< Metaphysics

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Earlier, someone disagreed with the following paragraph and deleted it but failed to give a justification for the disagreement, therefore I presume they are unable to justify. Note that if you delete the following without a reasonable explanation I will put it back. Just because YOU think someone isn't a good source for metaphysics does not mean your argument is correct.

Robert A. Heinlein, in his book To Sail Beyond the Sunset has the main character, Maureen, state that the purpose of metaphysics is to ask questions:  Why are we here?   Where are we going after we die? (and so on), and that you are not allowed to answer the questions. Asking the questions is the point for metaphysics but answering them is not because once you answer them you cross the line into religion. He doesn't really say why but the answer as to 'why' is obvious: because any answer is an opinion. It may be a good opinion, or a bad one, but it's only what the person who wrote the opinion believes. Such opinions cannot be validated, e.g. you can't ask the person to show you what it's like after death or provide for a personal audience with to their God or gods.

Larry deleted the above the first time, this time I'm deleting it and I'll attempt to justify. First of all, I don't give a damn about authority or credentials either. I quoted Churchill in an article on subjectivism and he's not known as a philosopher either. I also happen to like Heinlein a lot; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the best work on politics around. The paragraph above, though, is out of place because it's largely wrong, biased, and unhelpful to any reader seriously interested in metaphysics. Presumably someone reading an encyclopedia article on metaphysics and philosophy wants to know what most philosophers actually do and what their general consensus is, not what one single author thinks they do.

It might be acceptable if properly prefaced: "It is popular among some to make fun of metaphysics or to compare it to religion. For example Heinlein..." Then it is clearly marked as an example of a minority opinion, which it is. --LDC

I have revised the statement to more adequately reference it as a minority opinion and to point out the obvious: that the statement applies to itself as well. Paul Robinson

The reason I deleted it and will continue deleting it is very simple. Heinlein is not a metaphysician and his opinions about metaphysics, whether true or false, don't matter. They don't matter any more than your opinions, i.e., you nonmetaphysicians, regardless of whether they are true or not. Famous metaphysicians, whose opinions about metaphysics are worth mentioning in an article about metaphysics, would include Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz, and many other historical figures, as well as Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, W. V. O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Martin Heidegger, D. M. Armstrong, David Lewis, and many others among more recent philosophers. In this context, the claim that you give a damn about authority is silly. An encyclopedia, insofar as it is about reliable information, requires that we pay attention to authority. An encyclopedia that treats Heinlein as an authority (by mentioning him as giving an important opinion about metaphysics) loses credibility thereby. Metaphysics has a very, very long and distinguished history, and if you're going to start mentioning names in an encyclopedia article, then for chrissakes mention a metaphysician. Mentioning Heinlein makes the article (and by extension, Wikipedia) look like a silly dilettante's game, which it isn't.

Pick the scientific discipline you know most about. Suppose someone were to add a quotation from someone who knows virtually nothing about that discipline to the article about that discipline. Why should anyone get upset when someone who does know a thing or two about discipline comes along, sees the quote, and summarily deletes it? --LMS

I am sympathetic to credibility, and I agree that recognized authorities should certainly be mentioned most prominently. But I disagree totally that quotes and examples from non-recognized sources are necessarily out of place. If they help to clarify and issue for the reader, or help demonstrate a popular belief about the issue (even if that is generally recognized by experts as a mistaken belief, which fact should also be mentioned), then they are good to include as long as they are correct, useful, and clearly expressed. The Heinlein paragraph still fails on some of those notes: it is still biased, and it's mostly incorrect, conflating metaphysics with mere opinion, which is itself a mere opinion not shared by most real metaphysicians. This paragraph doesn't belong, and I'm happy to be rid of it, but I just want to make a stronger point about "authority": what matters is the result, and only the result. If an article is clear, explains the point correctly, and mentions all the high points (including naming the recognized authorities), then the fact that it uses other sources is a plus, not a minus. It may lose credibility in the field, (i.e., among the cognocenti themselves), but they aren't the audience; ordinary educated people are the audience, and serving them is more important than stroking the egos of experts. In the "subjectivism" article, for example, I quote Churchill not because I think he is a great philosopher, but because Karl Popper, who is a recognized great philosopher, used that very example in his own work to demonstrate the silliness of extreme forms of subjectivism. He used it because it is a good example, not because it holds any authority. --LDC

There are, sure, exceptions to the implied rule; there are contexts in which it would be appropriate to quote a nonexpert in a subject about which there are experts. But if a quoted view is presented simply as one of the leading views, or an important enough view to mention as a view about some subject--rubbing shoulders, as it were, with more informed views--then there's nothing wrong with deleting it. That's my contention. I might come back to the Popper/Churchill thing later... --LMS

Moved the damn Heinlein metaphysics to Robert Heinlein/Robert Heinlein on metaphysics. May it be happy there. May we all be happy with this move. Peace.  :-)