Kritik des unreinen Gedankens

A student once asked Professor Hegel, “Professor Hegel. Why are you so smart?” Hegel responded by claiming that any thought which he thinks; any portrayal of the development of thought; any insight regarding the delicate manner in which concepts slide into their opposites ; these are the result not of an empirical subject denominated “Hegel”; rather, it is the work and labor of Thought itself. Indeed, philologically, Hegel’s choice of vocabulary indicates he takes the work and employment of thinking Thought and its development and nature quite seriously. Unlike Wittgenstein in Über Gewißheit Hegel, as perhaps the greatest of modern philosophers, will not allow even the slightest presupposition to pass unaccounted for in order to eliminate arbitrariness but most importantly to eliminate the ordinary conception of methodological thinking. Standard methodological thinking takes as given a reflective notion of method as “application”, a given domain of objects to which the inquirer applies her or his presupposed method, and an epistemological Zweck  (das Absolut). The presuppositions of standard methodological thinking is anathema to Hegel’s presuppositional account of thought.

Zizek, one of our best readers of Hegel (as much as it pains me to say it), and one of our best pilferers of Hegel, appropriates the aforementioned anecdote (re Hegel’s response to his student’s inquiry) in his remarks concerning the difference between a Stalinist and Communist leader. After a rousing speech delivered to supports and enthusiasts, after receiving thunderous and reassuring applause, the Stalinist leader will stand stoically, soaking in and savoring the excitement and applause for he’s done something magnificient and historic. However, the Communist leader, like our Hegel, claps along with the throngs of devoted enthusiasts in order to indicate and symbolize that he or she has done nothing: It’s not me; it’s the party. Or, perhaps more historically palatable: It’s not me; it’s the Idea. It shouldn’t be ignored that clapping and cheering involve a rhythm and, oftentimes, a melody. Contrary to textbook depictions of Hegel’s method as a tripartite dialectic which presupposes an end (Absolut) and operates in according with this end throughout its development thereto, I believe that Hegel’s method works and labors much more improvisationally, much more akin to Jazz than Kant’s preferred marching music. Furthermore, I believe that Hegel’s improvisational/presuppositionless “method” plays an essential role to Hegel’s work than has been noted hitherto by the secondary literature . Only if we take seriously the idea that Hegel’s philosophical thought entertains and enacts a presuppositionless procedure, assuming nothing like good modern philosophers, can we see the parallel to both Jazz improvisation as well as improvisational comedy. While for most readers of this submission Jazz’s improvisational procedures are relatively well-known and understood it’s less likely that readers are equally as familiar with the ins-n-outs of improvisational comedy.  For example, within the context of presuppositionless thought and NOT in the context (yet) of thought’s development (because I’d have to deal with improvisational comedy’s aversion to negation) a member of an improv troupe is determined as an individual or, more relevant, “funny” only to the extent that she or he moves within the give-and-take of improvisational structure. Often, as is the case with Will Ferrell, people are off-put when they encounter improvisational comedians outside the context of their (the comedians) normal station because the improvisational dynamic isn’t governing the interaction and they don’t appear within the new context as “funny”. My point here is simply the following: An improv troupe functions presuppositionlessly insofar as the comedian must submit her or himself to the development of the structure of the comedic situation. Furthermore, the synthetic interaction between both the general comedic structure (form) and the local comedic structure (the comedians’ sentences or exclaimations) creates a logical space in which the comedian can be funny. Be one can be funny only insofar as she or he is set up to be funny.A properly functioning improvisational troupe functions properly if and only if the persons composing the group properly set up each other qua group and qua person.

