The study of metaphysics is unpopular, but unavoidable if you want to have a go at really understanding what’s going on.
Why? Because metaphysics is more potent than nukes.
… As you probably weren’t aware of, because metaphysics is considered to be silly by many high status smart people.
These people are positivists.
Positivism is a dominant way of thinking in our society. It is dominant in large part because it makes people feel clever about the fact of their own ignorance of metaphysics.
Positivism claims metaphysics to be pointless.
The argument goes like this:
The goal of metaphysics is to determine the ultimate nature of reality. Example: ‘All beings are either made of atoms or void’ is a metaphysical statement. This statement is pointless for two reasons: it can’t be confirmed or disconfirmed by observation or experimentation (1) ; and, if all beings have feature X, then feature X can’t add information to our description of anything, because all things have feature X, thus metaphysics says nothing (2).
This is the epistemological case made by positivists against metaphysics.
It is part of a discussion of which Kant marks a culminating point of reference. Note that Kant didn’t conclude that metaphysics adds nothing to knowledge. In his doctrine, metaphysics produces negative knowledge, or knowledge about the limits of knowledge. He considered the function of metaphysics to be strictly organizational and architectonic.
Kant can be read in various ways. Heidegger famously revolted against the reduction of metaphysics to epistemology people tended to attribute to Kant.
Ontology is the study of being. Positivists think epistemology comes before ontology, and that the information content of ontology is and must be equivalent to ø, because of (1) and (2).
To counter (1), I will simply refer to the fact that we also have a priori thoughts and that these are meaningful and susceptible of being true or false.
To counter (2), let us consider that the point of stating all beings have feature X is to distinguish between reality and appearance. A being may well not be made of atoms or void, however, if I am a disciple of Democritus, I will judge this being to be merely apparent, not real.
So instead of adding no information, and of making no difference to how we think and act, metaphysics adds the most critical information, the one that makes all the difference in how we think and act.
Perhaps you’ll agree this point is not insignificant. At the same time, you might still be asking for proof regarding the assertion that ‘metaphysics is more potent than nukes’.
To prove this, I invite the reader to go back to mediaeval thought. As Rémi Brague forcefully reminds us, mediaeval thinkers established a fundamental equivalence between Being, Truth, and Goodness. To be is good, in an objective and absolute sense. This goes back to the idea of the goodness of Creation. God created the world and judged his work to be to his satisfaction.
The opposite way of thinking is to believe it would be preferable never to have been born. In which case, being has a negative value. To be is bad. This metaphysical option has been explored by Schopenhauer, among others.
If it is good to be, then it is good to have children.
If is is bad to be, then it is bad to have children.
Nukes could take out humanity, or perhaps not. Metaphysics however can wipe out our entire species in a single generation, along with all the other rational entities that need to reproduce, with zero collateral damage.