Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Metaphysics, not post-metaphysics

Here is another (slightly edited) extract from my essay in progress, now titled An Integral/Holistic Metaparadigm.

(note: The "post-metaphysics" in the title of this post concerns Ken Wilber's interpretation of post-metaphysics ("Wilber-V"), and not contemporary German philosopher Jürgen Habermas's earlier use of the term)

Metaphysics is that branch of Philosophy that the rational investigation of questions about existence, being (Ontology), the nature of God or the Absolute Reality (Theology) and of the Universe (Cosmology), the mind-body problem (nowadays generally a separate discipline in Philosophy), causality, the problem of free will and determinism, and so on. In other words, questions concerning the meaning of existence, which underlie all other inquiries.

With the rise of the secular Enlightenment in the West, and especially current modernity, much of academic philosophy has lost its connection with the original "Wisdom Tradition" of Pythagoras and Plato and Plotinus, and hence cannot really answer these questions. Because these questions cannot be answered, proved, or disproved, by rational physical or physicalist means alone.

The word Metaphysics means literally “after” (not "beyond" or “above”) “physics", and refers to the arrangement of Aristotle's writings, in which his books on “first philosophy” were placed after the books on “physics”. This is quite distinct to the popular definition of beyond or above the physical reality...

Within the integral movement, especially its majority Wilberian branch, “Metaphysics” has become something of a dirty word. This is due solely to Wilber's repeated statements that metaphysics belongs to an outdated or pre-modern age and must be rejected if spiritual teachings (by which he means experiences abstracted from any context or meaning and hence slotted into his own AQAL system) are to be acceptable at the court of modernity and postmodernity1. In addition, as I have shown (Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral, Part Two, A Fourfold Critique sect. 2a), Wilber understands by metaphysics only the popular, non-academic philosophical meaning. Because of this, he is able to avoid acknowledging the fact that his own system is highly metaphysical (quadrants, holons, transcendent Spirit, etc) when making his self-contradictory claim that his own current teachings as "post-metaphysical".

In doing this Wilber (and hence the entire Wilberian integral movement) has bought into the scientistic and academic preference for debunking metaphysics, because it deals with things that cannot be "proved" by or to the Physical Mind (sensu Sri Aurobindo). But this rationalist physicalism itself rests on a number of unproved, irrational, and yes, metaphysical, assumptions, as has been persuasively shown by Transpersonal Psychologist Charles T. Tart. (see Charles T. Tart, “Some assumptions of orthodox, Western Psychology”. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 61-111)

My position here is that not only is metaphysics necessary, but no truly comprehensive “integral” understanding of reality is possible without it. Without metaphysics the best one could have would be a sort of agnostic postmodernist or neo-Buddhistic (on western-inspired apologetic Hinduism and Buddhism see Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, pp.48-51) style of approach, in which bare experiences are recognised and definied empirically, but there is no attempt at arriving at a deeper meaning, no attempt is made to show what those experiences refer to. Such agnosticism comes with its own metaphysical baggage, e.g. crypto-physicalism or crypto-materialism, the subtle conception that all these experiences, visions, etc are simply the by-product of the physical brain, but one shouldn't look to closely at that, just be satisfied with the experience taken out of its context and sanitised for a secular physicalistic bias. This may work for Wilberian physicalism, but as soon as one studies even superficially the teachings of authentic spiritual realisers it quickly becomes apparent that reality is much vaster than physicalism considers it to be.

The problem here, as mentioned, is that modern Western secular academic thought has lost its original wisdom tradition (represented by Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Neoplatonism, etc) and hence has to fall back on scientism and superficial empiricism. This is why spiritual apologetics like Wilber try so hard to present an unthreatening and secularised version of spiritual and perennialist teachings.

At the same time, no metaphysical system and no map of reality should be accepted as final. It should always be remembered that all these concepts are just suggestions and points of view, useful classification schemes and thoughtforms, which should never be used as alternatives for direct spiritual experience.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where can I go to study more of this? I have tried churches and just get politics! I am now studying philosophy at a community college! Are there people who just sit around and talk and what can I do with all this knowledge I am attaining?? I've been studying TRUTH and metaphisics for 20+ years now!!
I'm in the USA

6:54 PM  
Blogger ZAK said...

I believe AQAL is metaphysics only in a broad general way, but primarily it is a cosmological hypothesis that Wilber accrues to traditional metaphysics arbitrarily.

To me metaphysics is the active science(dharma) or knowledge of spirituality that through alchemy attempts to guide the human to enlightenment and the acquisition of the lost nature-Buddha nature, or Sufi-Insani-kamil.

This science is not static, it changes and has different laws and reflections depending on the epochal culture of the people it is given to.

Integral Yoga for example is a legitimate tested path to enlightenment, it is complete metaphysics.
As Sufism is, Zen, and other paths.
But not Wilber’s AQAL.
AQAL is not metaphysics in my view.

AQAL doesn’t do any of this, its just a cosmology at best, it doesn’t even have a legitimate map saying it can do alchemy or move the person spiritually, even though Wilber has attached it to metaphysics disingenuously in my view.

A true teacher only gets people to experience their own knowledge.
Has Wilber experienced AQAL?
If so has it brought him closer to truth?
Or is it just an intellectual cosmological hypothesis?

Aurobindo is an example of a true metaphysician because his system attempts to radically change the individual, and he has himself used his system on himself successfully, so he has the right to offer it to others. Wilber on the other hand has no legitimate claim to being a metaphysician because he has not even benefited himself from AQAL so what right does he have to offer something to others that is only a hypothesis, not real experiential knowledge like Aurobindo’s.

Wilber may see this himself that’s why he has come up with this post-metaphysical jargon

But he can never get around the reality that if one is to offer others something to be transformative, then he has better done it himself.

Wilber may be distorting a tenet of true metaphysics when he says that traditional metaphysics is out dated. What he doesn’t tell his followers is that the true metaphysicians realize this themselves, because the science of metaphysics does change and is different according to the time and place principle. In other words the ancient Jews because of their epoch and culture have a different metaphysical system that the Hindus of today, as also the Sufis, the Shaman, etc. Metaphysics is always updated that’s why in Hindu cosmology they have The Avatar, in classical western religion, the prophet, in Buddhism and Sufism we have the Maiytra, and the Mahdi as examples of epochal change in the system.

This is not a new insight of Wilber’s it is as old as metaphysics itself. So for Wilber to play on this fact and distort the reality and pretend this is a new insight of his I hope is not a deliberate distortion. It may not be.

True metaphysics always changes because people in different eras are different. Rumi devised dancing for his students centuries ago because he noticed they were a people inclined to a phlegmatic disposition. This would not be useful for today’s hip hop generation.
This principle in fact is the primary reason why we have different paths.

3:00 PM  

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