There’s a schizophrenic element at work here. Per Hegel, Hegel’s point in the SL is that the activity of philosophy is actively passive. It’s certainly not the case that Hegel subtracts the emprical or logical subject from the SL. Analogously, it’s not the case that an improvisational setting subtracts the individual.  On the contrary, an empirical logical subject has penned the book and many empirical logical persons have found solace, exasperation, and insight in reading the arguments presented therein. To employ a Heideggerian etymological ploy, Hegel’s philosophy is speculative in the etymological sense that speculative philosophy “watches closely” (from the Latin speculari). One is simultaneously a part and a non-part. A participant and an aparticipant.  Once confronted with the thought of pure being as unmediated indeterminacy, there is nothing else to do than simply watch closely what happens when one thinks through this first thought. There’s a religious dimension to Hegel’s conception of the philosopher: the philosopher must actively prepare herself to let go of one’s individual rub in order to let thought develop, as Socrates said thereof, whereever it may lead us. Or, in more christian imagery, to abide or dwell with thought. As I’ve often argued concerning Bill Evans Trio (here Jazz artists reveal themselves as good Hegelians, forming Trios) when he deconstructed the hierarchical presuppositional structure of Jazz –that is, an authority brings a melodic idea to the set from a place external to the set– and opted for a more democratic set-structure, one in which chaos reigned in the form of each artist autonomously developing his own musical thoughts until a melody (or method) emerged from WITHIN the musical notes and their relations themselves. The melody (method) wasn’t imported from an external place; rather, much more in sync with Hegel’s presuppositionless labor, it developed internally according to the whims of music and the music itself. Pure thinking constitutes its own method in the course of thinking itself through. I argue that this internal self-positing of thinking Hegel calls “the absolute method of knowing” precisely because it is nothing but the “immanent soul of the content itself”. Hegel claims further, “It is this self-constructing path alone which enables philosophy to be an objective, demonstrated science”. Only later, ex post, can we gaze behind us and find some kind of necessity in thought’s development; we can peer into developED thought and determine the way thought has paved for itself. Hegel, in the Phenomenology, stresses exactly this point that the absolute is to be grasped not, as his detractors commonly argueas a presupposition of thought but, rather, as the result of thinking. Indeed, the absoulte as the result of thinking is precisely what Hegel means by Absolute Idea: thinking of thinking which thinks itself as such. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then,why the entire chapter on the Absolute Idea consists solely of the articulation of the method of dialectic: Thinking comes to itself, that is, that it grasps itself as self-determining thinking, is nothing  else than the reconstruction of the path of which can be said retrospectively, that thinking has taken it. The Will-Have-Been is essential here. Determinate negation Will-Have-Been central to dialectics am Ende not, as in standard method, at the beginning of the investigation. The dialectical slippage exists but it’s philosophical/conceptually indeterminate insofar as the dialectical negation of X into Y is not yet posited as a principle of thought. The philosopher lacks the conceptual resources with which to determine thought’s movement as A, for example determinate negation. The philosopher functions, in some way, as Thought’s analyst insofar as it allows Thought to articulate its own problems and thereby (the philosopher) becomes a receptor  for those problems rather than framing those problems, or to some degree creating those problems via framing, in terms of one’s  terms of reference. The iversion of the personal problems into the impersonal is necessary here. One needs to pursue the experience of personal alienation to a point where one realizes that one’s self is a vehicle to a necessarily impersonal conceptual domain: pushing the personal appropriation of philosophical problems to the point where the problems themselves appropriate one’s person. To engage in philosophy conceived thus is no easy task. Hegel, humourously, provides his readers with some practical advice: go read some abstract logic texts; practice in your real life abstract thinking. I imagine Hegel had his students in mind when composing these passges given that he composed SL while a gymnasium teacher in Nürnberg. (Attached, see the photo I snapped of the Hegel-Schule. Interestingly, the Schule is located on Neue Hegelstrasse, and now more than ever we need to think Hegel anew. Also of note, Tucherstrasse is just around the corner, named after the local Weissbier brewery, Tucher. Hegel’s wife’s nachname was Tucher. Not sure whether there’s any relation.)

Street leading to Gymnasium

Sadly, once one has managed to abide in the concept, giving up oneself to the concept, losing one’s life in order to gain it: This is only the beginning. A mere first step. One has been born again in a sense in thought to Thought and that wobbly, unbalanced first step awakens an active-passivity. To begin to move toward philosophy one must sharpen one’s understanding of her or his own inabilities at least so that such inability receives articulation in conceptual form.

