A Defense of Metaphysics: “To Be or Not To Be?” or “To E-Prime or Not?”

Some use E-Prime to eliminate the passive voice but, in so doing, will then write even more passive sentences.

Some nominalists might prescribe the exclusive use of E-prime in an attempt to do away with metaphysics, but that strategy sacrifices – not only common sense, but – probabilistic approaches like, ahem, natural science!

For example, when discussing modal realities, forms of the verb “to be” might better (sometimes even indispensably) express degrees of vagueness & convey meanings about various states of an entity & its dynamical causes (even apart from predication or identity), i.e. continuous & progressive aspects.

For modal realities, then, in both physics & metaphysics, successful references remain indispensable even when successful descriptions elude us. For example, effects as remain proper to no known causes (variously over/under-determined) can refer to putative entities.

Some essentialists might thus proscribe E-Prime.

Not so fast!

Those same indispensable aspects, which they aspire to preserve (continuous, progressive & vague) in their Aristotelian sense, can implicate some forms, entities & identities that are – not just static, but – dynamical, emergent & nonstrict.

If, as moderate realists, we properly evade the tensions as present between nominalism & essentialism, we can discover some deep resonances between Platonic, Aristotelian, Thomist, Scotist, Palamitic & Peircean approaches, particularly in the subtle distinctions they apply to formal realities.

For starters, they all recognize & affirm the formal as real ( even if variously). At a deeper level, they emphasize the centrality of becoming, whether metaphysically or theologically. Those stances, when taken together, will inevitably lead to other salient convergences, which I’ve addressed elsewhere.

This consideration of the rhetorical virtues & vices of E-Prime is not wholly unrelated to the old Kantian saw that one can’t take existence as a predicate of being. Of course we can, only it’s tautological. That doesn’t mean our proposition is necessarily untrue, only that we haven’t added new information to our system.

Tautologies, however, can have tremendous heuristic value, especially when associated with a host of other epistemic virtues, thereby enhancing our modeling power of reality.

This is to say, too, that not all tautologies are equally taut. When further associated with axiological virtues, even when not providing new information, they can foster deeper meanings.

When we thus prescind from the necessary to the probable in our phenomenology, bracketing the root metaphors of competing metaphysics, we resist a prioristic rushes to closure regarding reality’s indeterminacies.

Specifically, we refrain from a priori categorizing in/determinacies as necessarily derived from either a methodologically in/determinable reality, epistemologically, or a metaphysically in/determined reality, ontologically.

Also, in a plain vanilla emergentism, we eschew the distinctions between weak & strong emergence, strong & weak supervenience, because, on one extreme, they’re question begging, on the other, trivial.

So, rather than prove too much, say way more than we could possibly know, tell untellable stories, yet without ignoring ontological implications, we traffic in – not the metaphysically decisive, but – the ontologically suggestive.

One take-away is that any deontologies should be at least as modest as our ontologies are tentative.