Question: Summarize and critique E.J. Lowe’s “The possibility of Metaphysics”
The question of metaphysical possibility has been a topic among philosophers. Metaphysics on its own has been misunderstood among philosophers. E. J Lowe took it upon himself to tackle the issue to the best of his ability. In Lowe’s view metaphysics is indeed possible, he posits that metaphysics can indeed be about absolute reality but though for Lowe in so far as actuality is concerned metaphysics cannot provide us with certainty. In this essay I shall first summarize Lowe’s work on the possibility of metaphysics and present possible critique of his positions in cross reference to the work of some metaphysical positions of philosophers such as Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Norris Clarke. Finally my conclusion will entail a reiteration of the summary and my opinion of the issue in question.
Attempts have been made to pulverize metaphysics by those within the spherical of philosophy and from external disciplines or beyond. The question of Emmanuel Kant “How is metaphysics possible” call for need to look deeper into the possibility of metaphysics and calls for its defense which Lowe has tried to achieve. Lowe overall objective tends to contribute to the restoration of metaphysics to a central position in philosophy as the most fundamental form of rational inquiry, with its own distinctive methods and criteria of validation’ (Lowe 1998:1). For Lowe it is better for him to apprehend this metaphysical Kantian question without any definition of Metaphysics for he thinks it may favor one metaphysical position over another. According to Lowe the thought around Metaphysics has been as the systematic study of the most fundamental structure of reality. This particular view is what Lowe is interested in and a view he intends and proceeds to purse (Lowe 1998:2). And for him Metaphysics is inevitable.
Lowe considers metaphysics as the science of the possible. He denies that metaphysics generally can tell us what there is, but rather affirms that metaphysics only by itself could tell us what could be. Using this approach Lowe postulates that before actuality of anything it has to be possibly thought or exist in the possible. This makes him to find science which is believed to deal with empirical knowledge or actuality to presupposed metaphysics. For Lowe metaphysics remains the prerequisite for the acquisition of any empirical knowledge of actuality (:2). In Lowe’s metaphysical possibilities he stands that metaphysics on its own only tell us what could be, Lowe believes metaphysical possibilities to be an inescapable determinant of actuality. One has to understand what is possible before we can understand what is actual. But though for Lowe science presupposes metaphysics, metaphysics must work in pari passu with that of empirical enquiry to arrive at a full account of how reality is. For Lowe, empirical science at most tells us what is the case, not what must or may be the case. Metaphysics deals in possibilities (1998: 5). Hence this characterizes metaphysics for Lowe, a science of the possible.
In Lowe’s pursuit to how metaphysics is possible, Lowe considers the rejection of four modern view positions: First: Relativism this group believes that what we assume or call truth or reality is just a human construct and is inclined or driven by human interest. Lowe believes the relativist assertion is not to be taken serious because their argument is not found reasonable enough for it lacks sociological and anthropological sufficient evidence. For Lowe for the fact that we are part of that which we study and cannot stand outside of it to study it does not render it impossible to be studied. Second: Scientism, this particular field asserts that such legitimate metaphysical questions belong to the domain of empirical science. Lowe in his defense declares that metaphysics deals with possibilities, it tells us what must or may be the case but empirical science on the other hand longs for what is the case. For Lowe one has to pass through the scope of possibilities to reach actualities, hence empirical science is still dependent of metaphysics. Thirdly: Neo-Kantianism – holds the notion that metaphysics can only arrive at some certain fundamental necessary futures of our thought about reality but incapable of telling us about objective reality. For Lowe, there claim is really flawed since its intention is to render metaphysical claim as speaking as how things are as opposed to how we must think of them as being (:6). Fourthly: Semanticsm – follows that metaphysical question can be resolved by recourse to the theory of meaning. Hence they reduce metaphysics to just linguistic practice. But according to Lowe this does not help because owing to the fact that what we do mean when we alter could not cohere with what we should mean. It then becomes important to take note of what we could mean and what we should mean. At this approach it is summated that the semantic approach ridicules the possibility of metaphysics collapses into the foot of relativism. (:7)
In relation to logic or roll of logical possibilities, Lowe distinguishes the empirical scientific possibilities to depend on logical possibilities because what so ever they intend to achieve first visits the court of experience and is expected to bypass every possible form of logical contradiction. This varies with the intention or view of metaphysical possibilities because metaphysical propositions have to do with state of affairs which must be real. Lowe further explains that there is a sharp line between logical and metaphysical possibilities. Metaphysical notion are ontological, they concern being and its modes but not pure logical notions reason being that logic has little or less to do with being in general but rather points to relations between propositions.