Hegel’s thought is strange indeed.Komisch: both comedic and strange. The English equivalent being “Funny”. Terry Pinkard’s biography is wonderful for many things but, for my purposes here, his details concerning Hegel’s interest and enjoyment of dance is relevant. One must feel the rhythm of thought in order to walz appropriately to its internal movement. But, Hegel’s thought seems counter-intuitive. Therefore to dance with thought in the pale moonlight one must become attunedto discordant, dissonant, even alien harmonies while refusing to walk away exasperated, holding one’s hands over her or his ears.

Sketches on a Train: Thinking Thinking in The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius’ film The Artist begins with a self-reflexive gesture that calls attention to both its genre as well as its status as a film. That is, its status as a film is pushed upon the viewer by placing the actors behind the screen, and placing the camera behind the audience in order to highlight the fact of one’s viewing of the film. Its genre moves to the foreground as our protagonist appears in a role in which he’s tortured brutally as a means of information extraction. Cleverly, he will “not speak”. In fact, in the face of brutal physical torture, foreshadowing the later developments, he refuses to speak. In addition, later in the film, he refuses in the face of marital threats to speak with his wife about their lackluster relationship. The film constantly calls attention to the fact of construction. Perry realizes her own construction as a pawn of new film medium after recalling the advice and mark granted her by George with he claims, “Find something no one else has”. George also realizes his own construction after encountering his belongings outside their normal environment, being pushed from his habitual engagement with the world in which he’d achieved remarkable financial and social success. The end of the film portrays both Perry and George “dancing in their chains” and the camera pans to reveal yet another meta-shot of the filming of the dancing.

Two important sequences in the film interest me. First, a dream sequence in which George is thrown into a world in which everything “speak” but him. This is an interesting dream-sequence in terms of Descartes skeptical dream experiment. That is, on what grounds can we prove that everything we experience as real and structured according to the memory-narrative according to which we live our lives is not a well-constructed dream. Furthermore, the dream-weaver has constructed a mechanism that triggers an awareness of the dream-weaver. Our meta-relation to the dream-world as a dream-world is part of the dream. That is, we also can’t prove that the reflexive realization of the dream is not itself programmed into the dream itself.  Dream-arguments generally function as a skeptical gesture to call attention to the lack of grounds for our beliefs in an external world. The question then is the following: How does the dream sequence in the Artist initiate a skeptical moment in which the dream’s argument foregrounds the fallibility of George’s real-world beliefs? What does George believe? He believes, prima facie, that talkies are temporary fashions, a mere fad, soon to pass. He represents pure filmmaking at its best, as he says, “I’m an artist”. Here, there’s an interesting moment of ontological skepticism. OS, understood as the claim that our first-order discourse necessarily fails to refer propositionally to its possibility-condition, the possession of an ontology. Ontology, here, refers to the position of a network of presuppositions that ground and make possible truth-apt claims about the external world. Here, Carnap’s distinction between external and internal questions is important. For, there’s an multiplicity of worlds, a multiverse, if it’s the case that one can adopt more than one ontology, again understood as a possession of fundamental, grounding, or world-forming presuppositions, jointly necessary and sufficient for one to make truth-apt assertions about the internal questions that may arise within a first-order discourse. To destroy one’s axiomatic set of presuppositions is to destroy one’s world. Hence, upon such destruction, it is necessary to engage in world-construction…”ways of world-making”. Why is George an artist? Or, why does he believe himself to be an artist? It may help to call attention to Wittgenstein’s claim regarding philosophy that one can only perform philosophy poetically. That is, philosophy as performance art. Philosophy as a performance art calls attention to our world-constructions, or theories of totality, as contingent. How does The Artist call attention to itself as a contingent construction, or always already capable of being otherwise? I’ve already hinted at the performative nature of ontological skepticism when I claimed that one cannot propositionally refer to or know the World. Instead, one must perform the World. We can know our world only through non-knowledge. Second-order knowledge that one can’t successfully refer to or know one’s world without ipso facto generating a new world and thus leading to an infinite grounding regress leads to the knowledge that in this very attempt to refer to and know the World we are performing the essence of human nature. This dance between transcendence and immanence defines the fundamental nature of human beings. Hence, Wittgenstein’s quietism isn’t a retirement from philosophy; on the contrary, his move toward quietism, instead, affirms philosophy’s negative moment of non-knowledge. The intrusion of language designates the moment of naming the absolute, naming the World. What precisely does he say? Let’s address that in the next section.
Second is the important moment late in the film when George decides to speak. Does the move toward language for George initiate an optimism in which he takes on the task of making explicit our merely implicit world-forming axiomatic presuppositions? That is, does he overcome his performative ontology and move into a Spielraum in which, while engaged in a drunken dance, he again attempt so name the absolute? (It’s also interesting to note that, in Germany, films of a certain genre are called Spielfilm.) One can compare George’s optimism to Hegel in the Phänomenologie des Geistes when he writes, “It is not difficult to see that ours is a time of birth and transition to a new era. Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and stands prepared to submerge it in the past and in the labor of its own transformation”. The claim that the upon the solipsist’s death we therefore lose the world is true. Doubtless, the individual things comprising the world will continue to evolve and persist without concept-mongering creatures like ourselves. However, the World will not. With the extinction of the human, comes the extinction of the World and fate along with it. Contingency reigns in a non-human world.

