Objection #4. We cannot escape metaphysics. Even scientists have to use metaphysical assumptions.

The basis of this kind of objection is the problem of drawing a boundary-line between what is and what is not metaphysics. If we define metaphysics in terms of its lack of capacity for verification or falsification through experience, then there is certainly a problem with being sure that any theory can be conclusively verified or falsified, which might lead one to conclude that all theories are metaphysical. What's more, philosophers of science have clearly demonstrated that successful scientists have often used basic assumptions that are not themselves verifiable or falsifiable in any generally accepted way. These basic assumptions used by scientists have thus been described as "metaphysical". On these terms, even the interpretation of an observation could be described as metaphysical, because we do not know for sure that the observation was accurate, and we do not know that the language we have used to describe the observation is accurately related to the reality.

If what we have is theories with an imperfect and doubtful relationship to reality, though, then we could be just as justified in calling all these theories "non-metaphysical" as in calling them all "metaphysical". It is once again a question of our attitude to imperfection, and whether we regard imperfect evidence as a half-full or half-empty glass.

The problem with this objection is that it is itself based on metaphysical assumptions which become self-fulfilling. The distinction between metaphysical and non-metaphysical theories cannot be accepted to be a metaphysical distinction, otherwise we will be swept back immediately into necessarily metaphysical ways of thinking. The distinction must be measured in terms of experience. Imagine a scientist who has a theory of a very high level of abstraction which implies other beliefs, which then perhaps, allied with auxiliary hypotheses, imply still other beliefs, which in turn finally predict an experience in certain circumstances that can be tested. Some philosophers of science would describe the abstract overarching theory (what Lakatos describes as a "negative heuristic" and Kuhn as a "paradigm") as metaphysical. But it is only metaphysical in the metaphysical sense that it cannot be perfectly demonstrated. It is not metaphysical in the pragmatic sense that it does not have a role in experience. On the contrary, such a theory may be very important as underlying a great many scientific experiments. 

A number of widely used and accepted scientific theories are a bit like this. Nuclear physics has to work with the problem that no-one can actually observe an atom, let alone a sub-atomic particle. It consists of a great many inferences built on inferences, but nevertheless those inferences have proved to be so effective in practice that they can be used in both civil and military nuclear technology. The indirectness of the theories does not, practically speaking, lead us to treat them as metaphysical. It does mean that they are relatively abstract and relatively removed from direct experience, but this does not justify the claim that they are beyond verification or falsification in terms of experience.

Contrast this with a belief of a kind that I would consider "metaphysical" in terms of its practical effect, such as the belief that God created the universe. This has the implication that the universe is good because God is good. This would in turn imply that every event in the universe is good, which would imply that the Holocaust in Nazi Germany was good. When this belief is tested against experience it turns out to be contradictory, so that if one accepts this view it leads one to revise the conclusion one would otherwise draw from experience (that the Holocaust was bad) in a ad hoc fashion, just to defend the theory. It is these kinds of beliefs that have the psychological effects I have been attributing to metaphysics - leading us to suppress alternative views based on experience. Atomic theory does not lead us to defend theory ad hoc and take up dogmatic positions in this way (or if it started, that would be when it began to be metaphysical in the terms I am arguing for).

This illustrates some of the ways that metaphysics is self-perpetuating, and that the only way of avoiding metaphysics is to avoid thinking in a metaphysical way even about metaphysics. It is necessary to be philosophically on one's guard (even whilst avoiding defensiveness in other ways) in order not to be sucked into an argument that inevitably assumes metaphysical terms of reference by the acceptance of even one metaphysical premise. We can escape metaphysics just by trying out thinking differently and seeing how it works, but we will have to do so consistently in order to avoid metaphysical tentacles.

Links to further discussion relating to this objection

Lakatos and non-dualist ethics (paper)

Section on verification and falsification in thesis (scroll down to section c)

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