Updated: Mar 28, 2021
“Thus we see, on the one hand, the existence of the whole world necessarily dependent upon the first conscious being, however undeveloped it may be; on the other hand, this conscious being just as necessarily entirely dependent upon a long chain of causes and effects which have preceded it, and in which it itself appears as a small link.”
Authur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea
Metaphysics is a broad field in philosophy, though, in this work, we shall limit ourselves to understanding it to mean the nature of our perceived reality. As we are starting from nothing so to speak, it is natural to begin by asking what the nature of the reality in which we exist is. Do not worry I’m not going to lead you into a morass of monads and existential paradoxes such as if we can know anything and what is reality. Instead, we are going to agree as a starting point to some basics, which I hope you will agree are self-evident truths. These are that we know “a priori” or before experience that we exist. This logical starting point can be validated by the famous revelation by René Descarte (and for that matter Aristotle) “Cogito, ergo sum” or I think therefore I am. I ask you to accept this as a self-evident and assumed truth. This truth is essential as if we do not exist, then there is no point debating the meaning of life or how to live, as life itself would not exist.
Second, I ask you to accept that we know “a posteriori” or from experience that the physical world as sensed by our sense organs exists and can be interacted with. Again, I ask you to accept this as an assumed and self-evident truth. While it is certainly true that as Schopenhauer said, the world is not experienced directly but is instead perceived through the understanding as an idea of the world drawn from the sensory organs. It does not matter, as these ideas of reality are shared with a minimum of all others of our kind. This makes them “prima facie” or apparent true representations of reality. While it is conceivable that these mutual perceptions are illusions, we seek the answers to the meaning and purpose of this life and how to live in this world as it is experienced and perceived not any other possible world. Therefore, I ask you to accept the physical universe’s existence as a being a fact, “prima facie” and that we can directly perceive and interact with it.
With these agreed truths, we can begin our journey. Let me say right now though, that not all questions are answerable or knowable therefore to find a beginning point; we have to find the first point we can be sure of. We begin with the first mover paradox or what caused the universe to come into being.
Currently, scientific theory points to the big bang as the beginning of the universe, what lead to the creation of the matter that caused the big bang itself is currently unanswerable. It seems likely that this causative chain of beginning is infinite, and with each step which is uncovered, another will likely appear. If we discover the cause of the existence of the matter which caused the big bang the question of what caused that appears and so on forever. This question may seem like a big thing to skip over, and it is. However, the insoluble problem of the first mover eludes all rational explanation and examination. What we are left with is fundamentally guesses and hopes. In the same category also exist such questions as for what purpose was the universe brought into existence? Why did life appear, and if there was nothing to perceive the universe’s existence, could it be said to exist? Such first causes are functionally beyond knowing. I’ll leave it to you dear reader to proffer whatever hypotheses you think fitting, be they purely physical or involving a deity or pantheon of the divine. As for us and this work, it is enough to say we do not know and move on. Remembering after all that this work seeks to answer the questions of this existence, not of the Supernatural. We aim to answer what our purpose is, and how should we live not to speculate on the unknowable. Falling back onto the two agreed truths that of our existence and the physical world’s existence and attesting that beyond that, we know nothing we can truly begin.
The Universe and reality, as we observe it, is governed by complex causal relationships. Understanding these complex relationships are the domain of the sciences. However, in their full scope, they are truly mind-blowing. Consider the chain of events that had to have happened for you to be reading this book today. At its broadest level, the universe had to come into existence, the world had to form around the sun at the exact place it formed, the various extinctions events had to happen, and our species had to develop. Our ancestors had to survive and pass on their DNA over eons, various wars had to be won and lost, knowledge had to be preserved and languages formed. Political and military struggles had to lead to general literacy, and you had to be taught to read. All so as if by chance you could come across this book which owes its existence to many other chains of causation as seemingly unrelated as the myriad events spanning millennium which led you to come across it.
Considering these chains of causation, we are struck by the potentiality of two divergent natures of reality. That of predestination and that of effective chance/fortune. These two possible modes of reality are both possible due to the unknowability of the first cause and the impossibility of accounting for all causative factors throughout time. It is possible that every decision we make is a fait accompli with the outcome decided beforehand. However, it is also possible that the choices we make are constrained by nothing more than the effectively random interaction of millions of events. How do we decide? This problem is where the rules we established at the beginning of our search come in. To decide which metaphysic, we will believe we must apply the rule that any principle must flow logically from a previous principle or from self-evident truth. At this point, we only know three things. One, we don’t know the first cause, two we exist and three we exist in a physical world which can be interacted with.
These three truths taken together point us towards the assumption that our universe is governed by effective chance/fortune. The reasons for this are that while we can no more rule out predestination than we can rule out the existence of a deity as the first mover. Logically, there would need to be a universal conscious for there to be predestination. As we only know that the universe can be interacted with as it is physical, and we know that we exist. We are bound by the rule of previous principle/truth. We are prohibited from admitting a principle that relies on an unknown. Therefore, we must accept that while predestination may govern the universe, it is more probable based on our agreed truths that the universe is governed by what amounts to Chance and causation.
By this, we mean that each of us has limited freedom. We can control our actions and interact with the world around us. As a consequence of these actions, we create new chains of causation which interact with and affect the world around us. In the same way, as our actions affect others, we are impacted by, and our freedom is constrained by the effects of other people’s choices; the interaction of events outside our control and the effects of past decisions on us. What this means in practice is that while we can influence events, much of life is determined by chance/fortune.
This brings us to the knowledge of three things. One, that we exist, two that the physical world exists and three, that the universe is ruled by the interaction of Chance/Fortune and limited free will. The next step on our journey is to determine our relationship with all other things in existence.