection of the very striving to simplicity and a settling on more principles of flux which still belie the urge for a more simple explanation.  Such ideas as the soul, and God serve to preserve the stability of things, while ideas such as chaos attempt to preserve change; sometimes both of these impulses are blended, such as in Plato's paradoxical description of the beautiful itself in the Symposium.
If people are not explicitly facing these metaphysical difficulties, we still form natural dispositions with the world that align us to one of these metaphysical options.  Our disposition concerning these can be fickle, and unrest can stem from vacillation between these natural metaphysical orientations.  At times we are guided by optimism, at others shipwrecked with doubts and fears of meaninglessness.  Science, religion or both may step in at this juncture to provide some measure of stability, but this stability is not understood without an appreciation of the difficulties revealed in the study of Metaphysics which exposes the original ground of this unrest.
In exposing the original ground of our unrest, the solutions to these difficulties from science become inadequate but more properly qualified towards their true objects.  In addition, Metaphysics increases the burden that faith requires of us, since it sharpens the difficulties that we face, and bars answers that are understood merely historically.  (It also exposes fanaticism and superstition as inadequate to the demands of these difficulties.)
Studying classical works of Metaphysics has helped to give me direction in my own reflections.  Seeing how metaphysicians have been overtaken by enthusiasm or skepticism, and understanding how, has served as a serious warning for me.  Other metaphysicians have provided a great deal of help through their clearheaded and critical ability.  I have yet to find a real metaphysician that has not instructed me in something valuable.
Apart from the study of these metaphysical expositions, I have been given a key into the fine arts.  Metaphysics allows me to fathom themes in a much deeper manner than perhaps their authors may have intended at first, and to use these works even as examples of natural Metaphysics.  Some metaphysicians, such as Plato, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, make great use of narrative elements in order to paint a richer picture and relate natural metaphysics to artificial metaphysics.
Metaphysics has not allowed me to give a resolution to any of the most demanding challenges I face as a human; it does not even provide a new starting point for any of these challenges.  However, it has provided a great deal of clarity, and has provided me with direction in sorting out what I have to deal with.  Metaphysics has also made life more difficult in a number of ways, since I have the problems I face more constantly before my eyes in a form that is harder to dispel, and so it can lead to a kind of stasis.  However, while it props up difficulties, it also gives me a special confidence in facing them, and a history of allies.
The majority of my reflections that concern my own direction in life do not directly concern Metaphysics, but rather concern happiness and virtue.  However, Metaphysics has probably been the single most helpful study for providing a clear manner of thinking about even these matters, even if it has contributed no material or solutions.  As a study it is an anchor for even my most common daily reflections, and is constantly in mind as I pursue my craft (as a programmer, or as a writer).
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