Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-Sensical

 

by Rosa Lichtenstein

 

This Essay was written as part of a discussion on the far left about the nature of Traditional Philosophy, but it isn't necessary to know anything about that debate in order to follow the argument. 

 

Preface

 

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This is a summary of one of the main themes of Essay Twelve Part One at my site. It tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history. I claim no particular originality for what follows (except, perhaps its highly simplified mode of presentation); much of it has in fact been derived from Wittgenstein's work.

 

[Any who think Wittgenstein is no friend of the left should read this, and then perhaps think again.]

 

However, what follows is an introductory Essay, which has been written for those who find the main Essays at my site either too long or too difficult. It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive since it is a summary of some of the core ideas presented there.

 

Hence, this Essay isn't intended for experts!

 

The vast bulk of the supporting evidence and argument found in the original Essay has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my arguments and evidence in full, should consult the main Essay for which this is a précis.

 

In what follows I take the terms "Traditional Philosophy" and "Metaphysics" to be synonymous. Marxist dialecticians understand the second of these two words in their own rather unique way. I have justified my understanding and use of this term here and here.

 

Unfortunately, this Essay is a little repetitive. Experience has taught me that unless its core ideas are repeated several times, from different directions, their significance is all too easily missed.

 

Also, throughout this Essay I have used several rather stilted expressions like the following: "It is possible to understand an empirical proposition without knowing whether it is true or knowing whether it is false", as opposed to "It is possible to understand an empirical proposition without knowing whether it is true or false". I explain why I have adopted this rather odd way of talking here.

 

[I also explain below what an empirical proposition is!]

 

Finally, because I am trying to make some exceedingly difficult ideas as easy as possible to understand, this Essay will need to be re-written many more times before I am satisfied that I have achieved that particular goal.

 

[Latest Update: 17/11/16.]

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Return To The Main Index

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

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Quick Links

 

Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.

 

(1)  Metaphysical Theses

 

(a) The Difference Between Ordinary Truths And Philosophical Theses

 

(b) Dictating To Reality What It Must Contain

 

(c) Non-Sense And Nonsense

 

(d) Necessary Truth And Necessary Falsehood

 

(2) The Slide Into Non-Sense

 

(a) Why All Metaphysical Theories Are Nonsensical

 

(b) No Way Back

 

(c) Has This Essay Only Succeeded In Refuting Itself?

 

 

Metaphysical Theses

 

The Difference Between Ordinary Truths And 'Philosophical' Theses

 

This is a typical metaphysical proposition:

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

Theses like M1 purport to inform us of fundamental aspects of reality, valid for all of space and time (no pun intended).

 

The seemingly profound nature of sentences like M1 is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed -- that is, the fact that the main verb is often in the indicative mood.

 

This apparently superficial grammatical veneer hides a much deeper logical form, which only becomes obvious when sentences like this are examined more closely.

 

[For our purposes, logical form refers to those features of indicative sentences that (i) enable us to make certain inferences, and (ii) facilitate in their comprehension. This should become clearer as this Essay unfolds.]

 

Expressions like M1 look as if they reveal profound truths about reality, since they appear to resemble empirical propositions (i.e., propositions about matters of fact). But, they turn out to be nothing at all like them.

 

Consider an ordinary empirical proposition:

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

Compare M2 with these similar-looking indicative sentences:

 

M1: Time is a relation between events. [Leibniz.]

 

M3: To be is to be perceived. [Berkeley.]

 

M1 and M3 look as if they are reporting facts about time, facts about perception and what does or does not exist.

 

However, when we compare M1 and M3 with ordinary empirical propositions like M2 their profound differences soon become apparent.

 

In order to understand M2, it isn't necessary to know whether it is true or whether it is false. I am sure all of those who have read M2 understand what it is saying even though they haven't a clue whether or not what it says is the case.
 

Contrast that with the comprehension of M1 or M3. Understanding either of these goes hand-in-hand with knowing they are both true, or they are both false (as the case may be). As soon as they are understood their (presumed) truth-status follows automatically, and that truth-status is based on one or more of the following considerations:

 

(1) The meaning the words they contain;

 

(2) Certain definitions of the terms employed (or those of related expressions);

 

(3) A series of supporting arguments;

 

or,

 

(4) One or more 'thought experiments' -- i.e., yet more words.

