All Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Philosophy Refuted*
In the end we must confess that we have no
idea why there is no established body of metaphysical results.
It cannot be denied that this is fact, however, and the
beginning student of metaphysics should keep this fact and its
implications in mind. One of its implications is that the
author of this book ... is [not] in a position in relation to
you that is like the position of the author of [a] text ... in
geology ... All these people will be the masters of a certain
body of knowledge, and on many matters, if you disagree with
them you will simply be wrong. In metaphysics, however,
you are perfectly free to disagree with anything what
philosophers have said in the past or are saying in the present.
(Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 2nd Ed., page 12)
Summary of the following by Ed.: All
arguments at the most basic level are circular (a position of
faith), as basic convictions (a synonym) cannot be avoided by
anyone: common man or studied philosopher. Knowledge may
not be defined by any criteria because there is none that
is universally agreed upon and are constantly changing.
Knowledge existed before there was every any science of
epistemology or logic. "Within a particular system, the
basic convictions are not only truths; they are the most certain
of truths, the criteria of other truths....
One may not define “knowledge” in such a way as to
require us to transcend our humanity in order to know."
How do we know?
That's hard to say; but we do.
Some circular arguments simply are more plausible than
others. “Truth is a giant onion, for
all true statements are onion shoots in disguise.” That argument
is best interpreted as a circular one, the conclusion being
presupposed in the reason offered.
But there is something absurd about it.
“Reason is necessary, for one must use reason even in
order to deny it.” That too, is circular, but it seems much more
plausible. A skeptic might say that
the second argument seems plausible because it is our argument,
while the first is not.
“Knowledge” itself is dreadfully
hard to define. Logicians,
epistemologists and scientists have devoted countless hours to
the task of finding criteria for genuine knowledge.
Yet knowledge may not be defined as the observance of any
such criteria. Knowledge occurred in
human life long before there was any science of logic or
epistemology or biology, and people still gain knowledge without
referring to such disciplines. These
disciplines try to conceptualize, define, understand a
phenomenon which exists independently of those disciplines.
They do not make knowledge possible.
And their concepts of knowledge change rather frequently.
It would be presumptuous indeed to suppose that these
disciplines have succeeded at last in defining everything which
constitutes “knowledge.” Thus, if the recognition of
plausibility in a circular argument does not fit any existing
technical criteria of “knowledge,” then so much the worse for
The fact is that recognition of
such plausibility is a type of knowledge which epistemologists
are obligated to note and account for.
“Basic convictions” cannot be avoided; and such
convictions may be proved only through circular argument.
Therefore circular argument is unavoidable, at the level
of basic conviction. This sort of
circularity is not a defect in one system as opposed to others.
It is an element of all systems.
It is part of the human condition.
It is altogether natural, the, that the term “knowledge”
be applied to basic convictions, and if no technical account has
yet been given of this sort of knowledge, then such an account
Within a particular system, the basic
convictions are not only truths; they are the most certain of
truths, the criteria of other truths.
If we deny the term “knowledge” to these greatest of all
certainties, then no lesser certainty can be called “knowledge”
either. And no epistemologist may
adopt a view which, by doing away with all knowledge, does away
with his job! Knowledge is not an
ideal; it is not something which we strive for and never attain.
It is a commonplace of everyday life.
It is the job of epistemologists to account for that
commonplace, not to define it out of existence.
One may not define “knowledge” in such a way as to
require us to transcend our humanity in order to know.
One must defer to the commonplace.
And “knowledge of basic principles” is part of that
commonplace. (John Frame, "God and Biblical Language:
Transcendence and Immanence."
as a Discipline
“It cannot be maintained that philosophy
has had any great measure of success in its attempts to provide
definite answers to its questions.”
