Category Archives: Metaphysics

Metaphysical Bloviation (II)

The Ducks have challenged me on my pleas for metaphysical tolerance and Hey Skipper has posted some reflections on an Economist article, When Religions Talk, asserting “By definition, religions assert mutually exclusive metaphysical claims”.

Robert Duquette strikes close to the heart of the issue in his comment on my article:

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Metaphysical Bloviation?

Over at talkingphilosophy blog Jeff Mason has an elegant essay on metaphysics that takes the Kantian view that the physical sciences are the source of all knowledge and everything else is mere speculation. My problem with this essay, and Kant’s critique, is that they are the worst examples of the very thing that they are complaining about—making, as they do, grandiose excessively-general statements about the nature of reality that are quite immune from empirical or logical examination, the most extravagant metaphysical conceit of them all. The genre really should be called metametaphysics as it installs itself as the last arbiter on truth and preemptively disqualifies, tout court, anything that could offer an alternative to its dogmatically positivistic understanding of reality.

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A Philosophical Manifesto (Contents)

In this series of articles I explain my own understanding of philosophy and why I think the writings of Jane Austen should be of interest to to anyone interested in modern morality and ethics.

  1. A Philosophical Manifesto
  2. Classical Philosophy
  3. George Berkeley
  4. The Enlightenment
  5. Immanuel Kant
  6. Joseph Butler
  7. David Hume and Jane Austen
  8. A Short Digression: David Hume in Perspective
  9. The Romantics
  10. The Cynics
  11. Postscript (A Personal Anecdote)

    Postscript (A Personal Anecdote)

    A few years I visited The National Portrait Gallery to view the portrait of Jane Austen by her sister. I walked all over the gallery in search of it, until someone pointed out that it was in ground-level display case, and sure enough, once I stopped craning my neck at the grand canvases there was Cassandra’s portrait in front of me.

    The Cynics

    To get a feel for the kind of problems that Austen presents for her critics, consider the Margaret Oliphant (1870) review, an article prompted by the publication of the Austen-Leigh (1870) memoir, triggering as it did the resurgence of interest in Austen that continues to the present.

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    The Romantics

    “I did not know before,” continued Bingley immediately, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”

    “Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.”

    “The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”

    “But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”

    “Yes, indeed,” cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. “I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town.”

    Pride and Prejudice (9.15)

    It is difficult not to understand this interchange between Elizabeth and Darcy as an anticipation of the debate within Austen criticism as to whether the restriction of her range reflected a limitation of the novelist, and—more to the point—whether this limitation should be reflected in the novels’ status in the canon. This debate will no doubt run and run, but there can be little doubt that this was a choice of Austen’s, a reflection of the judgement that the middle-range rural domestic arena—the familiar and the universal—was the place to be. And it has provoked a reaction from the Romantics reminiscent of Mrs Bennet’s, Charlotte Brontë’s witty response to George Henry Lewes’s provocations speaking for many:

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    A Short Digression: David Hume in Perspective

    David Hume was a great writer and a great philosopher but this doesn’t mean that he produced perfect philosophy. Two of the best assessments I have seen are one by William Russell (see What is Enlightenment?) and Gilbert Ryle.

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