 

No evidence is needed. Indeed, it isn't possible to devise experiments or observations that could, even in theory, validate propositions like M1 and M3.

 

[Of course, it is possible to reject M1 and M3 out-of-hand, but that repudiation won't be, or have been, based on evidence, either; it will perhaps have been motivated by yet another (rival) philosophical theory -- i.e., yet more words.]

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M3: To be is to be perceived.

 

This now intimately links the truth-status of sentences like M1 and M3 solely with the supposed meaning of certain words, but not with experimental or experiential confirmation, and hence not with a confrontation with the facts. Their truth-status is thus independent of, and indeed anterior to, the search for supporting evidence.

 

Well, what could anyone look for in order to confirm or confute M1 or M3?

 

By way of contrast, understanding M2 is independent of, and prior to, its confirmation or disconfirmation. Indeed, it would be impossible to ascertain the truth or the falsehood of M2 if it hadn't already been understood. Plainly, the actual truth or the actual falsehood of M2-type propositions follows from the way the world happens to be -- that is, on the facts -- and doesn't solely depend the meaning of certain words, as is the case with M1 and M3.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

So, the truth-status of M2 can't be ascertained solely from the words it contains -- again: unlike M1-, and M3-type sentences.

 

No amount of 'pure thought' will tell you whether or not M2 is true.

 

Empirical propositions are typically like this; they have to be understood first before they can be confronted with the evidence that establishes their truth-status.

 

In contrast, metaphysical propositions carry their truth or their falsehood on their faces, as it were, and need no evidence to establish their veracity. Understanding them is at one with knowing their supposed truth or their supposed falsehood.

 

Their truth-status follows solely from 'pure thought' -- or so we have been led to believe

 

 

Dictating To Reality What It Must Contain

 

Metaphysical theses like M1 and M3 were deliberately concocted by Traditional Philosophers in order to transcend the limitations presented by the material world -- and, incidentally, limitations that confronted them from ordinary language, too, as we will see.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M3: To be is to be perceived.

 

This dogmatic approach to 'knowledge' was justified because it 'allowed' Traditional Theorists to 'uncover' the underlying 'essence' of reality, revealing nature's "hidden secrets" in the comfort of their own heads. This connected philosophical language directly with the 'invisible, underlying structure of reality' (which was often given the grandiose title, "Being"), constituted by 'God'.

 

[More on this here.]

 

As Marx noted:

 

"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx, 1844 Economic And Philosophical Manuscripts, p.381. I have used the on-line version, here. Link and bold emphases added.]

 

The idea that philosophy is capable of revealing such 'hidden secrets' (way beyond anything the sciences could possibly uncover) still dominates much of modern thought, even though its theological orientation has largely been abandoned. That is why metaphysical 'truths' are still being derived from language and/or thought alone, even by atheists.

 

Theses like M1 and M3 were thus said to be "necessarily true" (or "necessarily false", as the case may be), and were thought to express core theses about the fundamental nature of reality -- unlike contingent, empirical propositions (like M2), whose truth could alter with the wind. After all, Tony Blair might sell his copy of Das Kapital -- or, indeed, he might buy the book if he doesn't already own it. But, philosophical knowledge -- genuine knowledge -- can't depend on such changeable, contingent features of 'reality'.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

Traditionally, this meant that empirical propositions like M2 were considered epistemologically inferior to M1-, and M3-type propositions, since they were deemed incapable of revealing 'fundamental truths'.

 

Metaphysical propositions thus masquerade as especially profound Super-Empirical Verities, which can't fail to be true (or which can't fail to be false -- again, as the case may be). They achieve this by using the indicative mood --, but they then go way beyond it.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M3: To be is to be perceived.

 

Thus, what they say doesn't just happen to be so, as is the case with ordinary empirical truths. What M1-, and M3-type sentences say can't possibly be otherwise. The world must conform to what they say, not the other way round. They determine or dictate the 'logical form' (i.e., the fundamental structure) of any possible or conceivable world.