The common-sense interpretation of George’s stubbornness in relation to talkies is to invoke some kind of conservatism and resentment regarding the intrusion and shock of the new. However, is it possible to read this differently? Can we look on askew to his behavior? We do have a stock-market crash in which the comforts of capitalism have been erased.

An essential interest of Hegel’s is the emergence of freedom within the modern world. Something about the modern world welcomed or, even, initiated the emergence of autonomous freedom into the world. However, Hegel claims that one can’t have a theory of freedom without a proper metaphysics. It is therefore crucial to grasp the precise nature of Hegelian metaphysics in order that one doesn’t make the interpretive mistake, too often the case, of rendering Hegelian metaphysics as a return to a pre-critical extravagance of metaphysical bacchanalian orgy. Metaphysics, according to Hegel, consists in a “clarification of our consciousness and our understanding of ourselves and of our world” (Houlgate 27). Ontology, then, as Anton Friedrich Koch says in the Preface to his magisterial Versuch über Wahrheit und Zeit ontology is “Tiefphilosophie”, an investigation into the axiomatic presuppositions comprising our theories of the world. Our microscopic truth-apt claims gesture in the space enlightened by the possession of a world. Ontology functions then as an ontology of worlds. The engagement with ontology, or the second-order reflection on our world as a world is the essence of human freedom. The reflexive gesture that examines our first-order gestures and makes explicit the contradictory nature of human behavior: the dance of contingency and fate. That is, our freedom to make explicit the contingent structure of our world must overcome the equally all-too-human drive to impose fate upon the world, that is, to behave as though fate governs the world.
Thus, there’s a clear connection between metaphysics, ontology and freedom. (Here, it would be important to determine the precise nature of Spinoza’s interest in both freedom and metaphysics and to what extent he sees a positive connection between them.) Houlgate makes the following claim, “What is needed therefore is not an outright rejection of metaphysics in the name of “practice”, but the transformation of metaphysics from an enquiry into elusive “entities”, such as an independent soul, into a modern discipline concerned to articulate the essential nature of free, self-determining spirit”…”a reformed metaphysics of freedom”…in order to provide the contemporary world with a clear self-understanding it requires if it’s to believe itself capable of engaging in free actions. Abstract thought, then, is the proper vehicle of human freedom.  The power of abstract thought is rendered thus in Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic,

“In earlier times people saw no harm in thinking and happily used their own heads. But, because they pushed on with thinking in this way, it turned out that the highest relationships in life were compromised by it. Thinking deprived what was positive of its power. Political constitutions fell victim to thought; religion was attacked by thought; firm religious notions that counted as totally genuine revelations were undermined, and in many minds the old faith was overthrown. In this way thinking asserted its validity in the actual world and exerted the most tremendous influence.”

