The recent babblings of Neil deGrasse Tyson have made one thing clear: when it comes to philosophy and metaphysics, there is exactly one choice: do metaphysics and philosophy. That, however, opens up to exactly two choices: one can either do philosophy and metaphysics well, or poorly, and if you do it poorly…well, philosophy always buries its undertakers, but not before embarrassing them first.
Well, regardless of whether one does metaphysics well or poorly, what’s the goal of it all? Here’s where things start to get confusing, because at this point, most people assign metaphysics a role as quasi-empirical science, trying to answer certain questions (it’s usually the ‘big questions’) and develop theories and conclusions. Now, being the good Wittgensteinian that I am, I think that trying to develop philosophical theories is a profound kind of confusion known as the conceptual confusion.
By trying to develop philosophical theories that can be defended, philosophy commits the error of trying to play the metaphysical game by the rules of the natural sciences – conclusions must be found, and either falsified or not. This is the conceptual confusion: to impose the rules of the game of natural science onto an entirely different game. No doubt some good can and has come of it – if one imposed the rules of Risk onto Monopoly, one could probably, given enough time, figure out a way to play and so to make some kind of ‘progress’ in the game, or at least enjoy the game.
Now, this doesn’t take away from the deep inter-connectedness of science and metaphysics. The two exist together in an intimate tie – without a grammar of metaphysics, there is no grasp on reality, and without science, there is nothing to form a grammar about. But as metaphysics has as its subject matter the most general of subjects, its methods must also be the most general – since metaphysics aims at grasping the most universal, its method must transcend the particular, and since conclusions of any significance have to be formulated by way of particulars, its must also transcend the formulation of specific metaphysical theories.
I admit that I don’t follow my own rules here all of the time – I haven’t quite worked out the mechanics of what I’m saying above.