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Here "logical form" is (temporarily) being used in its older, metaphysical sense. That is, this term expressed the idea that the deep structure of 'reality' had a logic to it, ascertainable by thought alone, put there by the 'deity' (or, for Christians, by 'the Logos', the "Word of God"). This idea is up-front in Plato:

 

"If mind and true opinion are two distinct classes, then I say that there certainly are these self-existent ideas unperceived by sense, and apprehended only by the mind; if, however, as some say, true opinion differs in no respect from mind, then everything that we perceive through the body is to be regarded as most real and certain. But we must affirm that to be distinct, for they have a distinct origin and are of a different nature; the one is implanted in us by instruction, the other by persuasion; the one is always accompanied by true reason, the other is without reason; the one cannot be overcome by persuasion, but the other can: and lastly, every man may be said to share in true opinion, but mind is the attribute of the gods and of very few men. Wherefore also we must acknowledge that there is one kind of being which is always the same, uncreated and indestructible, never receiving anything into itself from without, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted to intelligence only." [Timaeus, 51e-52a. Bold added.]

 

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This also helps account for the frequent use of modal terms (such as, "must", "necessary" and "inconceivable") -- as in "I must exist if I can think" (paraphrasing Descartes), "Time must be a relation between events" (paraphrasing Leibniz), or "Being must be identical with and yet at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming" (paraphrasing Hegel).

 

Everything in reality must be this or it must be that.

 

Contrast this with M2. If anyone were to question its truth, the following response: "Tony Blair must own a copy of Das Kapital" would be highly inappropriate, if not entirely misleading.

 

From this we can draw the following conclusion: the world dictates to us whether M2-type sentences are true, or are false. M2-type sentences do not dictate to reality what it must contain, or what it must be like.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

M3: To be is to be perceived.

 

With respect to M1-, and M3-type sentences things are the exact opposite; because their truth-status can be determined independently, and in advance, of the way the world happens to be, philosophers have always concocted sentences like this in order to dictate to reality what it must be like.

 

Again, such Super-Truths (or Super-Falsehoods -- these terms are explained below) were derived solely from the alleged meaning of certain words (or from certain 'concepts', or definitions). In that case, just as soon as they have been understood, propositions like M1 and M3 guarantee their own truth or their own falsehood. They are thus true -- or they are false -- a priori.

 

[A priori means that the supposed truth of certain sentences may be inferred in advance of any supporting evidence (for which none is needed anyway). A genuine a priori idea might, for example, be the following: despite the fact that you will never have experienced this, and never will, you know that ten billion marbles added to twenty billion marbles will total thirty billion marbles (although, I prefer to call this inference the application of a rule). A bogus a priori idea might involve, for instance, an attempt to prove the existence of 'god' from 'his' definition. Yet another might involve an attempt to show that everything in 'reality' is governed by 'contradictions', a dogma based solely on a similarly 'linguistic argument' -- which is in effect a verbal conjuring trick --, as Hegel himself tried to do.]

 

The intimate connection M1-, and M3-type sentences have with language means that questioning their veracity seems to run against the grain of our understanding, not our experience. Indeed, they appear to be self-evident precisely because they need no evidence to confirm their truth-status; they supply their own 'justification' and testify on their own behalf.

 

Unfortunately, this divorces them from the actual world, since they are true (or they are false) independently of any apparent state of the universe.

 

[I return to this point below since it is integral to the main aim of this Essay: to show why M1-, and M3-type sentences are non-sensical.]

 

Which is, of course, why no experiment is conceivable by means of which they can be tested.

 

This is one reason why they used to be called "hidden" or "occult truths". Indeed, 'appearances' might even seem to contradict them, but their truth-status remained forever impervious to the facts, hermetically sealed against such easy refutation.

 

Again, unlike M2-type propositions.

 

 

Nonsense and Non-Sense

 

The Super-Scientific nature of Cosmic Verities like these means they rapidly lapse into non-sense.

 

This happens whenever their inventors, or their proponents, undermine either the vernacular or the logical and pragmatic principles on which it is based. [Why that is so will be explained presently.]

 

It is worth pointing out that "non-sense" (as it is being used in this Essay) isn't the same as "nonsense". The latter term has various meanings ranging from the patently false (e.g., "Karl Marx was a shape-shifting lizard") to plain, unvarnished gibberish (e.g., "783&£$750 ow2jmn 34y4&$ 6y3n3& 8FT34n").

