The Logic Forum Discussion Area

This Forum is Locked
Metaphysics vs Epistemology - which has priority?

It seems to me that there is no firm dividing line between the two. The Scholastics say that metaphysics is prior to epistemology, since something has to be there in order for us to know it, i.e., that in a sense what is "being" causes us to know. But they also hold that causes are simultaneous with their effects, but if that is the case, then how do they know which is prior?

Similarly, saying that there is a "mind independent reality" seems like an oxymoron, because the known cannot BE known without a mind, so in that sense reality is not independent of the mind.

Re: Metaphysics vs Epistemology - which has priority?

Hi David. These are of course good and deep questions.
If we look at human history, or at least the history of western (i.e. Greek) philosophy, what do we find?
Thales, about 600 BCE, declares the common ground or basic building block of the world to be water. Why water (a liquid)? Because it can change both into air (steam) and into ice (a solid, a form of earth). Also water is found in all living things.
A generation later came Anaximander, who rejected this physical explanation of things, and opted for a more abstract, more metaphysical one, referring to the arche, something infinite beyond space and time. And so on - read all about it.
So, in practice, the physical outlook came first, then the metaphysical, then much later the epistemological. Conscious logic appeared in this later phase. But philosophy is not primarily about historical development, but about the logical issue of order which you raise. True enough, one cannot claim the physical let alone the metaphysical to be reality without some reflection on epistemology and logic. And conversely, one cannot do the latter without some data coming from the former.
This is, I believe, where the phenomenological approach provides the crucially important solution. In this approach, we are rigorously empirical in that we take phenomenal and logical insights as our givens, and then build up our conception of both matter and mind as an inductive construct or theory from there, to explain these givens to ourselves in a way we sincerely find credible. In this way, we do not prejudice matter or mind as coming first, but build them both up together out of the phenomenological level of consideration, and look for the best possible theory over time as our experience and insight grows. This is the most scientific approach and avoids fundamental controversy, though there may be some disagreements as to what constitutes the best final result. Thus, the solution is inductive rather than deductive or dogmatic.

Something about you (optional) logician

Re: Metaphysics vs Epistemology - which has priority?

Hi Avi,

Thanks. Phenomenology is not something I'm familiar with, but it seems like a sensible way to proceed. I shall have to look at your book on the subject.