It’s difficult to articulate the precise degree to which Hegel’s ideas are influence by Kant’s. However, Hegel’s ideas are also profoundly influence by Descartes insofar as Hegel pilfers the idea that, as Houlgate writes, “philosophy may take nothing for granted in its search for truth and that thought is the principle of doubt or criticism that frees us from the authority of habitual but unwarranted belief”. Hence, here we see the important connection, perhaps more implicit that explicit in the work of Descartes, between abstract thought and freedom. This merely implicit connection in rendered more explicit in the practical philosophy of Kant. Houlgate claims correctly, “What Hegel learns from Descartes and Kant is that human thought frees us from arbitrary authority by subjecting everything to the scrutiny of self-determining reason”.

Given this account of metaphysics and ontology, when can we say that thought is free? That is, when is the concept-mongering biped free? One must resist the intuitive pull of negative freedom as its conceived and articulated within utilitarian political thought and “negative freedom” perhaps best expounded by Isaiah Berlin. If freedom does consist in the mere abstraction from one’s inhabitance within a theoretico-socio-political world, in what then does it consist? Is freedom merely the making explicit of and realization of those axiomatic presuppositions comprising our possession of a world? The becoming-conscious of the Lichtung that is the possibility condition for our truth-apt claims? How does such a concept of freedom apply to socio-political freedom? Is theoretical freedom compatible or useful to practical thought? Today’s freedom has little use for thought. On the contrary, it consists merely in the intuitive knee-jerk reaction against intrusion into one’s illusory private space. To Americans, incorrectly regarded as bastions of human freedom in the civilized world, any and all intrusions into a subjectively defined sphere of privatization is regarded as fascism and socialism. However, little thought comprises these conservative gestures. To itch one’s nose upon the immediate realization of intrusion doesn’t constitute a wise criterion of thought. Here, then, is the real Ticklish Subject. The spontaneous but equally as thoughtless swatting of intrusions into privatized space. Here, we see Socrates’ actions as worth of radicality; that is, regarded as a gadfly, he tickled those human-islands of thoughtlessness until they laughed themselves to death. Our Republic has ostracized thought; thought functions today as Plato’s Poets, and the Poets have been excommunicated.
In some sense, then, this transcendental ontology functions analogously to Kant’s metaphysical deduction insofar as one locates traces of our axiomatic presuppositions within the analysis of our truth-apt judgments. Furthermore, it resembles Kant’s transcendental deduction insofar as the possession of a World, or the possession of an axiomatic network of axiomatic presuppositions, is the condition for the possibility of a synthetic world. Hegel’s criticism of Kant occurs precisely here. While Hegel praises Kant’s act of placing the categories within their proper coordinates, that is within thought, he equally criticizes Kant’s refusal to take modernity to its end and allow thought itself to determine its categories. Instead, Kant merely deduces the categories of thought from Aristotle’s subject-predicate judgments. Therefore, the nature of thought itself is veiled by the imposition of an alien criterion, namely forms of judgments. Thought is rendered explicit according to the conditions of language and the forms of judgment.

Love of a Child

I recall my parents angrily informing me, as a child, that I couldn’t possibly love. “What do you know of love”, they would ask. “You’re just a child.”
What does a child know about love? Why does an adult know about love? Furthermore, what does an adult know about love? I often feel that only a child can love. An adult seems both psychologically and physiologically incapable of love. Before the child learns the ease of lies; before she’s thrown into a social sphere wherein the unconscious dominates; before she glimpses the utter unreliability of even her closest companions…just before this introduction, the child has the opportunity to love. It emerges from such a presumably innocent source. We’ve no reason, it would seem, to love that little boy over there…

Bestimmung, Hegel and Horizont

In order to make determinations about the world, determinations which can be either true or false, one must make certain presuppositions. Some kind of enabling feature is required, a horizon, in virtue of which the space of reasons appears as that about which one can make determinations.

