The nature of metaphysical questions.
First of all, it is necessary to define, what we understand as
questions are possible to divide on empirical and formal questions. The
empirical, that is, questions which can be answered based on the data of
observation; and the formal, that is, questions whose answer depend on
pure calculation. For example, the correct answer to the question “What
is the distance between the Earth and the Moon?” must obviously be based
on astronomical observations. As formal questions, the answer to the
question “What is irrational numbers?” can be given by means of
mathematical procedure. The proof of any mathematical statement does not
require any empirical observations, as the answer to empirical questions.
In both cases we know what kind of methods will, and what kind of methods
will not, be relevant to the answer.
science uses both empirical and formal methods. It is impossible to
construct a physical theory on the basis of only observations. For
hundreds of years we can observe how apples fall, but this simple
observation will not open to us the law of universal gravitation. On the
other hand, it is impossible to construct the physical theory by means of
mathematical methods only. Even
the most formal physical theory is based on results of observations. For
example, the theory of relativity is impossible without such empirical
fact, as velocity of light constant. Thus, the structure of any physical
theory represents the unity of empirical and formal methods.
we can ask whether a physical theory includes other components, besides
empirical and formal? For
example, it is possible to give the exact answer to the question “What
is velocity?” But, can I answer the question “What is time?” in the
same way as well as on the previous question?
Another example: a physical science describes “an external
world”. But, what is world? Obviously,
questions of this kind cannot be placed in the classification about which
we spoke. They can be solved
neither by means of empirical observations nor by means of mathematical
procedure. Therefore such questions as “what is time?” or “what is
world?” tend to be called metaphysical.
is common characteristic of metaphysical questions? First of all, it is
possible to give the most general answer to this question: the
subject of metaphysical questions can never be the object of our
experience. For example, the table which I see behind me is an object
of my experience. I see it, I touch it. Therefore I can describe physical
and chemical properties of this object. However, a condition for
experience is a distance which separates me from this object. In other
words, I look at this table from the outside.
So, the table is the object of my experience only because I
consider it from the outside. In
this sense, the experience on which a scientific knowledge is based is external experience. But we cannot have external experience of the
world and time because we are always in
the world and in the time.
Experience of the world as a whole would be divine,
but not human experience, because only God can look at our world from the
outside. In the same way, external experience of time would for us be
experience of eternity. Here it
is necessary to note the important feature of metaphysical questions:
these questions concern only the whole.
Such questions as “What is time?” and “What is world” mean time as
a whole, world as a whole.
character of new physical science.
It seems that physical science excludes such
Really, the physics is an exact science, based on exact experimental data
and using strict mathematical methods. From the point of view of physical
science, any answers to metaphysical questions are no more than hypotheses.
Certainly, everyone may have such hypotheses, but it is necessary to
understand that it has no scientific meaning.
At least, it can be considered as an individual belief of the
researcher. Moreover, the birth of physics as exact science became
possible only because all metaphysical questions had been eliminated. But,
how did it become possible?
Aristotelian physics was a philosophical
science. The purpose of this philosophical science was knowledge of the nature
(φύσις) of the phenomenon. But, what do we mean
when we speak about the nature of any phenomenon? It means the
reason of its existence. The question which purpose is knowledge of a
phenomenon’s nature is the question “why”.
For example, we ask “Why do heavy bodies fall?” From the point
of view of Aristotle, bodies fall because they have such a quality as weight.
Thus, weight is the nature of those bodies which we name “heavy”.
In other words, weight is an inherent quality
in all heavy bodies. This quality is the reason according to which all
heavy bodies move downwards.
However, lightness is the nature of such bodies as smoke or vapor,
which as opposed to heavy bodies move upwards.
Aristotle’s physics was outside of criticism till the 17th
century. What was happening between the 15th and the 17th centuries?