(Bertrand Russell in
"Philosophy.... is uncertain in its own
starting point, is in doubt concerning its own task and aim, and
is divided into all kinds of schools and systems. There is
not question of its steady progress in history; it has,
especially in the period of Kant, broken down more than it has
built up, and its defenders not infrequently give utterance to
the opinion that the advantage which it has produced consists
solely in the enlightening of insight into the essence of human
knowledge, and that aside from this it is mostly a history of
instructive and important human errors." (Herman Bavinck,
The Philosophy of Revelation, page 298)
"There is no significant body of knowledge
that is taken to be universally true with respect to the subject
matter of philosophy. Surely the fact that a discipline
such as philosophy has had a few millenia to define itself, and
has thus not been successful, is reason enough to set forth a
positive commendation for another approach to the discipline
itself." (Scott Oliphant, Reason for Faith,
Some philosophers have argued that the central
and most fundamental philosophical question is the nature of
philosophy itself. Definitions of philosophy have differed
radically, even among practicing philosophers. Often one
group of philosophers has thought that another has badly
mistaken the task of philosophy. Some have said that
philosophy is the "queen of sciences," the most general and
universal science, as opposed to the particular sciences such as
physics and biology. Others have denied that philosophy is
a science at all. Some have argued that philosophy tells
us about the ultimate constituents of the world, while other
philosophers have rejected even the possibility of such an
inquiry. Some have said that philosophy is basically a
rational activity, centering in argument and the critical
evaluation of evidence. But still others have denied that
the use of reason is essential or that there are any
convincing arguments in philosophy. (Geisler et al,
Introduction to Philosophy, page 13)
In the case of competing philosophies ... how
can one distinguish the true philosophy, the philosophy which
describes the real world, from a philosophy that is merely a
tour de force, a consistent system no doubt, but one which
applies to nothing at all? *Gordon Clark, Thales to
Dewey, page 325)
The history of philosophy began with
naturalism, and so far as this volume is concerned, it ends with
naturalism. The Presocratic naturalism dissolved into
Sophism, from which a metaphysics arose; and the metaphysics
lost itself in a mystic trance. Then under the influence
of an alien source, Western Europe appealed to a divine
revelation. In the sixteenth century one group put their
complete trust in revelation, while another development turned
to unaided human reason. This latter movement has now
abandoned its metaphysics, its rationalism, and even the fixed
truths of naturalistic science. It has dissolved into
Sophism. Does this mean that philosophers and cultural
epochs are nothing but children who pay their fare to take
another ride on the merry-go-round? Is this Nietzsche's
eternal recurrence? Or, could it be that a choice must be
made between skeptical futility and a word from God? To
answer this question for himself, the student, since he cannot
ride very fast into the future and discover what a new age will
do, might begin by turning back to the first page and pondering
the whole thing over again. This will at least stave off
suicide for a few days more. (Gordon Clark, Thales to
Dewey, page 534—the last
paragraph of the book)
“Just think of the Continental rationalists
(Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz), who began with supposedly clear
and distinct, "self-evident" ideas (notice their internal,
subjective character), and yet derived from them radically and
embarrassingly different conclusions about reality (dualism,
monism, pluralism). Then consider the British empiricists
(Locke, Berkeley, Hume), who traced the mind's ideas back to
individual sensation (notice again the internal, subjective
locus), only to render a "substance" that unites properties
inexplicable (Locke), to dispense with material substance
(Berkeley), and then to lose altogether any mental substance or
"self" that unites perceptions (Hume). As Kant concluded,
to the degree the mind knows its own inner contents (constituted
by its own activity in forming the input of the senses), it
still has no knowledge of things-in-themselves outside the mind.
The predicament is that man as a knower can never "get outside"
the ideas formed within himself. When the unbeliever
begins his philosophizing with himself at the center, he
ends up unable to escape himself (subjectivism); and since every
unbeliever faces the same dilemma, nobody can speak with
authority about objective reality for anybody else
(relativism).” (Van Til's Apologetic, 315)
Christianity vs. Metaphysics and
Perhaps not even one fundamental proposition
of Christian doctrine has been made fully acceptable by ordinary
standards of rationality; certainly none has been universally
accepted by rational beings. As George Mavrodes remarked
in commenting on an earlier draft of this paper, "That would
seem to be precious little progress for 2000 years of work."
But acceptance by rational beings is not a decisive criterion in
assessing philosophy. And, in any case, philosophical
theology looks no worse in this regard than ordinary metaphysics
and epistemology, on which human beings have been at work for
half a millenium longer. What is more, Christian
philosophy has unquestionably done far better than any other
brand of philosophy in the number of its practitioners and
adherents. Of course, progress in philosophy, Christian or
not, is reckoned otherwise than by finding ourselves able to
say, "Thank God that's done." Still, we do
sometimes discover that an old, neglected concept or argument is
not as bad as we had thought it was, and that is progress, too.
("Faith Seeks Understanding, Finds" in Thomas Flint, Ed.,
Christian Philosophy, 29)
Russell: Philosophy Provides No Definite Answers
“It cannot be
maintained that philosophy has had any great measure of success
in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions....
(philosophy) has not achieved positive results such as have been
achieved by other sciences.... There are many questions—and
among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our
spiritual life—which, so far as we an see, must remain insoluble
to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a
different order from what they are now.... The answers suggested
by philosophy are none of them demonstrably true. Yet,
however slight may be the hope of discovering an answer, it is
part of the business of philosophy to continue...."
(Bertrand Russell, "The Value of Philosophy," in Robert J.
Mulvaney, Ed., Classic Philosophical Questions (13th
Rationality Has No Definitive Analysis
"Some people are surprised (and disappointed) to discover the
frequency with which philosophers have difficulty coming up with
a totally satisfactory analysis of fundamental concepts.... the
world is still awaiting a definitive analysis of rationality."
Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason, page 75
Scientists Do Not Agree On What Science Is
No generally accepted definition of what
science is is agreed on by a majority of philosophers of
science. Several alleged characteristics of science
(repeatability, observability, empirical testability) have been
offered, but none of them has succeeded. J. P. Moreland,
Scaling the Secular City, page 199.
*Except that which is based upon the first principle of