 

"Non-sense", on the other hand, applies to indicative sentences that turn out to be incapable of expressing a sense (that word will be explained presently, too) no matter what we try to do with them. That is, they are incapable of being true and they are incapable of being false. So, when such sentences are employed to state fundamental truths about reality they seriously misfire -- since they can't possibly do this. [The rest of the Essay will explain why that is so.]

 

Finally, the word "sense" is being used in the following way: it expresses what we understand to be the case for a proposition to be true or what we understand to be the case for it to be false, even if we don't know whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false -- and even if we never succeed in ascertaining either one of these, nor wish to do so.

 

For example, everyone (who knows English, who also knows who Tony Blair and what Das Kapital are) will understand M2 upon encountering it. They grasp its sense --, that is, they understand what the world (or, at least, certain parts of it) would have to be like for it to be true or what the world (or, at least, certain parts of it) would have to be like for it to be false.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

More importantly, the same situation that makes M2 true (if it obtains) will make M2 false (if it doesn't) -- that is, Blair's owning the said book. If the latter obtains, M2 is true; if it doesn't, M2 is false.

 

[The significance of these seemingly innocuous, even trite, comments will also become apparent as this Essay unfolds. (Some might object that ownership is a rather complex or vague notion. I have dealt with that objection here and here -- where it is clear that this term doesn't in fact affect the points being made in this Essay.)]

 

These conditions are integral to our capacity to understand empirical propositions before we know their truth-status. Indeed, they help explain why we know what to look for (or what to expect) in order to show, or to ascertain, whether or not such propositions are indeed true, or are indeed false -- again, even if we never succeed in doing either of these, and even if we have no wish to do so.

 

That is, we know what (possible) state of affairs M2-type sentences express.

 

 

Necessary Truth and Necessary Falsehood

 

However, intractable logical problems soon begin to arise (with respect to M1-, and M3-type propositions) if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic possibilities associated with ordinary empirical propositions -- that is, if we try to exclude their truth or we try to exclude their falsehood.

 

This occurs when, for example, an indicative sentence (like M1) is declared to be "only true" or "only false" -- or, more pointedly, "necessarily" the one or the other.

 

As we will soon see, this results in the automatic loss of both semantic options, and with that goes any sense the original proposition might seem to have had, rendering it non-sensical.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M3: To be is to be perceived.

 

Recall: an empirical proposition leaves it open whether it is true or whether it is false. That is why its truth-status (true/false) can't simply be read-off from what it says, why evidence is required in order to determine that status, and why it is possible to understand it before its actual truth-status is known.

 

Plainly, it isn't possible to confirm or confute an indicative sentence if no one understands what it is saying!

 

When this isn't the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, or when a proposition is said to be "necessarily true" or "necessarily false" -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant.

 

If, however, a proposition is regarded as a Super-Truth about the world -- about its 'essence', or its underlying, 'rational structure' -- then it is plainly metaphysical.

 

['Super-Truths' superficially resemble ordinary scientific truths, but they are in fact nothing at all like them; they transcend anything the sciences could possibly confirm or confute. M1 and M3 are excellent examples of this. Their alleged truth depends solely on the supposed meaning of a handful of words, not on the way the world happens to be. Metaphysical 'truths' thus go way beyond any conceivable body of evidence -- which exalted status had been intended for them all along. (Again, why that is so is explained here.)]

 

Otherwise, the actual truth or the actual falsehood of M1-, and M3-type sentences would be sensitive to the way the world happened to be, and thus on evidence -- they wouldn't be solely meaning-, concept-, or pure-thought-dependent. That explains why the comprehension of a metaphysical proposition appears to go hand-in-hand with knowing its automatic truth-status; that comprehension is based exclusively on thought, language and meaning, as is their truth-status. Hence, as soon such propositions are understood, their truth, or their falsehood, follows directly.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M3: To be is to be perceived.

 

By way of contrast, empirical propositions derive their sense from the truth-possibilities they appear to hold open (and which truth-possibilities have to be confirmed or confuted by observation or experiment -- by the facts). That is also why the actual truth-value of, say, M2 (or its contradictory, M4, below) doesn't need to be known before it is understood. But, it is why evidence is relevant to establishing that truth-value, should anyone wish to do so.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

M4: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of Das Kapital.