First of all, we can see that the question “why” disappears and
instead of it there is the question “how”. It means that instead of
the question “why do bodies
fall?” we ask “how do they
fall?” It is obvious that the last question means not the nature of
bodies but its behavior which can be described by means of mathematical
methods. The “why” of motion had been the object of philosophical
study only; but with Galileo the “how” of motion became the object of
exact mathematical methods. But the mathematical study of the “how” of
motion inevitably thrusts into prominence the concepts of space
Really, the description of a body’s motion in space and time can
be given only in mathematical terms. Hence in the physics of Galileo,
space and time became fundamental categories. The
real world is the world of bodies moving in space and time.
On the contrary, in Aristotle’s physics concept of space and time
were not of great importance. Therefore, according to Aristotle the
mathematics cannot be the instrument of description of the terrestrial
world; the object itself is a qualitative substance but not a geometrical
thing. With Galileo the
physical world began to be conceived as a perfect machine for which if we
know its position and velocity at certain moment we know everything. The
real world is simply a succession of atomic motions in mathematical space.
are the consequences of this revolution? A great achievement is possible
by great loss. The mathematical physical science became possible only
because the question of the nature
had been eliminated. According to Galileo we know nothing about the inner
nature of force (gravitation, electromagnetism, etc.); we only know its
quantitative effects in terms of motion. Hence, when a physicist use the
well-known statement “force of nature”, it doesn’t mean that he
knows the nature of this force. The philosophical analysis of this
situation has been given by Kant. According to Kant, the physical science
describes only the phenomena, which nature is inaccessible to us.
the question of the nature of some phenomenon now began to be called metaphysical
questions. From the point of
view of physics, the possible answer to this question is no more than
hypothesis which has no strict scientific meaning. For this reasons a
physicist should avoid hypotheses. This rule has been proclaimed by Isaac
Newton in his famous slogan “I do
not feign hypotheses”. Thus, Newton named “hypotheses” all that
concern to the nature of the phenomena.
For example, the law of universal gravitation describes only the effects
of gravitation, but not its nature. Reasoning on the nature of gravitation
has a hypothetical character and should not be admitted in physical
science. In other words, gravity is general laws of the nature which we
can express in mathematical form. But the nature of this phenomenon is
inaccessible to us. To define the nature of gravitation means to discover
its cause. But to discover the
cause of gravitation means to answer the question “Why
is there gravitation?” As we have seen, the question “why” is a
metaphysical question. Following Galileo Newton turned his back to
metaphysics in favor of a small but exact knowledge. Therefore, according
to Newton, a method of physics can be only an induction,
that is a generalization of data of observations. It is necessary to go
from phenomena to physical laws, but not from hypotheses to the phenomenon.
as a metaphysical component of scientific knowledge.
But we are faced with a difficult problem. As has been shown, the world as
the whole is inaccessible to human experience; our experience is always
partial. But is it possible to have
a correct knowledge of the part without knowing the nature of the whole?
Thus, we have a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we cannot know the
whole of the world; on the other hand we cannot know anything without
knowing the whole. This paradox requires some explanation. An approach to
his explanation is as follows: any
statement about the world is possible only because our language has a
metaphysical assumption of the world as a whole. This can be
illustrated be analyzing any statement. For example, we use the expression
“correct knowledge”. Usually
we do not notice that this expression has metaphysical assumptions, and
that it would be impossible without them.
First of all, when we speak about correct knowledge we mean that
this knowledge is correct anywhere and at any time. The correct knowledge
cannot be correct only in one place or during one time. Hence, the simple
expression “correct knowledge” contains the intuition
of the whole.
we must establish the important difference between the meaning
of a statement and its sense.
What is meaning? It is a subject
of a statement. For example, I say “It is a beautiful picture”. The
meaning of this statement is the subject “picture”. Certainly, every
statement has a definite meaning. When I speak I always speak about something. But, what is
sense? We use as an example the statement “it is a beautiful picture”.
Obviously, we can give a certain answer to the question “What is picture?”
Is it possible to give such a certain answer to the question “What is
question engage us in a situation of Plato’s dialog “Hippias major”,
in which two interlocutors, Socrates and Hippias, discuss the nature of
What is this, the beautiful?
