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THE PROBLEMS OF DAVID HUME’S CONCEPTUALIZATION OF METAPHYSICS


Project topic for Philosophy department

CHAPTER ONE

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

1.1       Background to the Study

The word metaphysics was first used by Andronicus of Rhodes, who was then the editor of Aristotle’s work, around 70 BC. It is derived from two Greek words, Meta which means after, and physika which means physics. Brought together, it would literally mean that which is after physics. While Andronicus was editing Aristotle’s works, he realized that some were on physics, that is, on physical issues, and so he named them Physics. He also realized that some were on non-physical matters, but without a title. Since they were given no title by Aristotle, he placed them after the work physics, and since he did not know what to call them, he named them “after physics” (meta physika), that is, the treatises that came after those dealing with physics (Omoregbe 5).

Eventually, it came to be understood as beyond the physical world, and thus, a discipline dealing with realities that lie beyond the physical world. This concept can again be misleading because metaphysics as a branch of philosophy studies the totality of being, in its nature and structure. It is in this regard that Omoregbe argues that what metaphysicians have been trying to do down through the ages is to give a comprehensive account of the whole of reality, its nature, its structure, and the place of the human person in the universe as well as in the totality of reality. It is an endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted (Whitehead 27). In an epistemological age after Descartes, metaphysics came to include the preconditions for knowledge, especially knowledge of physical things, somehow independent of our sensible experience, and especially certain knowledge - knowledge by abstract reason alone (Durant 34).

In the domain of metaphysics, there are three ideas of reason which have corresponding representatives and the three ideas of reason correspond to the three branches of speculative metaphysics. There is the notion of the “thinking subject”, which psychology deals with, the “world” which cosmology deals with and “God”, which theology deals with. They are not given in experience and they do not constitute part of the phenomenal reality (Copleston 22).

Aristotle never used the term metaphysics. The books of Aristotle that Andronicus considered "beyond nature" included Aristotle's "First Philosophy" ontology (the science of being), cosmology (the fundamental processes and original causes of physical things), and theology (is a god required as "first cause?"). Aristotle's Physics describes the four "causes" or "explanations" (aitia) of change and movement of objects already existing in the universe (the ideal formal and final causes, vs. the efficient and material causes). Aristotle's metaphysics can then be seen as explanations for existence itself. What exists? What is it to be? What processes can bring things into (or out of) existence? Is there a cause or explanation for the universe as a whole? (Pears 14)

In recent centuries then, metaphysical has become "beyond the material." Metaphysics has become the study of immaterial things, like the mind, which is said to "supervene" on the material brain. Metaphysics is a kind of idealism, in stark contrast to materialism. And metaphysics has failed in proportion to the phenomenal success of naturalism, the idea that the laws of nature alone can completely explain the contents of the universe. For the eliminative materialist and determinist philosopher, who thinks there is "nothing but" matter, metaphysics is dismissed as nonsense. The primary meaning of metaphysics is derived from those discussions by Aristotle which he himself called the First Philosophy or Theology, and which deal with the nature of being as such, with first causes, new beginnings or genesis, and thus with the existence of God (Stace 20).

For medieval philosophers, metaphysics was understood as the science of the supersensible. Albertus Magnus called it science beyond the physical. Thomas Aquinas narrowed it to the cognition of God. John Duns Scotus disagreed, arguing that only study of the world can yield knowledge of God. Scholastic philosophers mostly returned metaphysics to the study of being in itself, that is, ontology, which again today is the core area of metaphysical arguments. In renaissance Germany, Christian Wolff broadened metaphysics to include psychology, along with ontology, cosmology, and natural or rational theology. In renaissance England, Francis Bacon narrowed metaphysics to the Aristotelian study of formal and final causes, separating it from natural philosophy which he saw as the study of efficient and material causes (Stace 23).

Descartes made a turn from what exists to knowledge of what exists. He changed the emphasis from a study of being to a study of the conditions of knowledge or epistemology. For empiricists in England like John Locke and David Hume, metaphysics includes the "primary" things beyond psychology and "secondary" sensory experiences. They denied that any knowledge was possible apart from experimental and mathematical reasoning. Some philosophers, such as the logical positivists, and many scientists, reject the strong view of metaphysics as meaningless and unverifiable. Others reply that this criticism also applies to any type of knowledge, including hard science, which claims to describe anything other than the contents of human perception, and thus that the world of perception is the objective world in some sense. David Hume is one of the greatest empiricists and positivist in the history of epistemology and metaphysics who has distinguished himself as a consistent and coherent radical empiricist (Stroud, 165).

In critical philosophical discourse, metaphysics has perhaps been tarnished by its Latinate translation as "supernatural," with its strong theological implications. But from the beginning, Aristotle's books on "First Philosophy" considered God among the possible causes of the fundamental things in the universe. Tracing the regress of causes back in time as an infinite chain, Aristotle postulated a first cause or "uncaused cause." Where every motion needs a prior mover to explain it, he postulated an "unmoved first mover." These postulates became a major element of theology down to modern times. Metaphysics is the division of philosophy which includes ontology, or the science of being, and cosmology, or the science of the fundamental causes and processes of things.

