METAPHYSICS AND REALITY
D. R. Khashaba
When Kant was dismayed at the reception of his Critique of Pure Reason he wrote Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphsics to drive home the core message of the first Critique, namely to specify the scope of empirical science and depict what is permissible in metaphysics and what is not. Sadly the Prolegomena was as little understood as the Critique, not only by Kant’s contemporaries and immediate followers but also by successive generations of philosophers to this day. However it is not my principal
intention here to write about Kant and his great ill-fated works. I intend to approach the problem of the validity of metaphysics from a different angle.
Is the world reasonable? Before we can tackle this question we have to face another question of a higher priority. What right have we to demand or expect that the world should conform to reason, our reason? Do we in fact have in our power this highly-vaunted ability or capability called Reason? To look at the state of the human race today, only a member of the race soaked in empty haughtiness would dare confidently to say, “Yes, we do have Reason!” The meekest and the wildest of animal species living in groups would give him the lie. But perhaps my revulsion at the atrocities, stupidities, and lunacies taking place all the time in all corners of the Earth threatens to blind me to the fact that this does not answer the question, The majority of humans may be mad but there are always here and there a few individuals who are sane.
Back to the question: What right have to demand or expect that the All should conform to reason? And when asking or answering this question the only Reason we have in mind can only be our human reason. Incidentally, it may be that certain animals, birds and insects have a kind of intelligence that is qualitatively different from that working (when it does work) in human beings.
Einstein said that the mystery of the world is its comprehensibility: but what could Einstein – a through and through mathematician – mean by ‘comprehensibility’? He meant, it seems, that the world obligingly conforms to mathematical formulations. Does that apply to anything more than purely physical quantities? Einstein was one of the most broad-minded scientists, with an active interest in all aspects of hunan life, Still I don’t think that we can translate his ‘comprehensibility’ into ‘rationality’ or ‘reasonableness’.
So what can our Reason, pure or with the aid of empirical experience (begging Kant’s pardon for this corruption of his terminology) reveal to us of the World? Let us compensate Kant for the corruption of his terminology by accepting in toto the gist of his transcendental system. Of the natural (objective) world we can know the forms, relations, and processes of its phenomena, that is, of its states and happenings as they appear to us and not an iota beyond that. Of the World as a whole science can know nothing at all, and pure reason can dream to its heart’s content, but all its dreams conflict with and contradict one another (Kant’s Antinomies of Pure Reason), and there is absolutely no way for saying if any of them speak of the whole. Of morals and values Reason has the privilege to speak and to direct but all that has nothing to do with the external natural world. (This does not exactly represent Kant’s position, but this is not the place to go into that.)
What says Plato? But for a difference in language, Plato would agree with Kant as regards knowledge of the outer world. For Plato the outside world is a world of shadows. In respect of the world as a whole and of the world of values, Plato dreams dreams — but with a crucial qualification. Plato calls his dreams dreams and, lest we delude ourselves into thinking we have positive knowlrdge, Plato insists that our dreams must be broken down and shredded by Dialectic (the critical exercise of reason).
So where does all this leave the metaphysician and what is the bearing of all this on our first question? Is the world reasonable? If our question is meant to extend to the actual world or the whole world, then the answer must be: “We can never know”. But we – at any rate the thinking few among us – cannot live in a meaningless or in a fragmented world. The human mind demands that the world be whole and be meaningful. So human beings from the earliest times and in all quarters of the Earth have invented myths, fables, epics, and metaphysical visions, Reflective thinking knows all these creations of the human mind for what they are. They are of the same nature and issue from the same spring as when a lonely man walking through a deserted dark lane whistles to fortify himself against the Ubknown. And perhaps it is remarkable that all the myth and fable makers, the poets weaving their epics, all of them know what they are doing, but only the sagacious metaphysicians still think they are reporting on the actual world, as if it is not honour enough for them to be helping to make human life a little less scary, a little more tolerable.
Thus if we ask “Does Metaphysics speak to us of Reality?” my answer would be: Metaphysics creates for us the only Reality that is meaningful to us, the Reality that determines the quality of the life we live. But lest we fall victim to narrow-minded hubris let me add that it is not metaphysics alone that tenders this service to humankind but so also do poetry and art and creative literature. And indeed, since not all individuals have a taste for metaphysics, the finest gifts of metaphysics are transmitted and diffused most widely not through the works of philosophers but through poetry, drama, fiction, cinema, etc.
D. R. Khashaba
May 31, 2018