Johanna Elisabeth Wolff
- Stanford University
Is a Radical Critique of Metaphysics Possible?
Metaphysics, understood as inquiry into fundamental reality, has made a remarkable comeback in analytic philosophy. This is surprising since metaphysics seems to be in direct competition with the sciences. When is a question metaphysical as opposed to physical? How are philosophers suited to address such questions? Metaphysicians go wrong in two ways. First, physics is seen as providing an ontology, that is an inventory of what there is. This view is at odds with the practice of physics. Second, metaphysicians misunderstand the nature of their questions. They are right to reject the idea that their disputes are merely verbal, but wrong to think that their questions are factual. Instead their questions should be viewed as practical, calling for a choice, not an answer.
Philosophers in the analytic tradition often adopt a deferential attitude towards natural science. Philosophy has no business questioning or criticizing claims made by science; indeed philosophy should strive to be continuous with scientific inquiry. This project suggests that this naturalistic stance not only deprives philosophy of its humanistic core mission, but philosophy is actually rendering science a disservice if it accepts science as authoritative. By engaging science in a dialogue from outside of scientific practice, philosophy can actually contribute to the legitimacy of science, as opposed to its mere authority. Not just any kind of questioning will do, however. What questions are allowed, and what questions should we reject? This is the core concern of this project.