From God to Bitcoin: The Eternal Significance of Metaphysics

Table illustration with the “ideal city” preserved in the National Museum in the Marche

Are we the same person we were twenty years ago? If we are changed by remaining a known individual, what guarantees our continuity? It is one of the questions that has gone through the history of metaphysics, that part of philosophy that asks general questions about reality – what is substance; What does it mean that the future is open – and it tries to give you logical answers. new guide, Introduction to contemporary metaphysics (il Mulino, pp. 308, €28.00), he proposes a rigorous and at the same time captivating approach, capable of shattering distrust towards a platform, sometimes a victim of undeserved notoriety. We talked about it with the four authors: Massimiliano Carrara (University of Padua), Cerro di Florio (Catholic University of Milan), Giorgio Lando (University of L’Aquila), Vittorio Morato (University of Padua). The answers, like the book, are the result of a team effort.

“What is metaphysics?” The title of the famous Martin Heidegger lecture at the University of Freiburg in 1929. The concept (and treatment) of the German thinker, which nevertheless is still studied and discussed, is very far from a contemporary analytic perspective. How many methods of metaphysics are there and which one did you choose to prefer?

“The question of what metaphysics is, what its methods are, what its aims are and how it fits into the jigsaw of human knowledge is a question much older than Heidegger. Aristotle did indeed venture into what is now called metaphysics, i.e., the philosophical inquiry into the nature of what he called “first philosophy”. Today there are ways However, we note that there is no real discussion and comparison between the different methods and this is for social reasons and because it is difficult to share a method. Without common rationale and argument, dialogue is difficult – if not impossible -. We belong to the broad and diverse community of Analytical Philosophers We believe (as explained in the book) that the issues discussed today by analytic metaphysics are in perfect continuity with the great Western metaphysical tradition, such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, Hume and Leibniz. Some methods are new, above all because logic is today a much richer tool And because philosophy in general has become today a delicate professional activity unprecedented in history, but the problems are the same ».

The sweet little everyday dialogues you use to introduce the topics make us understand how much metaphysics deals with us and the world we live in. Why does it seem to many that science is sufficient to understand humans and nature? What is inseparable determinant of philosophy?

“The thesis that science is sufficient to understand man and nature is … a metaphysical thesis, characteristic of naturalized metaphysics. However, even natural metaphysics must make use of general concepts, such as structure or properties, that science itself has not studied. In fact, today metaphysics and science are no longer competing “magic” and only ancient philosophers still waste time in the late positivist debate over the legitimacy of metaphysics. Science constantly uses the classifications and concepts that metaphysics studies, and on the other hand, metaphysics cannot neglect what the sciences (formal, natural and social) say in describing the basic structures of reality.

“God” is one of the topics to which he devotes a chapter. What is the contribution of contemporary metaphysics to thinking about belief in God? What relationship might today’s debate have with the long tradition of Christian-inspired metaphysics?

“The metaphysics of religion is one of the most vital areas of contemporary debate. Asking God is an exceptional metaphysical challenge, in which many theories and concepts are applied—often further developed and for other purposes. Many of the authors who deal with the metaphysics of theism are Christians (think Craig, Plantinga, and Swinburne) but many others are atheists (think Oppy or Mackie). Obviously, when you practice metaphysics you bracket your personal choices (in this case of faith) and rely on reason. Questions about the metaphysics of religion have long intrigued ideologically distant scholars. For us, too, it was a relief to write the part devoted to the metaphysics of the Trinity, relating to such fundamental topics in metaphysics as identity and the theory of parts.”

The conceptual tools and method you suggest is A key to clear and rigorous thought, an indispensable introduction to good metaphysics but also to public debate among intellectuals or political representatives. Why is it difficult to establish an analytical method of thought and presentation in Italian culture? Does it have anything to do with the fact that English is the lingua franca of contemporary philosophy?

“On the one hand, the long cultural influence of neo-idealism has adapted the general attitude towards scientific disciplines, and therefore also towards philosophical currents that are more interested in the relationship with science. On the other hand, there is a widespread expectation that philosophers have the social function of expressing calm and surprising opinions on various topical issues, squatting and in a thoughtful atmosphere (perhaps on television: many philosophers like to be interviewed on talk shows). Analytical philosophers do not do this: they deal with issues that are very general and relevant to the human being, but they do so by expressing more skepticism than certainty and by applying complex methods, which sometimes require special training to be fully appreciated. Therefore, they sometimes risk frustrating some (false) expectations about philosophy. As for the English language, today it is certainly a lingua franca of both philosophy and many other disciplines, just as in the past this role was played by Hellenistic Greek, Latin and French. But you can also think well in Italian, Armenian or Finnish ».

Your book is a university guide: Are those who study metaphysics (and other branches of philosophy) destined to stay at the academy or school, or can they also look forward to other career paths? Applied metaphysics seems to have a certain market…

“We believe metaphysics can be applied to many critical sectors of tomorrow’s world. Think of computer ontology, or rather the representation of knowledge that is the basis for organizing information. Or to the ontology of social objects: what is money? What types of entities are derivatives and bitcoins? It means to practice Metaphysics critical thinking about the structural aspects of the reality that surrounds us and changes around us. Today but with the same wonders that Plato and Aristotle spoke of.”

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