For me, metaphysics is a bit of a puzzle. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia, “It is not easy to say what metaphysics is.“ I take it that ontology, the question of what exists, is an important part of metaphysics.
Here’s my own tongue-in-cheek daffy definition: Metaphysics is that core part of philosophy where many fundamental mistakes are made. The rest of philosophy builds on those mistakes.
The main reasons that I am against metaphysics are:
- I have not found it useful;
- It seems to be a source of mistaken ideas.
What makes it a puzzle, is that some other folk seem to consider it important. For example, when I explained why I am not a materialist, quite a few comments attempted to persuade me that metaphysics is important. And when I posted on the ontology of mathematical objects, several comments tried to persuade me that it is important.
Personally, I am a mathematical fictionalist. I don’t believe mathematical objects exist, except as useful fictions. Most mathematicians are said to be Platonists. They believe mathematical objects exist in some platonic realm. So that’s an ontological (hence metaphysical) disagreement. Yet the way that I do mathematics is pretty much the same as the way that a Platonist mathematician does mathematics. So the metaphysical disagreement seems to be of no importance.
I remember, many years ago, attending a dinner. And following the dinner, a philosopher gave a lecture to the captive audience. His lecture was on the question of whether skating is an art or a sport. His conclusion, unsurprisingly, was that skating is an art. I have neither a tape nor a transcript, but I take his reasoning to be mostly metaphysical. It all seemed foolish to me. That skating is an art, it seems to me, is entirely a matter of cultural tradition.
As best I can tell, metaphysical questions do not have clear answers.
Philosophers seem to want to restrict their methods to the use of logic. And the trouble with logic, is that it requires premises before one can start. So philosophy seems to need metaphysics as a source of premises. I would prefer to see philosophers enlarging their toolkit, so as to remove that dependence on metaphysics.
I’ll end with a note on my daffy definition. If metaphysical questions do not have clear answers, then when we rely on metaphysics we are likely to have some mistaken premises. Applying deductive logic to mistaken premises can amplify the mistakes.