According to Hume, the only true knowledge is experimental, and any concept that is not available to sense perception is mere fanciful thinking. The only abstract objects of the abstract science or of demonstration are quantity and number, and all attempts to extend this more perfect species of knowledge beyond these bounds are mere sophistry and illusion (Stroud, 166). With an ideological ferocity, he calls for a book-burning campaign of any metaphysical work. A number of individuals have suggested that much or all of metaphysics should be rejected. In the eighteenth century, David Hume took an extreme position, arguing that all genuine knowledge involves either mathematics or matters of fact and that metaphysics, which goes beyond these, is worthless. He concludes his “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” with the statement:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion (Hume, 165).

This study seeks to explore David Hume’s criticism of metaphysics and its theories. It seeks to find out the balance between metaphysics and the physical.

  • Statement of the Problem

Metaphysical Problems are mostly: (i) The origin of metaphysics, (ii) The problem of being, (iii) The problem of essence and existence, universals, appearance and reality, change and permanence, causality, freedom and determinism, unity and diversity and; (iv) The problem of substance.

The problems of metaphysics stem from the Latin statement; “Search for the Principium Individuationis” which meansWhat makes a thing, an individual thing? What separates it from other things? Apart from appearances and the sense data of experiences, what is the underlying reality, what is there "really?" What "constitutes" a material object? What is its "principle of individuation?" Does a concrete object maintain its identity as it moves in space and time? Metaphysical philosophy leaves one with questions like: Can unchanging eternal ideas and truths provide us any knowledge about the constantly changing material world? And what is the existential (or ontological) status of these abstract ideas? Do numbers exist? If so, is their kind of existence different from that of material objects? Do the past and present exist? Are there immaterial minds apart from material brains? How could they interact? Is metaphysical philosophy not more theoretical than practical? Do Metaphysics really answer the question of being? Does metaphysic transcend experience as proposed by Hume?

This study seeks to counteract metaphysics from David Hume’s perspective and proffer answers to the multitude of questions left by metaphysics on being, essence, causality and existence etc.

1.3       Aim and Objectives of the Study

It has been established that Metaphysics has been a search for the preconditions of existence, for the meaning of being, especially for that which is beyond our senses. But do metaphysics give a concrete knowledge on the meaning of being. This study addresses the shortcomings of metaphysics from David Hume’s point of view.

It therefore becomes part of the aims of this study to point out some of these problems in metaphysics as we can in order to show that though experiments without theories are blind, theories without experiments may be empty.

1.4       Significance of the Study

This work would be a source of motivation to all those who genuinely search to know or learn anything in future. Of course, this is because; they would be able to distinguish what is metaphysical and what must truly be learned through experience as proposed by David Hume. When this work is completed, it is our hope that it is going to be of importance in the sense that at least we would have succeeded in bringing to light some of the very important aspects of metaphysics and at the same time would have also succeeded in pointing out problems inherent in it.

The work will equally be of help or assistance to students who will want to do some works in the area of David Hume’s perception on metaphysics as it will provide some aid to them by providing them with a kind of insight into the critical analysis of David Hume on metaphysics. And this work will also show if theory can work without experiments and vice versa.

1.5       Scope and Limitation of the Study

From the title of the work, we have already shown that this work is concerned on David Hume’s critique of Metaphysics. However, just as it is done in every critical study, we are not going to rush into the criticism just like that, we therefore will have a guide or focus as regards what to criticize. Metaphysics itself is to provide the guide because, as we are going to criticize it, we will have to present metaphysics so as to point out what it entails. After doing this, we will then know how to anchor our criticism to the problems we will observe, having discovered the nature of metaphysics. There are a lot of critics of metaphysics, but for the sake of this study; we will limit this study to Hume’s criticism of metaphysics.

1.6       Methodology of the Study

The method to be adopted in this work is that of critical study. As the work is on David Metaphysics, the method will therefore be, first of all to present a general overview of metaphysics. After this we will consider Hume’s life, work and philosophy. It will be after presenting these that we will therefore settle down to criticize metaphysics from Hume’s point of view.

For the purpose of convenience however, our criticism is going to be in two phases. The first phase will be to provide the attacks which had been leveled against metaphysics by David Hume. The second phase of the criticism will therefore be our own criticism. We will here point out as will be able, some of those problems metaphysics.

1.7       Definition of Terms

For a proper understanding of this study, it is important to consider the definition of some terms used in the course of the study.

Critique: A careful judgment in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something (such as a piece of writing or work of art) (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Metaphysics: A division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being that includes ontology, Cosmology and often epistemology (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Ontology: A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Cosmology: A branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of the universe (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

1.8       Breakdown of the Chapters

This study is considered in five chapters. The first chapter entails on the background of the study, aim and objectives of the study, statement of the problem of study, significance of the study, the methodology of the study, definition of terms and the chapter climaxes with the breakdown of the entire work.

Chapter two which is the literature review expounds on General overview of Metaphysics by different philosophers and the notion of metaphysics.

Chapter three gives an explicit insight into the Nature of Hume’s Philosophy comprising of Hume’s Background, and Empiricist philosophy. Chapter four of this study shows Hume’s Critique on metaphysics. It starts with Hume’s rejection of metaphysics and other philosophers’ rejection of metaphysics. Chapter five encapsulates the summary, evaluation and conclusion of the study.


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