Metaphysics dissolved. Because who needs it?

Philosophy as a Way of Life
8 min readFeb 24, 2022
[image: David Hume portrait by David Martin,]

Take your time to read and digest the following quote. It is one of the most important bits of critical philosophy you’ll ever read:

“All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, relations of ideas, and matters of fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic … [which are] discoverable by the mere operation of thought. … Matters of fact, which are the second object of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. … [Therefore] if we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section IV part I)

I myself have had a complicated relationship with the above passage. The first time I read it, early on in my studies of philosophy I was struck as if by lightening: YES!, I thought, that’s exactly right! Away with metaphysics!

Then years later I said to myself, wait a minute, it’s a good thing nobody has applied what is known as Hume’s Fork to his own Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, because it surely doesn’t contain any relations of ideas (i.e., math, formal logic) or matters of fact (i.e., science). And yet it’s one of the most important books of early modern philosophy!

Now I’m reconsidering yet again. Hume’s Fork, I think, is not meant to be applicable to everything. It certainly doesn’t apply to literary criticism, for instance. And it doesn’t apply to philosophy either, when it is in the form of critical evaluation of this or that notion — which I increasingly think is the only form that modern philosophy should take. (The big exception is philosophy as a way of living, the second major form of philosophy.)

I’ve also experienced a similar intellectual rollercoaster concerning a related concept, articulated at the beginning of the 20th century by the logical positivists: their famous (or infamous) verification principle.

Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at