One of the most horrific mistakes a philosopher can make, although it seems all too hereditary and commonplace to the profession, is to assume certain metaphysical proclivities. An example of what I am talking about might be easily found in the study of evolution. If one already has a metaphysical belief in anti-supernaturalism (which is not necessarily the same as naturalism), then they may guide the evidence towards a conclusion, which fits into their bubble, a bubble that would dismiss clear supernatural interaction within the evolution of a species’ genes (using such a pitting example is not intended to get atheist panties in a bunch [assuming atheist wear panties] but it is clear to see the problem in this frame of thinking). One might ask why this is such a problem; considering that, as it stands, this is a required step in the process of jumping from pure postulation to actual action. It almost seems like a reactionary answer from my own frame of mind (because of my own metaphysical assumptions which will be laid out in a bit) to point out that any assumption will inevitably exclude. They exclude the possible and make them impossible, although however much we would like to do so, we are not the gatekeepers of the possible and impossible.
If one were a metaphysical nihilist (they assume that nothing in general or particular reality exist) then they would reactionarily exclude anything of value in the field of ethics (because this would lead them to hold an existential nihilism). That person might be presented with evidence of innate meaning-modules in the brains of all animals, which guide a species to show certain reciprocity towards non-kin beings, however, they will be hard to explain this phenomena from their own assumptions (this is just my example and is not suppose to reflect any actual evidence). That is not to say they can’t and won’t find an explanation that fits their pattern (something about mutational chance, plus time, which creates the illusion of meaning, which sociologically transforms into reciprocity) but it does say something about the strength of conclusion from an outsider perspective. There is nothing that can be said about the conclusion because, as it stands from that person’s assumption about the meaning and purpose of the universe, this explanation works, although leaving a dissatisfied feeling in the pit of the intellectual gut. However, being an outsider to this view (that is, not assuming metaphysical nihilism) the explanation seems to just dismiss the evidence for the sake of a cohesive metaphysical model.
I am sure that there are many more examples of this type of philosophical “action” and I am sure that it leaves those that do not cling to the same underlying assumptions empty. My own suggestion is that we as philosophers remain far more skeptical and uncertain about what is. When we postulate what is, we always leave open the possibility that we are wrong. When we jump from postulation and decide that we know what is, we make all claims that do not fit what is into are not’s. This black and whiting of reality is a categorical error. We do not really have certainty about what is and we ought to abandon any hope of ever thinking we do.
While it seems that many of us do not start off with this type of thinking, we often fall into it. I know for myself, I started off with a want for knowledge that was grassroots, but on my journey I overturned this desire for something simpler. I grabbed at a top-down model for sake of ease and brevity. It is far easier to make assumptions and then create the world around us, but it is sacrilegious to the pursuit of knowledge. This is one of the clearest examples of what separates philosophers from the rest: that they think deeply about the underlying problems of the world. That means philosophers are to leave the metaphysical assumptions open to possibility.
We can certainly assume that the world is objective and that there is a concrete reality, for the sake of postulating, but once we then create the world from this postulation, we may get into trouble when a new observation doesn’t appear to fit into our assumptions about reality. Instead of falling into this trap, it might be more true to the pursuit of truth to abandon truth in certain contexts, the metaphysical context. Almost like a choose your own adventure story, one can create the possible top-down models of reality, but leave open the possibility that the model is wrong, and thus, when one comes to a brick wall, they must flip back to the first page and try another reality. Some might say that in the possible worlds things could be a certain way, but in the actual world, only one can be so, and all other possibilities are false. However, because we cannot have certainty, we abandon the actualization of this process and stick to pure postulation. The thing that must be accepted from here is that we are in fact not stuck in the metaphysical mud, but have to be clever and understand that reality is contextual.
I consider myself to be a contextualist (which I will lay out in more detail in a forthcoming writing). Everything is either true or false. There isn’t some sort of statement that might be both true and false, because this is absurd by the rules of logic. That is to say that if we are going to be making a claim about something, then the claim is either true or false; that any belief, any conceived reality, any value-system, is either correct or incorrect. However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t a context (a scenario, a situation, or a different paradigm) where what is true in this specific instance, is false in another instance. When we look at the world in black and white terms things may become odd. We may notice grey areas where by our own rules (our own assumptions) a thing is false, but appears to be true in our interaction with it). For example, adverbs such as bright, bald, beautiful, and benevolent may be used in a way that appears incorrect, but only in light of something else that appears to hold those characteristics much more aptly.
Look at these three pictures
If I were to ask the question of each picture separately “is that thing bald?” one might stop to consider the question in different contexts. Of course if one is considering the thing in context to it’s own species or type (tires, rats, human heads) the answer to all three will be “yes.” However, in context to the abstract concept of ‘baldness,’ I may receive three different answers. Context is everything and when we put things in context we can answer so much more about the world. Not only do the silly, pop cultural, ideas of philosophy appear to fade (“can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?”), but our own conceptions about knowledge, ethics, existentialism, axiology, aesthetics, etc. become more clear, which is part of the goal of philosophy.
I hope this gives the reader something to chew on for some time, and my general hope is that philosophy can become more of a contextual field.