Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Contemporary Philosophy

I remember an annoying game I used to play where I would ask, "why?" after every statement made by whoever I was talking to. "Why do things fall to the ground?"
"Because of gravity."
"Yeah, but why does gravity work?"
"Because every time two pieces of matter exist, they attract each other."

I know I'm not the only person to have done this as a child, but such questions are also the focus of metaphysical philosophy. Many contemporary philosophers, building on the assumption that deductive logic is the only way to know truth (ironic), have followed this string of whys to the bitter end in a quest for absolute certainty.

A philosopher, born in 1967, called Quentin Meillassoux, has suggested the following:

"Our inability rationally to determine an absolute necessity or sufficient reason underlying things, properly understood, can be affirmed as a demonstration that there is in fact no such necessity or reason." (Hallward 132)

In other words, the argument is this:
1. Humans, being finite in understanding and knowledge, cannot prove that things must be the way they are (necessary). We have an idea, for example, that pushing a box causes it to move, but we cannot prove using deductive logic that it was the action of pushing the box that made it move.

2. This ignorance and lack of understanding, according to Meillassoux, is absolute proof that no necessity exists anywhere in the universe. The idea that humans are not omniscient disproves the existence of natural laws and causality itself.

This philosophy, called speculative realism, has other bad arguments, arbitrarily setting up non-contradiction and mathematics as the only things in the universe that are necessary, despite earlier saying that nothing is necessary. However, focusing on point 2, I'd like to dwell on how appalling this view is both for those who think logic has value and those who don't care about proving things.

Logically, 2 does not follow from one. Deductive logic is only valid when, given the premise (1), the conclusion (2) is the only possible result. Given premise 1, any number of results outside of 2 can be conceived. It could, for example, be that there is something in the universe transcendent to humans (God is the most obvious, but even pi is transcendent).

When logic is thrown out the window, Meillassoux has nothing to offer the world. There is no practical application of the idea that things might be otherwise. However good is defined, there seems to be nothing good that can come of this philosophy.

As a person with relatively little education in philosophy, I recognize that there could be redeeming aspects of speculative realism that I don't understand, but as I currently see things, contemporary metaphysics, when it assumes that humans are the highest form of existence, is insane.

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