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What is Metaphysics?
• What is Real?
• Metaphysics, inquires, presupposes some theory of
what is real, and of what exists?
• Metaphysics is closely related to Epistemology; in the
same way that Epistemology asks, What is Knowledge
and how does it differ from opinion/belief?
Metaphysics asks, What is Reality and how it differs
from mere appearance?
• What is Reality and what are the standards or criteria
for what count as REAL?
• Both Eastern and Western Traditions have similar
definitions of REALITY, that is what is PERMANENT,
UNCHANGING, and UNCAUSED can be real.
• Reality then can consist of Matter – Materialism- Physical
Objects are real, due to the evidence gather from the
senses and perceptions. It insists that matter alone
provides a sufficient explanation of reality;understanding
its physical processes id sufficient.
• Reality then can consist of Ideas –Idealism- Thoughts,
concepts, minds are real, due to the a priori notions of the
• Reality then can consist of both Matter and IdeasDualism, material and immaterial exists- body and mindbut how does one explain the relation between the two
due to their different nature?
• Pragmatism: Unlike Plato and Aristotle, who were
concerned with how things actually are, pragmatists do
not care what something is really like; what they do care
about is how something works.
The ordinary position regarding the existence
• Objects Exists, because we the senses can perceive
them. Why is an object existent: i.e. and object in the
– It persists over time, its existence is not only temporary
– The object is conceivable by sight and touch by many
– It occupies space
– It is capable of motion
– It has shape and size
– The object does not depend for its existence on the mind of an
– We could apply the same principles to any object in the
universe, the car in the parking lot, etc
• This position is called NAÏVE Realism
• Metaphysics, does not present arguments to
proof that Objects do not exist, but it is
possible, it could be, that we are mistaken
about their existence?
Arguments against NAÏVE Realism:
• 1.Direct Perception:
– Physical Objects are known through visual illusion- is seeing
as it is, is seeing as it is not.
– Examples, a stick half immerse in water- straight and bent
– A penny- from side appears elliptical, vertically is round,
horizontally a straight line.
• 2.Casual Argument:
– The pen looks gray to me, because the light of a certain wave
length is being transmitted – brain, impulses,
– If my eyes had been focused differently then everything would
appear double
– What is present in the visual field of an observer depends in
the conditions of illumination, structure of eyes, nervous
– Color, or a carpet, pants- things do not change color, looks
double color
Distinction between sense data and physical
– Sense data are not qualities of physical objects nor
part of physical objects – how can we claim that
physical object exist?
– Senses: Sight, touch, sound, smells, taste
– OBJECT: Red Ball, there has to be something, ball,
apple, to be red.
– Is something, capable of independent existence?
Revised, 11/6/03
René Descartes
(1596-1650 AD)
Meditations on First Philosophy
(Text, pp. 283-306)
Descartes’ Problem
• The problem of skepticism (D concentrates
on 2 types of skepticism)
– General skepticism: There are NO indubitable
beliefs or propositions.
– Skepticism concerning the existence & nature
of the “external world”: The existence and
nature of the “external world” cannot be
D’s program of radical doubt
• Treat any belief that is to the slightest extent
uncertain & subject to doubt just as though
it is obviously false.
• Accept only those beliefs that are
completely certain and indubitable.
• Work on the foundations of my beliefs.
Foundational Beliefs
• Empiricism: True beliefs are acquired through
sense experience.
• My beliefs are not products of insanity.
• My beliefs are not products of my dreams.
Foundational Beliefs, cont’d
• Physical objects: Even if we fail to
perceive physical objects accurately, the
“primary [measurable] qualities” of such
objects (matter, extension, shape, quantity,
size, location, time, etc.) are really real
(i.e., physical objects do really exist).
• Even if empirical beliefs are subject to
doubt, mathematical propositions are
indubitable (e.g., 3 + 2 = 5, a square has
neither more nor less than four sides).
Meditation II
Descartes’ Refutation of Radical Skepticism
Descartes’ refutation of
radical skepticism
“Cogito ergo sum!”
What does this mean?
The most famous statement in the
history of philosophy:
“I think; therefore I am.”
Discourse on Method (1637)
“If I am deceived,
then I must exist!”
I cannot doubt the truth of
the statement, “I exist.”
Radical (general) skepticism is refuted.
Meditation II, cont’d
The Mind-Body Problem &
Descartes’ Psycho-Somatic Dualism
Three metaphysical perspectives
relevant to the “mind-body
Metaphysical Dualism: Reality is twodimensional, partly material and partly nonmaterial (minds, ideas, souls, spirits,
consciousness, etc.).
Metaphysical Materialism: Reality is nothing
but matter-in-motion-in-space-and-in-time.
