Kultur, Zoologi og metafysisk spekulasjon

Metaphysical temptations

In Filosofi, Litteratur on januar 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Most people do not have any faith in the science of metaphysics. Two observations supports this allegation; the popularity within academics of ‘critiquing metaphysics’, and second, the lack of interest in understandings and deconstructions of it. But is it true that metaphysical temptations are non-existent today?

I believe not. As Øyvind Pålshaugen has pointed out in his book on the textual and linguistic aspects of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida: “Could it be that the metaphysical temptations still exists, but that today they exist in secret, hidden away? Because, it cannot be denied, that we who practice some form of philosophy or science, ask ourselves far more questions than those that are of empirical nature.”

It is not easy to understand a new term, obviously because we do not know what it refers to. But it is even harder when we – in advance – do not know what this referent is. In the words of Martin Heidegger; we are not already gripped by what the term refers to.



The concept of metaphysics was coined by the publishers of the works of Aristotle. In addition to his books on science, Aristotle wrote extensively on what can be said about the sciences and the knowledge these produces. The word meta in metaphysics comes from the Greek metá, which means ‘after’. So the concept metaphysics means ‘what comes after physics’. Related directly to the work of the ancient publishers, it means ‘the books that comes after the books on physics’. Apparently, this was interpreted by the scholastics as ‘the science of what is beyond the physical’, in Greek; metá tá physiká. This is close to the definition alive today, two thousand years after Aristotle. Some of its original meaning is thus still to be found in the term because it refers to questions leading to answers not based in experience. The metaphysical arguments are based neither on empirical or theoretical basis.

Aristotle became a victim of metaphysical temptations, and the rest of the western philosophers followed in this tradition. Even though it is obvious that metaphysics do not have any technical purpose for our lives, this has not been the reason for the ambivalence. Rather it is metaphysics itself that is the problem, and this has even the metaphysicians agreed on.  Kant was one of them; even though we can never answer the metaphysical questions rigorously, we can never stop asking them. He blamed (or cursed) his own reason for this.

The metaphysical temptations are two folded. It manifests itself in the lust for knowledge about what is not empirical, about our presupposition which all other knowledge is based on. But it rests also in our temptations to know the limits of our knowledge and recognitions. It is normal (maybe even a norm) within academia to explain in the preface or in a specific chapter how one uses words, concepts, and structure the world which is to be presented in the text. (This holds at least within the humanistic sciences.) But having explained these conditions, the author have actually pointed out that text/language does not have fixed meanings. At the same time, the text has one specific and countless other meanings.

According to Pålshaugen, being able to acknowledge and handle the practical problems with the metaphysical temptations, does not necessarily mean that one is immune to it.

But to have a theoretical concept about the problems associated with using language as a means of recognition, does not mean that one has a similar practical grasp of the language used during the performance.



Pålshaugen, Ø. 2010: Passasjer. Hos Derrida, Platon. Aristoteles. Spartacus.

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