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But isn't it already possible that we already have what we need in our current conceptual scaffolding (though I would call it a ethical or political rather than metaphysical scaffolding), but that these are being neglected and even repressed?

I refer to values such as cooperation, democracy, freedom, community, pluralism, solidarity, compassion, future preference (relevant to sustainability and solidarity with our descendants), and even (albeit to a lesser degree than in other cultures perhaps) a respect for and fondness for nature.

These are all to be found in the Western tradition (although again, I realize they are not really metaphysical in nature.)  If we revive and revalue them, then I think we will be well equipped to address the challenges you raise.

One point that might bear on the metaphysical is the Western notion of truth, and it just occurred to me now that here a revision or expansion of this notion could conceivably enhance, though not radically alter, in a positive way our conceptual equipment to deal with real world crises.

Our metaphysical outlook has always held that there is a truth, a meaning, a goal to existence, and that this truth is learnable, but not with completeness, finality, or certainty.  Also, this truth is approached not only through divine revelation (the exceptional, almost mythological case), but through individual, personal effort and through reiterative, communal, collective effort.  Furthermore, the social dimension of the unfolding of truth involves both competition and cooperation.  To claim to have obtained final truth is to commit the Greek sin of hubris or the Judaeo-Christian sin of pride (which caused Lucifer to forfeit his box seat in Heaven).  This conception of truth is at the basis of the modern scientific enterprise in which truth is progressively approached, through competition and cooperation, through ever increasing and ever refining knowledge, with the ever present caveat that science is never fully achieved and that no matter how good a theory is, it may always be disproved by a new experiment or displaced by a better theory.

This conception of truth as unfolding in time through a communal process is thus hopeful and optimistic, and affirms that there is an ordered, external reality that is not arbitrary, chaotic, and meaningless.

The irony is that Gödel's theorems, as well as quantum mechanics, violently rattle our simple understanding of what truth is, and force us to reexamine it.  It may even cause us to question the fundamental premise that truth exists at all.  But I do not think these discoveries require that we reject truth, but rather that we enrich our understanding of the nature of truth.  In particular, based on my purely lay reading of quantum mechanics and logic (including a college course in first order logic), I think quantum mechanics and Gödel's theorems can contribute positively to our metaphysics with the following:

  • the rejection of absolute, mutually exclusive duality ("Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)")
  • the role of subjectivity and consciousness, maybe even sentience, in the constitution of reality
  • the confirmation that truth can never be expressed finally and exhaustively ("There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy")
  • that the discovery, unfolding of truth cannot be automated, but requires the continual participation of conscious intelligence
  • reality is not pre-determined
  • reality may contain multiple "truths" ("reject the tyranny of the or, embrace the genius of the and")

In short, what these scientific/mathematical "crises" may offer our metaphysics is
  • a more important place for the active engagement and consciousness of people
  • more room for creativity and consideration of alternatives (solutions as well as points of view)
  • open-ended optimism and hopefulness

I am no scientist or mathematician (to my great regret), so I may be totally off base here.  But if not, these seem like they could be very helpful for us in dealing with the real world challenges that face us indeed.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 12:33:28 PM EST
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