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Problem: The Unavoidable Metaphysics

Norberto Abreu e Silva Neto
São Paulo, Brazil

Can we do more than only remind each other of the unavoidable "metaphysics" in our assertions?

The way I am trying to think further the awareness of the "unavoidable metaphysics" in my thoughts is to practice a kind of self-analysis based on the hints Wittgenstein gave for the proceeding of philosophical activity in the chapter he devoted to the nature of philosophy in The Big Typescript (MS-213 in von Wright's catalogue).

The way I am developing this attitude is exposed in the paper I read in Kirchberg's Wittgenstein-Symposium, 1995, under the tittle Resignation of Feelings and Will which I include in my "Background" with two other works previously written: Witgenstein and John Wisdom: what is the place of psychoanalysis in philosophy? (Kirchberg's Wittgenstein-Symposium, 1994) and The Knowledge of Other Minds: Wittgenstein and Carnap (Toledo's Wittgenstein-Symposium, 1994).

After writing these three works I have found myself in a state of mental uneasiness in relation to the use of words with metaphysical sense and in need of getting a better acquaintance with its grammar. It became an urge the clearing up of my own attitudes towards Metaphysics. In what follows I offer two examples of how I have been working since then.

The first one refers to a paper on Madness and Religion I wrote and which I do not include in my "Background", because it is very long and demands a translation from Portuguese into English. The second one summarizes the project I have for bringing my contribution to the Conference.


Madness and Religion. I began working on the theme through psychiatrist Maurice Drury's discussion about the question: "what are the criteria to distinguish between madness and religion". Maurice Drury is not well known as one of the disciples of Wittgenstein but his work illustrates the existence of one aspect of Wittgenstein's influence which is not covered by the immense body of academic literature, that "line of apostolic succession... which goes far beyond the boundaries of academic philosophy" (Ray Monk, 1991 Wittgenstein: the duty of genius, New York: Penguin, pp. 264-265). Thinking with this psychiatrist was primarily an exercise of "changing a perspective" in what refers to madness.

Out of his long psychiatric practice of about forty years, Drury discusses the criteria for the distinction between "madness" and "religion" in a chapter of his book The Danger of Words (London, Routledge, 1973). Dissatisfied with the criteria of psychology and with those of religion, Drury offers a "philosophical attitude" to deal with the questions involved in the relation between these two words "madness" and "religion", understood as referred to a "mental state".

The description he makes of how he came to a change of perspective describes clearly (1) an error I have always made in dealing with the questions about the so called "mental disease" or "madness" (in usual sense) which consists in giving it a treatment as if it were a fragment of the theories. And (2) a fragment that I always supposed to see as adopting towards it an impartial and pureley theorethical attitude. The change of perspective he suggests in this matter has to do with personal involvement of the researcher with the question of madness. So, Drury proposes that we who consider ourselves "sane" make the exercise of imagining we could suddenly become insane; that we imagine the possibility one day we give entrance in a mental hospital in a state of desperate melancholy, having allucinations etc.

Drury proposes we think different we like to think or as the majority thinks, that we will be save from such fatality by means of our intelligence, will of power or mercy, because these are dependent upon the proper functioning of a neuro-humoral mechanism very complex and delicate and about which we have no control. Shortly, he proposes we think our unity as being at the mercy of a molecule. And by changing the perspective he changes also the original problem about the criteria to differentiate between madness and religion into another one which concerns the way we could reconcile the existence of madness and its ever present threat with our religious beliefs and convictions.

I never thought I could one day become "mad" and be in the situations (or states) described by Drury and which I know also by seen them in my experience with mental hospitals. Of course, once in factual psychiatric situation I can feel the deepest empathy with the so called insane but in what refers to imagine my future (or my Destiny?) I am unable even at the minor hearing or the slightest glimpse. And I do not think I will be save by my intelligence, will of power or santity. It is very hard to say but I simply can not imagine myself being mad or being save. My personal involvement with the question touches other feelings and it would be excessive to continue the example.


