Module/Week 5 Presentation: The Nature of Reality Transcript

Module/Week 5 Presentation: The Nature of Reality Transcript


Hello, Im Kevin Smith. Welcome to this presentation for Philosophy 201. Today I want to speak with you for a few minutes aboutmetaphysics. A lot of times when students first hear the term metaphysics it’s confusing, they think maybe of the New Age section in the bookstore or something paranormal. But in academic traditional philosophy metaphysics simply means to ask questions about the very nature of reality itself. Now that’s a big topic: reality, but what we’re really trying to get at is an ultimate question like, What is everything that’s real made of? or What counts as real, ultimately? Obviously there are many people who think that only physical reality is indeed reality and anything that’s not physical or empirically verifiable doesn’t count as real. But most of us as human beings recognize, if only intuitively, that there is something more to reality than that. So, what does philosophy have to say about this and how does the philosopher in metaphysics approach such questions?


Well, although it can be very deep, at the same time there are some obvious things that can be distinguished up front. For example, one of the basic ideas is distinguishing betweenmere appearancesandreality itself. Now all of us, whether philosophers or not, already do this, if only subconsciously, or even when were not fully aware. For example, every day things like optical illusions remind us that appearance, on the surface at least, isn’t necessarily the same thing as reality, even at the physical level. For example, you probably have all done this as kids. If you’ve looked in a pool of water and you put a straight object in it. From the surface level, the object appears to be bent, from my angle; now from your angle, probably not bent so much. And of course, we actually know that it’s a straight object from taking it out, but if you’re looking at it through the water, especially at a certain angle, it appears to be something that it really isnt. Soappearance vs realityis one of the most ancient distinctions in philosophy. So, how does that apply to the rest of this discipline in terms of metaphysics?


Well, we’re asking not only, Does this stick appear to be straight, whether out of the water or in it? but we’re asking something more fundamental than that: What is the stick made of? and ultimately, What is the water made of? Are they really different at the fundamental level? or Can it all be boiled down to something elemental? While in philosophy, and metaphysics particularly, what we generally say is both the stick and the water, physically speaking, are of the samesubstance. And that means they are physical, that is material substance. So in metaphysics we ask, even though sticks and water and stones and light particles and so forth, vary in numerous ways, ultimately they can all be said to share one substance: materiality or matter. Now, some metaphysicians will stop there and say that is sufficient to explain all of reality.


On the other hand, what if we think about other things we experience that don’t seem to have physical dimension or take up space or have mass? Like for instance, my idea about the stick being straight or bent in the water? Consider ideas themselves, including the idea of metaphysics or of matter. Is the idea of matter a material thing? That is, does it have physical substance? Does it take up weight, have dimension in space, so on and so forth? Well no, and yet we think that our thoughts have some sort of reality to them. And the more we press that the more it seems that it must be so because I can’t think about things without using reason, but reason itself doesn’t have weight, take up dimension and space, and so on.


So when I make a statement like, Only matter can be real. I’m making a statement about my thoughts about matter and assuming reason is real in order to support that. So right away metaphysics asks, Ok, what’s going on here? Is there something more than the physical? Are my thoughts things or Is there something called a mental substance? If so, metaphysics would term thatmindin a broad sense. So, many people believe not only in matter, but also in the equal full reality of something called mind ormental substance.If you believe in both youre called the dualist. All of reality can ultimately be boiled down to either mind or matter and sometimes these interact, such as in the human mind. Whereas we have a brain, which is purely physical, but we also have immaterial nonphysical reasoning processes that must be real in order for us to think about the brain that is merely physically real.


Now, on the other hand, you can say that just one or the other is real. We mentioned materialism earlier, the very common view that only matter counts as real. There are actually somemonists,some who believe in only one thing, who don’t believe it’s matter, but they actually believe that only mind, mental substance, is real and that matter is not an actual different separate substance. So there’s two forms of monism, all is matter: materialism, all is mind: monism, or the view called dualism. Traditionally, most believers in God, most theist’s in the traditional sense, and particularly Christians are dualists. That is, they believe that the physical cosmos is real, matter is a creation by God; it’s real and distinct from mind or mental reality, which God has also caused to be. And these two things interact in the human experience. So, that in a nutshell is what metaphysics is all about. In your readings youll get in more of the technical aspects of that, but keep in mind the big picture: is everything mind? Is everything matter? Or are they both equally real yet distinct substances?


That’s metaphysics.

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