Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Corporeal Universe Needs Metaphysics

Alice C. Linsley

In the Leviathan, Hobbes wrote,"The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real."  This is the battle cry of materialists, positivists and atheists, though Hobbes quoted the Bible to justify his views and recognized a Deity. 

If the material world is all there is, then it is futile to speak of a soul.  Death is the end and the purpose of the world is reduced to physics and chemistry.  By this philosophy one might as well live for the moment since the moment must matter more than the past or the future.

But is Hobbes' statement true? The great metaphysical philosophers such as Plato encourage us to question such reductionism.  For example, it is impossible to imagine something that doesn't exist.  Alternatively, anything that can be imagined has existence in the mind. Still, if I imagine a composite of different things, for example an elephant's head on the body of an ostrich with the long ears of a hare - what I have imagined does not have material existence. In that sense it is not part of reality, but it is distinct from something that doesn't exist because it is impossible to imagine what doesn't exist.

Materialism has had its day in America.  We have swung that direction for so long that it has affected our ability to think, to imagine and to integrate learning. Dorothy Sayers recognized this when she spoke of The Lost Tools of Learning. Metaphysics is essential to the integration of learning because it allows the imagination to construct possibilities that have no material reality yet can be said to exist in the mind.  American students today have difficulty thinking and connecting the dots because the public schools (and many private schools) make no place for metaphysics in the curriculum.

Related reading: Did Hobbes Change the meaning of Justice?

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