TED Conversations

Orlando Hawkins


This conversation is closed.

Is it time for philosophy to do away with metaphysics?

I love philosophy but one of the main issues that I hear about it is that its impractical and serves no suitable purpose to the world. Although I believe this claim to be somewhat false I understand the point that is being made from those who criticize it.

Philosophy is capable of being pragmatic but the reason why it appears as though its not is because it deals too much with the abstract and concerns itself with metaphysics. If you want a real brain teaser metaphysical talk is the way to go but metaphysics really serves no purpose to the world. For a family who constantly have to work to feed their children and provide an education, contemplating the nature of reality or postulating weather or not consciousness exists outside the brain is probably not going to help the situation. One of my professors say that if we sit in meditation, we’ll understand the true harmonious nature and interconnectedness of the universe. We will understand how to act in each moment (similar to what Taoist believe). He may be right but we often forget that its a privilege to be able to do so. Nor are these concerns on everyone’s mind.

The philosophy department at my school is great but it is too indulged in metaphysics. From an epistomological standpoint this is problematic because most of the claims that are made is either in conflict with the way the natural world really is (scientific discoveries) and they are essentially not able to be proved which means we should not waste our time with such claims. When it comes to epistemology, I think this is where philosophy could utilize the methodology of science.

I"m a philosopher at heart but it concerns me that philosophy would lose it value if it cannot indulge in more empiricism and naturalism when making claims about the way the world is.

are we so concerned with value to the point that we'll negate truth? is science capable of establishing values?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • May 19 2013: I think you have the wrong view of philosophy, you can consider the idea's for tools, houses, etc, essentially metaphysical constructs before we inject information from our brains into the universe to re-arrange matter and energy according to information (our inner imaginary metaphysic).

    The problem is not with philosophy but developing methods to find out whether our ideas are congruent with reality but our IDEA of reality is used to figure out what reality is.

    Consider the idea that the universe is self-aware in some sense, capable of self-processing and self-configuring itself, this is not a 'mystical, non scientific idea'. Since one could say we possess some limited amount of self awareness, and therefore because we are just pieces of the universe. The universe might also have this property but is just dormant potential or just unconscious self-processing.

    Or consider the idea that the our universe is a simulation, there are ideas that one can use to test for this idea. Basically when you get down to it, what we call "reality" has expanded and grown and changed over historical time. I think you have the wrong idea about 'science' because you don't seem to grasp the very importance of concepts to science. Information is extremely important.

    The problem is the vast majority of human beings just don't think clearly about how to determine valid informational constructs from invalid ones. This is where analytical tools like math and science come in. But note that MATH is essentially metaphysical. There is no 'reality' to mathematics, it is a pure informational system we overlay on top of nature.

    Think of newtons "laws", the aren't really "laws" in the sense that we have 100% precision, so even if your accuracy describes something fairly well, if it ain't perfect, well then you haven't found the right ideas and information and ways to structure it to clarify what you're seeing.
    • thumb
      May 21 2013: Hi Bob,

      My problem is not with philosophy. My problem is with those who invoke metaphysics in spite of the overwhelming empirical evidence that is present. I'm not saying empiricism is the only way to go and the metaphysics that you described does serve a pragmatic purpose.

      I think philosophy is capable of helping us understand the nature of reality as well as science and mysticism. The claim about the self-aware universe, while interesting and perhaps true (since it does operate in accordance to certain laws, just like humans) is a claim that may be beyond the scope of our cognition and I think there are good reasons to cast doubt on such a claim.

      As with the case about science, I am well aware that what information that we find now could change at any moment if something else is discovered. I've mentioned this several times in other conversations. All we have, all that we can possibly know is what we have in the present moment. This is why many people tend not to think that science is capable of establishing values. By invoking science with value, we are in a way saying these values are absolute. Personally I think science (and philosophy) would provide more stable values.
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: There have been some recent TED talks addressing current issues in Social Psychology. Unfortunately, when I search TED using the search term "Social Psychology," I get nothing. Social Psychology is a valid, empirical sub-discipline of Psychology. And Psychology, itself, is a valid science. Maybe it wasn't back in the time of Sigmund Freud. But today, research in all Psychological disciplines is based in testing and statistics. And that fact, even the Physicists have to respect. But I said all that to address the issue of values. Social Psychology is developing as science of values, based in solid observation of both human behavior and our current, medical understanding of Brain science. Neuroscience and Social Psychology are beginning to address the issue of why people have values in the first place. And that inquiry is looking deeply into the evolutionary (i.e. Darwin) underpinnings of human society. What we call "values" and "ethics" can be measured. Scientific judgments can be made upon what is measured. And what most people would call the HIGHEST values & ethics, are being proven important in a way that is scientifically valid in an empiric sense. Today, we are developing a science of ethics and a science of values. And there is solid, experimental research behind it.

        So we now have empiric science that addresses values. Values/ethics -- these esoteric subjects are now the subject of a significant amount of inquiry by Social Psychologists. They use the tools of science. And they reach some interesting conclusions that have made their way into several recent TED talks. Check out Jonathan Haidt & Sam Harris.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.