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« Michael Dummett (1925 - 2011) | Main | Alain de Botton on Atheism 2.0 »

January 01, 2012



Thanks for a fascinating episode. I was impressed by the connection between mathematics and metaphysics. But I think it is relevant to say that while mathematics studies numbers, it does not study reality per se. Mathematics sometimes describes reality to great accuracy, but math/axiom systems have no necessary or a priori connection with reality- their fit is determined post facto by empirical means. If they fit well, then their systematic extrapolation can then be used to make predictions of empirical unknowns, which in turn await empirical verification.

The same can be said of metaphysics generally. The armchair gives your guest no special insight into the nature of reality, and the example of primary / secondary qualities was far from compelling. "Secondary qualities" are both measurable (color as a metric of electromagnetic energy) and typically reflect psychological properties which are increasingly open to empirical analysis of brain function. They may become primary qualities once sufficiently elucidated. At any rate, whatever the metaphysician comes up with is hypothetical at best (which may still be meaningful, just not "true") without empirical engagement.

The question of the nature of causality was another example, again really psychological in nature. As science studies causality in fine detail, it seems curious that the metaphysician seems still perplexed at its nature. The question may be epistemological.. how can we infer relationships that are fundamentally invisible to our senses? Well, Hume is a good guide, saying that induction is never guaranteed, so we just do the best we can based on apparent relationships and regularities as we find them. More time in the armchair will be of little help there, either.

Lastly, the matter of souls is another psychological issue, welling out of the most primitive religious precincts, and completely unworthy of contemporary philosophy in the absence of any empirical hint in that direction whatsoever.

mark krebs

I had a hard time with this interview. Occasionally your topics are either beyond me, or trivial (I can't tell which, of course!) and this was one.

Very glad to get a definition of metaphysics, but almost as quickly lost interest in the topic. The cited challenge (logical positivism) seems strong and while Kit described a successful defense against that attack, its structure was not offered beyond "there are some interesting meta-questions..."

Can someone amplify or provide a reference that can scratch this itch?

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