"Metaphysics is generally taken to be the branch of philosophy that deals with issues of ontology (what is being or reality?) and epistemology (how do we know it?). The term was first prominently used by Aristotle’s students for a book they called Metaphysics simply because it was written after his book on Physics. That’s as good a reason as any, I suppose.
If metaphysics began with Aristotle, it ended with Kant. Or, at any rate, took a turn that has defined the way sophisticated philosophers think about reality ever since. Kant’s critical philosophy replaced ontological objects with structures of the subject. In essence, this means that we do not perceive empirical objects in a completely realistic, pregiven fashion; but rather, structures of the knowing subject impart various characteristics to the known object that then appear to belong to the object—but really don’t; they are, rather, co-creations of the knowing subject. Various a priori categories of the knowing subject help to fashion or construct reality as we know it. Reality is not a perception, but a conception; at least in part. Ontology per se just does not exist. Metaphysics is then a broad name for the type of thinking that can’t figure this out. Or, metaphysics is thinking that falls prey to the myth of the given.
What this means for spirituality in general is that metaphysics needs to be jettisoned, or at the very least, completely rethought. All of the traditional categories of metaphysics—including God, immortality, the soul, mind, body, and knowing—simply cannot stand up to the scrutiny of critical thinking, not in their fundamental, pre-critical, ontological forms. In the modern and postmodern world, they are simply obsolete notions that are as embarrassing to religion as, say, phlogiston, St. Vitus’s dance, and phrenology are to medicine.”
-Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality
How do we know stuff? Like all of the great philosophical quandaries, it’s a fundamentally straightforward question that can lead us into an endlessly branching series of chicken-and-egg meditations on the nature of existence (ontology) versus the nature of knowledge (epistemology). And it’s a topic that is immediately relevant to today’s world, to our understanding of current events, and to our various strategies and processes of sense-making.
This is particularly true here in the social media age — it’s always been the case that we’ve had multiple conflicting epistemologies, but until recently we’ve generally lived in a more curated media space. We had certain “referees” who would enforce certain epistemologies over others (for better and/or for worse). But now civilization itself is operating on fully postmodern media platforms with no built-in curation or enfoldment mechanisms at all. We are all now curators of our own informational terrain and media bubbles, and those silos are being further reinforced by the hidden algorithms of Google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.
This has resulted in the total epistemic breakdown we are now in the midst of — giving rise to things like Flat Earthers, anti-vaxxers, and delusional Q Anon conspiracies — all products of broken epistemologies. Ironically, it may be the phrase “do your research” that leads to the death of knowledge.
At its core, the clash of civilizations is a clash of truth-claims — a clash of epistemologies — made all the worse by our current epistemological crisis and collapse. Aperspectival madness, as we like to say.
In this fascinating episode of The Ken Show, we take a look at a dozen of the most popular schools of epistemological thought — idealism, pragmatism, empiricism, constructivism, etc. — noting their respective contributions and limitations, and how they can all be pulled together into a more Integral epistemology. Hopefully this conversation can help us take the next step out of this total aperspectival madness we are all immersed in.