Tim Crane
Central European University
Philosophy, that most misunderstood of intellectual pursuits, is often mocked; and no part of philosophy is as often mocked as metaphysics. The image of the ‘speculative metaphysician’ dreaming up abstract pictures of the world has been held up for ridicule by poets, playwrights, novelists, journalists as well as by other philosophers. The Logical Positivists in the first half of the 20th Century rejected all metaphysical speculations as ‘meaningless’ since they could not be verified by scientific experiment; in the later part of the century, Wittgenstein criticised systematic metaphysics as being a kind of intellectual disease resulting from our reading false pictures of the world into the grammar of our language. The common suspicion underlying many of these attacks is that ultimately, all metaphysics is a kind of nonsense, and that metaphysicians don’t really know what they are talking about. This suspicion is not new. Nicolas-Sébastien Chamfort commented in 1796, ‘I am tempted to say of metaphysicians what Scaliger used to say of the Basques: they are said to understand one another, but I don’t believe a word of it.’ Some contemporary philosophers may agree.
Keywords Metaphysics
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