I understand, my good friend, and
I will answer and tell you, what is beautiful.
A beautiful maiden is beautiful.
But what about a beautiful pot? Is
it not beautiful?
As we see, Hippias is mistaken. Why?
Because he doesn’t see the difference between meaning and sense. The
dialectics of this dialog specifies the distinction between meaning and
sense. Socrates does’nt ask what thing is beautiful. On the contrary, he
asks what is beauty in itself, or, what is beautiful as absolute. The discussion of this question shows us the impossibility
to define, what is absolute beautiful. Therefore the sense of a statement
(unlike its meaning) cannot be the subject of any statement. We know, what
a beautiful picture is, but we don’t know, what is beauty in itself. Now
we can tell the following: the sense is something absolute,
or, something as a whole.
as we see, the sense of a statement is its metaphysical component. We here
have a solution of the paradox: our knowledge of the world is always
partial, but it is impossible to know a part without knowing the whole. The
whole in a statement is its sense, but it can never become the subject of
any statement. Hence, our
language has a metaphysical character. Moliere’s hero did know that he
speaks the language of prose. In the same way, we do not know that we
speak the language of metaphysics. In this sense, each of us is not only a
prose writer, but also a metaphysician.
Therefore, the only way to avoid metaphysical assumptions is to say
the sense of physical laws
exists in metaphysical assumptions. Let’s take as an example the law of
universal gravitation. This law is based on data of experience and has a
strict mathematical form. The physical meaning
of this law is expressed by the following statement: the force of gravitation is directly proportional to masses of bodies
and inversely to a square of the distance between them. But in this
case, what is the sense of the
law of universal gravitation? We
give the following answer to this question: in metaphysical
concepts of absolute space
and absolute time. We cannot
have experience of absolute space and absolute time. What is absolute
space and absolute time, if not space as a whole and time as a whole? But
nothing absolute can be the object of our experience; nothing absolute can
be the subject of any statement. At the same time, these metaphysical
concepts comprise the sense of the law of universal gravitation.
As a sense is always the sense of the whole, these metaphysical
concepts are foundations of universality
for this physical law. Really, it would be absurd to think that
Newtonian’s law describes only the data of our experience. It makes no sense.
This law tells us about the world but not about the data of our experience.
It means that when we speak about the law of universal gravitation we
assume that it is valid for Universe.
But how could we confirm the universality of this law? In fact, it
would need its experimental verification in the scale of the Universe.
Obviously, in such a way it is impossible to confirm universality of the
law of gravitation, as well as any other physical law. Then, how can we
assert the universality to physical laws?
It is possible only by means of metaphysical assumptions. Thus,
these assumptions are the foundation of the universality of physical laws.
can see that metaphysical assumptions form a basis of physical laws.
Moreover, they are a condition for these laws. The matter is that
scientific laws cannot be deduced from data of experience by means of
induction. We repeat
that we can observe for hundreds of years how apples fall, but this
observation will not open to us the law of universal gravitation. Why?
It’s because our experience is always partial, but the scientific law is
always universal. There is no passage from data of experience to the
formulation of scientific laws. In other words, any scientific law is not
a generalization of data of our experience.
This fact is known in logic and epistemology as “the problem of
induction”. It means that the number of observable
phenomena are potentially infinite. From
here follows that statements based only on induction could not have a
draw a metaphysical conclusion. For this purpose it is necessary to remind
you of the idea which already has been expressed:
the sense of a statement
cannot be the subject of any statement. This means the impossibility
of any scientific picture of the world as a whole. In other words, a
science is a description of things in
the world. A science is limited by objective meanings of the world and
cannot have knowledge of its sense. The physical science is not a science
of being; physics is not ontology.
But what is world? On this question it is possible to give only the
following answer: the world is a
miracle. Therefore I would like to finish my lecture by the words of
the great philosopher of the 20th century Ludwig Wittgenstein: “It
is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists”
(Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”,
© Ruslan Loshakov