Pragmatic metaphysics

Obviously, we cannot conceive something inconceivable prior to acquiring the capacity to conceive it.

But so what? Some realities are inconceivable. Some realities are incomprehensible. Why should we care? Is it such a problem that some things elude our understanding?

It would not matter if it were not for this truth: the as-yet-inconceivable attracts our attention and energy, and gives our lives purpose. The problem is not that we should already conceive or comprehend what we do not yet understand, but a living, active relationship with being who is beyond our understanding is a fundamental condition of a meaningful, fulfilling life. Understanding is a valuable by-product of such a participation in transcendent being.

This is where the Pragmatic Maxim is indispensable.

Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

When we reach toward the inconceivable or incomprehensible, we cannot grip the “object” of our awareness (the ungrippable reality beyond our reach) but we can, in fact, work out some of the consequences of this incapacity, as well as some of the consequences of the possibility of acquiring a new capacity to comprehend what has been, so far, incomprehensible.

Strange. I wrote the passage above two days ago. Today, I was looking for an old post and stumbled upon exactly this same thought, which I’d forgotten.

I’ve never thought of pragmatism as something opposed to ontology, or as a methodological alternative to ontology, but this morning I am seeing it that way. I think mine is a pragmatist metaphysics, interested less in what transcends us, than in how a finite being (like each of us) interacts with being understood as transcending its finitude, and how such interactions are experienced. It is metaphysical because it concerns itself with transcendent being, but it chooses to not fruitlessly speculate on what is “behind the veil” but instead the properties of interactions that take place across the veil-line, especially the ones that surprise the anticipations, expectations and norms that comprise mundane existence.

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