Speaking of logical and metaphysical necessity, Lowe grades logical necessities as follows: Strictly necessary, narrowly necessary and broadly necessary. But among the supra mentioned grades only the broadly logical necessity ‘that which is true in every logical possible world, that is, in every possible world which the laws of logic holds true’ (:14) could be thought of as coextensive with metaphysical necessity. For Lowe it is two things that mean the same thing.
Lowe implored metaphysical methods which touch the perspective of metaphysics arguing, in an a priori perspective for its possibility and on partly empirical perspective, for the actuality of some of those things that are possible. Lowe’s as well equates or uses metaphysics, as ontology.
In Lowes second characterization of metaphysics, that is science of Essence: he shows the roll of essence as that which defines what an entity is. Essence for Lowe provides the real definition for that entity. For Lowe to clarify the essential nature of an entity in a rational sense one then has to provide the existence of such entity, identity of such entity so the essence is the dictator of what the entity is. So Lowe’s view that metaphysics has to be approached as the study of the fundamental nature of reality to arrive at realistic height then must have a relation to reality. For Lowe metaphysics can indeed be about reality, can avoid collapse into empirical scientific theory but only on the condition that cognizance be taken that as far as actuality is concerned, metaphysics cannot provide us with certainty.
Critically analyzing some of Lowe’s view, one can dictate errors such as his neutral stand of metaphysical definition. Metaphysics has been misunderstood by Lowe from the point of view of its definition and perhaps subject-matter. He stays neutral of a distinct definition because he believes it might “favor one metaphysical position over another”. This means or implies that metaphysics eludes definition or subject matter. Though there are several definitions which possibly could point to that since many philosophers engaged in defining metaphysics.
Descartes sees metaphysics as knowledge of things which lie beyond sense experience. And for Kant, is the transcendental analysis of the content of the human mind, for Heidegger it is the ontological inquiry into the Sein, being or to be of all there is: why there are essents (things). Bertrand Russell expresses it as what constitutes the ultimate furniture of the universe. For G.F MC Lean, the study of the meaning, structure and principles of whatever is and in as much as it is or exists (Iroegbu 1995: 22). Many have given their definition of what they think metaphysics could be or is and for Lowe he appears to be neutral or distinct in definition of metaphysics because it might favor one position over another in his trying to achieve and return metaphysics to its central point. Well, this signifies that either Lowe is ignorant of what metaphysics is all about or he chose to deny what it truly is. Aristotle has managed to centralize a ground acceptable to metaphysics and its subject matter.
For Aristotle Metaphysics is the study of being qua being. This plays a turnaround in the diverse definition of metaphysics. It investigates all that which belongs to being as being. Its competence is to investigate being as being and not being as particular. This follows with the Thomas Aquinas understanding of metaphysics as the being in the sense of actual existent, metaphysics for Aquinas is a study of ens commune where this is understood as the common aspects of being without which a thing could not be; Though for Aristotle he uses Wisdom in place of metaphysics. This encompasses being both mentally as in the case of possible, abstraction , mathematical and logical entities, theoretical and imaginative constructions (Clarke 2001: 6) Lowe I will say here has a misconception of what metaphysics is all about in terms of what exactly metaphysics and its competency is.
Furthermore Lowe considers metaphysics as science of possible. Norris Clark explains this better because the wide scope of metaphysical inquiry is universal and it touches all being and all its methodology of inquiry is philosophical. Going with Norris’s explained view metaphysics surely is foundation of any actual existence and without which all other subject matter vanishes. With this view one can see clearly that Lowe did forget to understand that is either a thing is or is not. And metaphysics deals or investigates being.
Lowe seems to understand or took metaphysics as ontology. Ontology is understood as science of being hence all things that exists. But there is a sharp line here because deriving from the definitions given above we can see that metaphysics differs from just study of being but rather deals with being as being. Before talking of ontology which is being there has to be investigation of being as being and this is the competence of metaphysics not just ontology.
Finally, Lowe was right when he says essence asks what a thing is, that is the question of what(ness) and this is true essence is what makes a thing what it is. He only lacks behind in not agreeing or omitting the competence of metaphysics and surely when a thing is not clearly defined it has no full clarity. Even the essence by which he understands and talked about has to do with definition of what a thing is. Though he believes that metaphysics is science of possible he forgets to forget that mental reality is part of that which exists and when you talk about existence you talk about being, and investigation of being is what metaphysics is up to. Outside being there is nothing whatever exist either empirical or mentally in as much as it exist has be is in the fold of metaphysics.
Though Lowe tried his best in tackling the problem of metaphysics and its possibilities I think it is much better to go with Metaphysics as the science of being qua being instead of the science of possibilities.