Posts Tagged 'metaphysics'

Plato’s Cave and Modern Day Metaphysics

In his new book philosopher Crawford L. Elder argues from a realist Hegelian point of view that objects (“familiar objects”) actually do exist in our world.  This claim actually runs counter to much modern day philosophical thought that familiar objects actually do not exist (i.e. a “dog” is just a bunch of atomic particles that consist of what we perceive to be a “dog,” etc.).  Elder argues that this amounts to a modern day “Plato’s cave” in where philosophers are only arguing for the existence of the “shadows” of objects and not the objects themselves.

In general, contemporary metaphysics is deeply sceptical of the familiar objects in which common sense believes.  It is far more ready to attribute reality to entities that are much smaller – to the particles and wave packtes and strings which microphysics treats as real, or to the “mereoloigical simples” for which philosophical reflection provides some support.  Any such view must find some way of explaining why there appear to be familiar medium-sized objects in the world…The main business of this book is to argue that leading examples of such explanations fail.  For time and again such explanations project downwards, onto the small entities of the preferred ontology, structures and relations and features that properly belong to familiar objects.  Such projections are harmless so long as one allows that there also are, in addition to the small entities, the familiar objects that form the starting point of the projection.  But if – as generally the case – the aim is to expunge familiar objects from ontology, the invocation of such structures and relations and features is illegitimate.  The opponetns of familiar objects are then helping themselves to shadows cast downwards, onto the level of the preferred small entities, while denying that the sources of these shadows exist.

What explains this scepticism?  I shall being…by suggesting that contemporary metaphysics is dominated by the style of thought which Hegel – using the nineteenth-century vocabulary of faculties – called “the Understanding,” and that “the Understanding” is constitutionally antipathetic to familiar objects.  But first a few words about the style of thought that finds familiar objects congenial – the style of thought which Hegel identified under the title “Reason.”

A prime characteristic of “Reason” is that it is willing to recognize what Hegel called “identity in difference.”  “Identify in difference” is a form of sameness which articulates itself in difference…Typically, a familiar object goes on being itself while passing through different phases or properties, that is, while differing from itself.  Indeed in many cases – and especially if we count such properties as age among the relevant ones – a familiar object can go on being numerically the same object only by differing more and more from its earlier self…It is the same composite only because it is differently composed…Common sense is quick to agree that these properties fall into contrary ranges, each contrasting to graded degrees with its own proper rivals.  The Hegelian claim – on which I shall focus at length…is that for any genuine property, its having the intrinsic positive character that it has just is (at least in part) its contrasting as it does with its own proper rivals.  Its being just that property is its differing, in just those ways, from just those other properties (1, 166-7).

Reference

Elder, Crawford L.  2011.  Familiar Objects and Their Shadows.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

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