Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A.E. Taylor's summation (Elements of Metaphysics)

Final Paragraphs:

Quite apart from the defects due to personal shortcomings and confusions, it is inherent in the nature of metaphysical study that it can make no positive addition to our information, and can of itself supply no motives for practical endeavour. And the student who turns to our science as a substitute for empirical Physics or Psychology, or for practical morality, is bound to go away disappointed. The reason of this we have already had occasion to see. Metaphysics has to presuppose the general principles of the various sciences and the general forms of practical experience as the materials upon which it works. Its object as a study is not to add to or to modify these materials, but to afford some coherent and systematic satisfaction for the intellectual curiosity which we all feel at times as to the general nature of the whole to which these various materials belong, and the relative truth and clearness with which that general nature is expressed in the different departments of experience. Its aim is the organisation, not the enlargement of knowledge. Hence for the student whose interests lie more in the enlargement of human knowledge by the discovery of new facts and laws, than in its organisation into a coherent whole. Metaphysics is probably undesirable, or desirable only as a protection against the intrusion of unrecognised and uncriticised metaphysical assumptions into the domain of empirical service. And similarly for the practical man whose interests in life are predominantly ethical, the main, if not the sole, value of metaphysical study lies in its critical function of exposing false metaphysical assumptions, which, if acted upon, might impair the vigour of spontaneous moral effort.

But for those in whom the speculative desire to form some coherent conception of the scheme of things to which we belong as a whole is strong. Metaphysics has a higher importance. In such minds the impulse to reflect on the nature of existence as a whole, if debarred from systematic and thorough gratification, is certain to find its outlet in unsystematic and uncriticised imaginative construction. Meta-
physics they will certainly have, and if not conscious and coherent, then unconscious and incoherent Metaphysics. The soul that is not at rest in itself without some " sight of that immortal sea which brought it hither," if hindered from beholding the object of its quest through the clear glass of rational reflection, will none the less seek to discern it amid the distorting hazes and mists of superstition. It is in such seekers after the Infinite that Metaphysics has its natural and proper followers, and for them the study is its own justification and its own reward. If a work like the present should prove of any help to such students, whether by offering positive suggestions which they can accept, or by assisting them to know definitely why they reject its conclusions, it will perhaps have achieved as much as its writer could reasonably expect.

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