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.


Derek said...


Without a logical framework to both justify and reconcile our disparate points of view, the centre doesn't hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. That may be your intention but I don't believe you: you're a social worker. I'd been hoping for some more considered reflections on the balder ambitions of my website. Is it still too hairy for you? Anyway, thanks for your reference to Nagarjuna's tetralemma. I've riffed on it in my blog.


Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Hi Derek,

I got sidetracked and forgot to respond. I'll do that.

We haven't had a logical framework to justify and reconcile disparate views, despite the greatest philosophers of the 20th century trying to nail it down, and mere anarchy hasn't been loosed upon the world. (Although the world is a pretty unjust place.)

I think you're thinking that without the belief in or faith that or assertion of an objective something that we humans can appeal to as a non-human standard or guarantor then there's nothing to stop us from going wild. But I think our desires and connections and various traditions are enough to make us want to try to work things out together (and sometimes fight), with the usual results of a mix of stability, horror, ordinariness, pain and injustice.


Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

Perhaps you'll be interested in these books:

-Steven Hales has edited the "Companion to Relativism", a forthcoming book that will be available in january, 2011.

-Christian philosopher and relativist Mark McLeo Harrison has a book with the title "Make/Believing the World(s): Toward a Christian Ontological Pluralism", which defends relativism based on Nelson Goodman and Michael Lynch ideas.

What's amazing is that Harrison is a Christian analytic philosopher, and most Christian scholars are absolutists, not relativists.

I've ordered Harrison' book because i want to see how he defends Christianity from a relativist point of view.

One of the chapters of this book is a critique of Hales' relativism.

He writes on mysticism too, as you can read in his background:

Certainly, he's not a typical Christian philosopher.

-In other topic, philosopher Chris Carter has published the book "Science and Near-Death Experience: How consciousness survives death", which is a defense of the survivalist interpretation of some NDEs.

The book will be available in September, this year.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Hi ZC,

Sorry it took so long to respond.

I didn't know about Hales' new book.

I'm curious about McLeo's critique of Hales. Although I've never devoted the time to understanding Hales's relativism. I'd like to.

A Christian using Nelson Goodman! Hard to imagine.