 

[M4 would normally be used to deny the truth of M2, or vice versa.]

 

In order to comprehend M2 -- or, indeed, M4 -- all that is required is some grasp of their content (the possibility they both hold out: i.e., Blair's owning the said book, or otherwise). M2 and M4 thus have the same content, since they are made true, or they are made false, by the same situation obtaining or not obtaining, respectively.

 

[Again, the significance of that remark will become clearer as the argument develops.]

 

 

The Ineluctable Slide Into Non-Sense

 

Why All Metaphysical Theories Are Non-Sensical

 

If a proposition appears to be empirical, and yet can only be true, or can only be false, then, as we will soon see, it loses both options.

 

We can appreciate why this is so if we consider M1 again, alongside its supposed negation, M5:

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

[M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.]

 

As we have seen, the alleged truth-status of M1 can be derived from the meaning of the words it contains (in fact, M1 is a definition (or part of one) that establishes what its key term ("time") is supposed to mean).

 

However, unlike M2 and M4, the truth of M1 can't be denied by the use of what appears to be its negation, M5, since that would amount to a change in the meaning of the word "time".

 

That in turn is because sentences like M1 help define what a given philosopher means by, in this case, "time".

 

But, if time isn't a relation between events (as M5 attempts to tell us), then the word "time" plainly has a different meaning in M1 and M5. And, if that is so, M1 and M5 can't relate to the same supposed underlying state of affairs -- unlike M2 and M4.

 

M1 and M5 are thus logically unrelated sentences.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

So, despite appearances to the contrary, M5 isn't the negation of M1!

 

And that is because the subject of each sentence is different.

 

To see this point, compare the following:

 

M6: George W Bush crashed his car on the 3rd of May 2012.

 

M7: George H W Bush didn't crash his car on the 3rd of May 2012.

 

Whether or not one or both of these is true, M6 and M7 aren't negations of one another since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. M6 and M7 thus have two different subjects. They are true, or they are false, under entirely different conditions since they don't have the same sense, the same empirical content. They express different possible states of affairs.

 

An analogous change of subject applies to metaphysical propositions, such as M1, and what appears to be its negation, M5:

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

Why is this important?

 

Well, if M1 is deemed "necessarily true", that would be tantamount to declaring its alleged negation (M5) "necessarily false". And yet, M5 isn't the negation of M1. Again, M1 and M5 are logically unrelated. The 'truth' or 'falsehood' of the one has no bearing on the 'truth' or 'falsehood' of the other -- unlike M2 and M4.

 

But, by declaring M1 "necessarily true" we should have to know what M1 is ruling out as "necessarily false", otherwise we would be in no position to declare it "necessarily true". [This, too, will be explained presently.]

 

As we have seen, an ordinary empirical proposition and its negation have the same content (i.e., they are made true or they are made false by a specific state of affairs obtaining or not -- in this case, Blair actually owning the said book).

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.

 

Hence, if we know under what conditions M2 is true, we automatically know under what conditions its negation, M4, is false (i.e., not true). This is what allows us to investigate the actual truth-status of empirical propositions, since we know in advance what to look for, what we are ruling in and what we are ruling out, and thus what to expect.

 

If, for example, we find out that M4 is true, we can automatically infer the falsehood of M2 -- and vice versa. In that case, we can reject M2 if M4 is true, just as we can reject M4 if M2 is true. The same content tells us what we can rule in and what we can rule out.

 

It is this shared content that connects the two.

 

However, as we have seen, between a metaphysical proposition and what might seem to be its negation there is a change of subject. They fail to relate to the same supposed state of affairs and hence they have a different content. [In fact, as we are about to see, they have no content at all.] There is nothing that connects them in the above manner.

 

["Content" here is taken to express what an indicative sentence purports to tell us about the world, what state of affairs it expresses.]

 

In which case, the truth of M1 can't be ruled out by means of the truth of M5 (nor vice versa), since we would now have no idea what we are ruling out -- and thus no idea what we were ruling in.

 

[Why that is so will also be explained presently, but it is connected with the fact that M1 and M5 relate to no actual or possible state of affairs.]

