Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Metaphysical and the Pragmatic

The discussion I participated in on asked which is more real: dreams or waking life. Presented in this way it sounds like a metaphysical question.

But I suggested that determining what is really real is dependent upon the approach or stance or perspective we adopt in order to determine what is most real. So if you are doing psychoanalysis then you could think that dreams are the gateway to the real because one’s real motivations, the real determiners of one’s life, are found by interpreting the dreams and gaining access to one’s unconscious. One could also adopt a commonsensical, intuitive perspective and say that our waking life seems realer than the dream and maybe argue that we think about the dream in waking life but rarely think about waking life while in the dream. As a third alternative, we can adopt and do a Buddhist practice and eventually see that what we regard as normal, waking life is really a dream or a form of being asleep compared to the superior wakefulness of a Buddhist mindfulness practice and eventually enlightenment.

So it seems the practice adopted trumps or comes before the determination of the real. We tend to think that by asking questions like: What’s real? Or what’s more real? We are neutrally inquiring into the nature of things. But this way of inquiring presupposes that this particular method tells us how things are. There are other methods for determining how things are, such as a Buddhist practice or psychoanalysis or appealing to common sense or intuition or faith rather than reason.

But, in another twist, the practice adopted comes with presuppositions about the way things are: which is a metaphysics. In Buddhism they say meditate and see for yourself the nature of experience as it arises and passes away in each moment. That by doing this you will see things are they are. But this presupposes that that method of looking or inquiring is the superior method as well as presupposing other things, such as that the present moment is the true reality, that past and future only exist as experiences in the present moment, that in examining our subjective experience we learn about all existing things, etc.

Likewise psychoanalysis has metaphysical presuppositions that one assumes or adopts by inquiring in that way.

Rational inquiry is an approach to determining the real which hides its assumption that it is the best method of inquiry. The various practices which shape what will be seen as real presuppose a metaphysics or beliefs about how things are which leads one to see things in a particular way.

In answering the pragmatic question of which inquiring practice to choose we presuppose the metaphysical and in choosing the metaphysical – i.e. unquestioningly inquiring using our chosen way – we presuppose the pragmatic superiority of that mode of inquiring.