Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Skepticism, Pluralism and Metaphysics

Skepticism, Pluralism, and Metaphysics

Metaphysics is the cognitive department that has problems with which it does not get finished. . . . To have problems with which one does not get finished is irritating for the theory of science, but normal for humanity. Skeptics, in my view, are people who put up with irritations in the theory of science in the interests of human normality. For them, metaphysics -- not getting finished with problems -- is precisely not an opponent, but a human state of affairs, so that for skeptics, who opt for what is human, there can never be too much metaphysics. There are human problems in regard to which it would be antihuman, and thus an error in the art of living, to solve them. The skeptical art of not committing these errors in the art of living is metaphysics; and professional metaphysicians are people who have painstakingly and successfully learned not to get finished with problems. Here, precisely, is where their value lies. Of course, someone who gives no answer at all to a problem finally loses the problem, which is not good. Someone who gives only one answer to a problem thinks he has solved the problem and easily becomes dogmatic, which is not good either. The best thing is to give too many answers. That approach . . . preserves the problem without really solving it. There must be a thousand answers -- perhaps, in the Orient, a thousand and one, and in Spain a thousand and three. Abstinence in answering and monism in answering are harmful; what is beneficial is an exuberantly debauched answer-life -- which, for the most part, already exists, as the history of metaphysics, which consequently is the organon of skepticism. That is why the skeptic is enamoured of the metaphysics that produces so many answers that they neutralize one another, reciprocally, and in just that way (divide and think!) leave the problem open, so that the experience of metaphysics, overall, is like that of the lion-loving lion-hunter who, when he was asked how many lions he had already brought down, could admit that the answer was none, and received the consoling response that with lions, that's already a lot. That is exactly what happens to metaphysics (which is why the skeptic likes metaphysics). . . . The number of its problems that it has solved is none. But for human beings, that is already a lot.

Source: Odo Marquard, In Defense of the Accidental: Philosophical Studiestr. by Robert M. Wallace (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp.24-25.

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