There are no non-material realities.
Metaphysical Idealism: Reality is nothing
but Mind, Idea, Soul, Spirit, Consciousness,
etc. Matter does not exist (it’s an illusion?).
Application to the “mind-body problem”
• Metaphysical Materialism: A person is nothing
but a physical organism (body only).
• Metaphysical Idealism: A person is
“consciousness only” (mind, soul, spirit); not at
all a material being.
• Metaphysical Dualism: A person is a composite
of (1) “mind” (consciousness, soul, spirit) and
(2) body.
Cartesian Dualism
• I know with certainty THAT “I” exist
(Cogito ergo sum), but
• WHAT am “I”?
• Am “I” my body? No, because I can doubt
the existence of my body, whereas I cannot
doubt the existence of myself (the “I”).
• “I” am a thinking thing, a thing that doubts,
understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses,
imagines, and has sensations.
Can you doubt
Is Descartes right?
of your body (as well as
other physical things)?
Why or why not?
“I can conceive of myself as
existing without a body, but I
cannot conceive of myself as
existing without conscious
Bryan Magee, The Great
Philosophers (Oxford 1987)
Descartes’ mind-body dualism
leads to . . . .
Meditation III,
which deals with
(1) skepticism concerning the
existence & nature of the
“external world”
(2) the existence of God
God & the removal of doubt as to
the existence of the external world
The content of Meditation V
• Mathematical thinking & its (physical &
non-physical) objects: clarity &
distinctness again -- what is clear & distinct
must be true
• D’s “ontological” argument for the
existence of God
• God & certainty
for the existence of God
Descartes’ third argument
(the ontological argument again)
1. If the nonexistence of God (an infinitely perfect
being) were possible, then existence would not be
part of God’s essence (that is, existence would not
be a property of the divine nature).
2. If existence were not part of God’s essence (that is,
a property of the divine nature), then God would be
a contingent (rather than necessary) being.
3. The idea of God as a contingent being (that is, the
idea of an infinitely perfect being with contingent
rather than necessary existence) is self-contradictory.
4. It is impossible to think of God as not existing.
5. The nonexistence of God is impossible.
Certainty about God
is the basis of certainty about
everything else.
Meditation VI
Removal of doubt as to the existence of
the external world
Since God exists
& is no deceiver,
it follows necessarily
that the external world can be
known to exist.
Gilbert Ryle:
“Descartes’ Myth”
Concept of Mind (1949)
The “official doctrine,” hailing
chiefly from Descartes, is
substance dualism.
Bifurcation of mental/physical
& ‘inner’/‘outer’; assumption
that there are two kinds of
existence/status; etc.
This dogma of the “Ghost in the Machine” is entirely
false, and “false not in detail but in principle.”
“It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It
is, namely, a category mistake.”
This dogma of the “Ghost in the Machine” is entirely
false, and “false not in detail but in principle.”
“It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It
is, namely, a category mistake.”
Examples: ‘university,’ ‘division,’ ‘team-spirit,’
‘average taxpayer.’
“so long as John Doe continues to think of the Average
Taxpayer as a fellow-citizen, he will tend to think of
him as an elusive insubstantial man, a ghost who is
everywhere yet nowhere.”
Assumption that ‘mind’ belongs to the categories of
mechanics: ‘thing,’ ‘stuff,’ ‘cause,’ etc.
But, according to the official doctrine, mind has to be a
non-physical, non-mechanical thing/stuff/cause; and it
cannot be governed by mechanical laws.
Descartes is wrong to think that our outward actions or
behavior is evidence for an inner state that causes our
behavior. Using psychological predicates to refer to
mental objects is a category mistake.
For example, according to dualism, attentive listening
would be two acts. Firstly the physical process of
receiving sound, and secondly, the mental process of
‘attending’ which causes our listening to be attentive.
But a person is not listening as a physical action and
being attentive by a mental action.
There is merely one process characterized as ‘attentive
listening.’ Take boiling water. The boiling is not
actually some hidden ‘object’ which is a separate thing
from the water. Boiling is simply the behavior of the
water, not a part of it, as ‘attentive’ is merely the
behavior of the subject.
Thus, the mind is not a non-physical substance residing
in the body, “a ghost in a machine,” but a set of
capacities and abilities belonging to the body.
According to Ryle, all references to the mental must be
understood, at least theoretically, in terms of
witnessable activities. (psychological behaviorism)
Criticisms of Ryle’s psychological behaviorism:
- Not all mental states are shown in behavior;
- Inadequate when applied to yourself;
- Behavior is not indicative of mental states but the
other way around;
- Doesn’t account for qualia.