Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Excerpt

It is sometimes said that everyone has a philosophy and even that all men have metaphysical views. Nothing could be sillier. It is true that all men have opinions, and that some of these--such as views on religion, morals, and the meaning of life--border on philosophy and metaphysics, but few men have any conception of philosophy, and fewer still any notion of metaphysics.

William James somewhere defined metaphysics as "nothing but an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly." Not many people think like this, except where their practical interests are involved. There is no need for them to do so, and hence, no inclination. Except for rare, reflective souls, men go through life just taking for granted those questions of existence, purpose, and meaning that the metaphysician finds most puzzling. What first of all claims the attention of all creatures, and of all men, is the need to survive and, this being once reasonably assured, the need to exist as securely as possible. All thought begins there, and most of it ends there. We are most at home when thinking of how to do this or that. Hence engineering, politics, and industry are quite natural to men. But metaphysics is concerned not at all with the hows of life, but only with the whys, with questions that it is perfectly easy never to ask in one's whole lifetime.

To think metaphysically is to think, without arbitrariness and dogmatism, on the most basic problems of existence. The problems are basic in the sense that they are fundamental, that much depends on them. Religion, for example, is not metaphysics; and yet if the metaphysical theory of materialism should be true, and it should thus be a fact that men have no souls, then much religion would founder on that . . .

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