Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy responsible for the study of existence. It is the foundation of a worldview. Metaphysical Philosophy is marked out by two types of inquiry. The first aims to be the most general investigation possible into the nature of reality: are there principles applying to everything that is real, to all that is? – if we abstract from the particular nature of existing things that which distinguishes them from each other, what can we know about them merely in virtue of the fact that they exist?
The second type of inquiry seeks to uncover what is ultimately real, frequently offering answers in sharp contrast to our everyday experience of the world. The two questions are not the same, since someone quite unworried by the possibility that the world might really be otherwise than it appears might still be engaged by the question of whether there were any general truths applicable to all existing things. But although different, the questions are related: one might well expect a philosopher’s answer to the first to provide at least the underpinnings of their answer to the second.
Aristotle proposed the first of these investigations. He called it ‘first philosophy’, sometimes also ‘the science of being’ (more-or-less what ‘ontology’ means); but at some point in antiquity his writings on the topic came to be known as the ‘metaphysics’ – from the Greek for ‘after natural things’, that is, what comes after the study of nature. This is as much as we know of the origin of the word. Metaphysics is the foundation of philosophy. Without an explanation or an interpretation of the world around us, we would be helpless to deal with reality.
We could not feed ourselves, or act to preserve our lives. The degree to which our metaphysical worldview is correct is the degree to which we are able to comprehend the world, and act accordingly. Without this firm foundation, all knowledge becomes suspect. Any flaw in our view of reality will make it more difficult to live. Dialectical Pluralism, in philosophy, theory that considers the universe explicable in terms of many principles or composed of many ultimate substances.
It describes no particular system and may be embodied in such opposed philosophical concepts as materialism and idealism. Empedocles, G. W. von Leibniz, William James, and Bertrand Russel are among the philosophers generally considered as pluralistic. Pluralism is opposed to monism and dualism. A complex situation involves a plurality of ontological kinds, and so invites the name “pluralism”. If some form of pluralism is true, then none of the standard “isms” stands a chance of coming to grips with the actual relationship between mind and physical world.
The orthodox mind-body debate, attempting to force a complex situation into simple moulds, would be forever doomed to failure. The four assumptions dictate a certain limited range of basic options, and eventually every option in that range would have been tried; stagnation and regressive oscillation would then be the natural result. In the long run, participants would have no choice but to embrace anomaly or admit defeat. Dogged insistence on working within the orthodox framework would result in little but baroque encrustations of irrelevant detail.
In short, if pluralism were true, we would expect to see exactly the kinds of problems that have in fact been afflicting the mind-body debate. This constitutes a prima facie case for rejecting the four assumptions and embracing a pluralist orientation. Pluralism is perfectly consistent with a hard-nosed realism which divorces the question of what kinds of mental entities in fact exist from the question of how we talk about people and what concepts we may have.
A realist pluralism of this kind does not try to read ontological commitments directly off our current language or concepts. It is perfectly willing to allow that folk discourses and folk concepts are inadequate to the ontological structure of mental reality. Distinctions built into ordinary ways of talking need not reflect deep ontological distinctions, and there may be ontological differences among kinds of mental entities to which folk talk is entirely oblivious.
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