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

Or, rather, what we might imagine we are trying to rule out by the use of M1 (i.e., M5) won't in fact have been ruled out, since M5 has a different subject, and hence a different 'content'.

 

Why is this important?

 

It is important because to declare a sentence "true" is ipso facto to declare it "not false". The two go hand-in-hand.

 

[Some might think the above represents an unwise concession to the so-called 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM]. I can't enter into that topic here, so any who do so think are advised to read this (and follow the link at the end), and then perhaps think again.]

 

But, if we can't do that, if we can't declare M1 "not false" (and we plainly can't do that if we have no idea what we are ruling out -- indeed, as soon as we attempt to do this by means of M5 we end up changing the subject of the original sentence!), we can't then say the original sentence is true.

 

Why that is so will now be explained.

 

By declaring a sentence like M1 "necessarily true", we seem to be ruling some things conclusively in, and thus ruling other things conclusively out as "necessarily false" (i.e., we seem to be ruling out the same state of affairs, but, in this case there isn't one; there is no shared state of affairs, here).

 

In fact, there is no state of affairs here at all, shared or otherwise. MI picks out no state of affairs, even in theory, even in the mind's eye!

 

If there were a state of affairs that M1 picked out, we would be able to negate it legitimately, and hypothesise that it doesn't obtain, even in theory. But we have just seen we can't even do that. In relation to M1, what we think we are ruling out is M5. But, M5 has a different content to M1, so we aren't in fact ruling M5 out!

 

M1 thus has no content at all, and neither has M5.

 

They are telling us nothing whatsoever.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

When sentences like M1 are entertained, a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean (i.e., "say") something, that they are capable of being understood, and thus that they are capable of being true or are capable of being false -- that, in this case at least, they depict a theoretical state of affairs. To that end, a further pretence has to be maintained that we understand what might make such propositions true -- or their 'negations' false -- so that those like M5 can be declared "necessarily false".

 

We imagine they depict at least a theoretical state of affairs -- which as we have just seen they can't.

 

Again: if there were a state of affairs that M1 picked out, we would be able to negate it legitimately, but as we have seen we can't do that without changing the subject.

 

Hence, with philosophical 'propositions' like M1 and M5, this entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given to them. They depict no state of affairs, even in theory.

 

In order to declare M1 true, we pretend that a theoretical state of affairs (at least) is being ruled out (i.e., M5); but, we have just seen that this isn't so. Nothing is being ruled in or out, since MI is incapable of depicting anything, even theoretically! It has no content.

 

So, no one who accepts M1 as true is in any position say what it depicts, even in theory. That isn't because it would be psychologically impossible for anyone to do this; it is because it is logically impossible for them to do it. If M1 could depict something (even in theory), we could legitimately negate it, but doing so changes the subject (in M5). It isn't possible to specify conditions that would make M5 false, even in theory, without changing the subject.

 

But, if we can't say under what conditions M1 is true (since it depicts nothing at all), we can't it is false, either. In which case, we are in no position to declare M1 either true or false! Any attempt to do so must fall apart, for that would imply that two logically unrelated sentences (M1 and M5) were related after all.

 

No Way Back
 

Hence, metaphysical propositions can't be true and they can't be false. They have no content. They express no state of affairs, even in theory.

 

They thus lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.

 

Our use of language actually prevents them from expressing a sense, let alone being true.

They are thus non-sensical, empty strings of words.

 

[It is also possible to show that metaphysical propositions aren't just non-sensical, they are incoherent non-sense to boot, but that won't be attempted in this Introductory Essay. On that, however, see here.]

 

Is This Essay Non-sensical, Too?

 

Some have tried to argue that the above analysis is susceptible to its own critique -- in that it looks no less metaphysical (because it asserts this or that about "sense", or the semantics of "true" and "false", etc., etc.) --, hence it, too, is non-sensical!

 

I have addressed that seemingly knock-down rebuttal, here.

 

[Remember, the above link (and many of the others on this page) won't work properly if you are using Internet Explorer 10 (or later) and have ignored the advice given at the top of this page!]

 

Latest Update: 17/11/16

 

Word count: 5,660

 

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© Rosa Lichtenstein 2016

 

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