Metaphysics 101 Part 5

(Part 5 of Ten)

(continued from Part 4 of Ten)

Metaphysical thought

Metaphysical thought defies a definitive description of itself. It is unlike anything else in the Universe. Electromagnetism, unlike the other three universal forces, is an integral part of thought (see: Bets, Anyone?, December 7, 2011). In the article I’ve just cited, I suggest that electromagnetism may have the edge over gravity in our quest for TOE (the Theory of Everything). I don’t believe there is a ‘theory of everything,’ but if gravity is the body of the Universe, electromagnetism is its mind. I believe that it will be electromagnetism that leads us to some kind of unified theory (if ever) for the physics of the universe, not gravity alone.

Thought exists within that band of the universe we know as ‘life.’ Within a tiny but crowded strip of life on earth there have been and are millions of species. Ours is the only species that thinks about thought.

Metaphysics and epistemology are intimately associated. Both those subjects are major branches of philosophy along with politics, ethics, and esthetics. There are other branches, stems, and twigs depending on who is cataloging the divisions of philosophy, e.g., logic, which I think of as part of epistemology and other disciplines. I also think of logic not so much as a branch of philosophy as it is the lifeblood running through the veins of all branches of philosophy.

Radical Thought

Not too long after teething and having our diapers changed, many of us sense that all is not quite right in the world. Some of us just go with the flow or follow the drumbeat and passively let life just ‘happen’ to us. And then there are a few of us who are radical, i.e., we are compelled to understand the origin and roots of that cosmic tree of life. We also feel best when we swing high on the bough of ethics. More on that later.

Pruning that tree requires radical thought. The current use of the word “radical” is misleading because of the almost exclusive use of that word in its political sense. The word is borrowed from Latin and despite its negative connotation in current social media, it means “root.” As with trees, the roots of the tree are below the branches and topsoil. The roots are gnarled and have needed to be untangled since antiquity.

Classic Philosophy

It is my understanding that all formal philosophy is basically Aristotelian or Platonic. Although the philosophic positions of those ancient icons of philosophy are amply documented, those of Socrates and pre-Socratic philosophers are shrouded in the fog of antiquity. But judging by oral fragments of pre-Socratic philosophers, they were implicitly Platonic or Aristotelian. The same is true of the basic philosophic positions each of us explicitly or implicitly maintains.


The darkest corner of Plato’s cave is where its occupants are chained so that they can perceive only the shadows on the cave’s deepest wall but never the source of those shadows. All that humanity can know about the shadows is that they are ideal “Forms,” perfect and pure abstractions. Bottom line: The “real” world is unknowable through the senses.


Aristotle posited that our senses are portals through which knowledge is gathered by observation, then categorized and integrated via inductive reasoning. He also brilliantly invented the syllogism, the principal tool for deductive reasoning, a major tool of logic. He rejected Plato’s concept that our senses merely reveal shadows of reality. Bottom line: the world is knowable through the senses.

Plato and Aristotle set the precedent for a prime controversy that rages to this day. Plato’s world is dual; Aristotle’s world is singular. The ramifications of Plato’s dual world jolts epistemology; the world of Aristotle embraces it.

The revered philosophers disagreed about the fundamental essence of the world, but agreed about slavery: they both claimed that there are “natural” slaves and masters! Through the ages, they were not alone. Augustine and Aquinas (icons of the Middle Ages) preached that slavery is God’s punishment for sin; the ‘champion of freedom,’ John Locke, living in no less than the Age of Enlightenment, invested in the Afro-American slave trade. His personal ‘enlightenment’ didn’t go as far as enlightening him about the unspeakable horror of slavery. In fact he wrote a convoluted rationalization in favor of slavery—“a theory of slavery.”

I’ve selected these examples to highlight the need to judge the merits and shortcomings of philosophers without regard to their revered celebrity. I have found it liberating to separate what philosophers posit from who they areand further, to recognize which elements of their philosophy are illuminating and which are not. And, at the first hint of a fundamental flaw in a philosopher’s arguments, I take out Occam’s razor and snip!

Stay tuned. As Bette Davis jeered in the movie, All About Eve, “It gets better!”

(to be continued in Part 6 of Ten)

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