The Unavoidable Metaphysics. Despite the awareness of it in myself, when I began my search for knowing better my attitudes towards metaphysics a sort of automatic way of thinking played its role and smoothly I discovered myself again stucked in the dense trafic of streets, avenues, roads, highways, crossroads, lanes and blind-alleys of scientific space. It does not matter what the trafic signs points out to you if you are there in a congestioned trafic which spreads and extends itself along 150 km as happens to happen in big cities like São Paulo.

Living in a megalopolis is the direct experience of mass insanity as a life-form. The most rigorous precision can be in part a reaction of mental hygiene against social dementia.

What acceptions has the word "metaphysics" in contemporary language? In our current language? Is the so called "metaphysical knowledge" of cognitive nature or not? Would it technologically operates to use Brentano's theory of correct emotions as an intemediate term for investigating the analogy between "ethical knowledge" and "metaphysical knowledge"? What are the origins of "metaphysical activities"? Can we define "metaphysical activity" as the act of expressing metaphysical propositions?

Since last year, having in mind these questions and others, I have been shifting myself from one road to another. So what follows is intended to afford a glimpse of the roads.

Main street. Wittgenstein fought against metaphysics throughout his life. But this attitude was not an hindrance to him for both: admiring the great metaphycians and suggesting positive ways of seeing metaphysics, that means, that metaphysical statements are important expressions of our language and as such they should have its grammar described, because what gives meaning to the problem and to philosophical activity is the investigation of grammar. By means of gramatical investigations we can describe the rules for metaphysical "language games" with words like "substance", "essence", "identity", "being" etc.

The two main characteristics of metaphysics described by Wittgenstein: (1) the metaphysical question has always the appearance of a factual question (a proposition, because a factual question describe facts), although the problem it brings is always conceptual; (2) the real source of metaphysics is the formulation and answering of philosophical questions in the way scientists do.

Carnap's lane. He demoralizes metaphysicians completely by calling them musicians without musical ability that produces nothing of value to knowledge and which create structures that are insufficient to express an "attitude towards life".

Along the "Scientific philosophy" Avenue. Reichenbach led me away to see "Rationalism" simply as "the search for certainty", briefly a desire, and Plato's theory of Ideas merely as a product of his imagination. So, what can be given are only psychological reasons of metaphysical activities.

Brentano's square. Long argumentations for "scientific metaphysics" (Stegmüller). To perceive clear and distinctly according to the very nature of the object. The precious little treatise on the origins of moral knowledge. The "unavoidable" historical consideration. From the square to Aristotle's Metaphysics.

The turning point. The remark Carnap makes in his Intellectual Autobiography (Spanish edition) about Wittgenstein having affects for metaphysics. Carnap reports that through his intellectual honesty Wittgenstein was obliged to recognize that many statements of religious and metaphysical domains said nothing and this was extremelly painful to him from emotional point of view and this conflict, he interpretates, was in the basis of his atitude to metaphysics. Admiting the absurd character of a metaphysical expression was sometimes for Wittgenstein, continues Carnap, like having to accept a fault in a beloved person.

Thinking with this image brings out the question "Do I have affects for metaphysics?" "What sort of affects?" What form could have an "home-made answer" (Wittgenstein's hausbacken Antworten)? "I have none beloved person named Metaphysics". Is this a home-made answer? What is the spirit in which the expression is said? What does it mean having affects for words and theories? I always tought we had affects only for human beings, animals, and objects. I just began admiting the possibility of having affects for metaphysics but the question dims.

I do not wish to explain the causes of my thoughts about metaphysics but only their coming to light from the obscurity they are, and being so I could not deal with them scientifically but only philosophically.

As a contribution to the Conference, I would like to describe and discuss aspects of the so called Wittgenstein's positive way of seeing metaphysics as developed by him in his chapter on philosophy of MS-213. To make clear his positions I will compare his text with another one which to my understanding better demonstrates the use of words in a metaphysical sense so that instead of critical reflexion out of it results a sort of "metaphysical trance". I am referring to Martin Heidegger famous speech of the Rectorship (Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität).

Both texts deal with philosopher's activity and the same "metaphysical words" he has to face. They were also both written in the same year, 1933. Out of this comparison designed to show the differences in their use of expressions and their connecting links, and having in mind the "historical considerations" they allow for, I think I could bring a contribution to the challenging suggestion of reading Wittgenstein's assertions as spoken by him in and from a "situated"center.

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]