Metaphysics: the Problems of Knowledge and Existence

EVERY question we ask, every statement we make -- in fact, every activity we undertake, shows that we make suppositions and shows which ones they are. If we ask questions, we suppose that they can have answers. Our statements, we think, can be true, revealing, interesting, or attractive. We expect that the things we act with will suit our purposes, and we hope that our actions upon things will properly fit them.

We come by most of our suppositions through instruction, and through imitating the practices of our teachers in home, school, and community. If their instruction and practice are sound, our suppositions will most often be fulfilled. And most often we will leave them unexamined. Our suppositions remain ours, though, whether we study them or not.

The occasions upon which we are likely to study them arise when they fail in practice or conflict with one another, or when we find other men and other communities acting in ways strikingly different from our own. We may be led to wonder, for example, how we can both fear and love the same person, or why we act toward elders with respect when age is not respected by other men and other communities. If we were to examine just these suppositions, just the suppositions we recognize to fail, conflict and differ from those of others, we would settle our convictions piecemeal. We would be saying that certain particular things have just these characters and values, and that we have therefore to act toward them in certain special ways. Such piecemeal examinations generally serve our living well enough. But they are piecemeal, and they are provisional. With fresh failures, fresh conflicts and differences, perplexity and wonder arise again.

We can somewhat escape the cycle of provisional examinations by becoming dull, sophisticated, or provincial. But then we arbitrarily cut ourselves off from the world, refusing to notice or wonder at the failures, conflicts, and differences our suppositions


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American Philosophy
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