To reveal a particular discourse’s presuppositions, let’s say one’s own discourse, in order to determine whether or not these presuppositions are true or false generates thereby a new discourse grounded on its own presuppositions. The attempt to transcend the finitude of one’s discourse leads, paradoxically, to an infinite regress. The infinite regress proves one’s finitude. This insight seeks to articulate the constitutive instability upon which our stable claims about the world rest. Once we seek to stabilize unstable presuppositions we generate new instabilities which thus occasion another round of stabilization and so on ad infinitum.

To organize or determine a situation as such and so requires the introduction of limitation into a situation qua situation. That is, a condition for the possibility of a situation is limitation insofar as in order for a situation to count as a situation it must be finite. Human subjectivity must impose a limitation upon an otherwise presumably infinitude of multiplicities if it is to have anything at all like what we call experience. However, human subjects can’t be held responsible for infinite (the Absolute, Unconditioned, etc) , organizational limitations given that subjects find themselves always already thrown into a “mythology” in virtue of which the objects of determination can, in fact, be objects of determination.

Excerpt from a Review of Ascombe’s Intention

I’ve been nosing through Anscombe’s work on intentionality; more specifically, I’m reading her work  as it relates to some of my developing ideas regarding a reconception of Hegel’s much-misunderstood concepts “absolute”, “the idea” and his important distinction between general and formal logic. Anscombe’s work, Intention, hints at something important which I’m seeking to develop for an admission paper and, while reading a short review of the text, found this hilarious excerpt which I’d like to share.

I was a student of Anscombe’s when she was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, along with her spouse Peter Geach, circa 1980. I took a class on Wittgenstein from Anscombe and a class on Frege from Geach. Anscombe was a wonderfully friendly raconteur with dry wit and lofty memories of Wittgenstein, who apparently “blessed” her. For the class we used her book Intention, a great read and even better when read aloud by her. Geach’s class was a frightening exercise in intimidation, as few of us were brave enough to even be in the room with him, much less have him lecture to us on Frege. I remember being the sole person in the class, and saying nothing for 12 weeks. Meanwhile Geach lectured at the board, completely ignoring me. From what I understand when they headed back to England they boarded the wrong plane and wound up in Mexico City. I did spend some time discussing McTaggart with Geach, and almost went abroad to write my dissertation with him on said, but was warned that he probably wouldn’t remember me when I showed up.

Wir denken noch weiter

“The world is woven all of dream and error

And but one sureness in our truth may lie —

That when we hold to aught our thinking’s mirror

We know it not by knowing it thereby…

We know the world is false, not what is true.

Yet we Think on.”

Pessoa 35 Sonnets

Blog Comment Sharing

Here’s a very nice comment in response to Steve French. I wanted to share it, well, because I agree with almost everything Wallace says.

“I’m going to test our hosts’ patience by (pretty much) reposting the last thing I wrote on the earlier discussion (by the time I got around to posting it, that discussion had got rather buried under the march of NewAPPS discussion!)

There’s no logical reason why there shouldn’t be some question in metaphysics that can’t be answered satisfactorily without high-level professional training in both physics and philosophy. If so, it doesn’t become any less the case because the economic framework of 21st-century academia makes it difficult or impossible for anyone to obtain that level of training. The universe is not obliged to conform its complexities to our funding models.

Having said that (and here I’m really being speculative) I actually think a lot of the physics-based problems I run into in conversations with metaphysicians aren’t so much because people are trying to do physics-neutral metaphysics; they’re because people are trying to do metaphysics which relies on a particular conception of physics that isn’t right. That conception is something roughly like this (here I’m grateful to Eleanor Knox for this way of putting things):

The world is a swarm of particles, following trajectories in a spacetime that is locally Minkowskian but on larger scales is curved. The particles are pointlike objects, and come in relatively few varieties: red quarks, anti-neutrinos, and Higgs bosons, to name a few. They interact by colliding with one another, or by forces acting between them, or maybe by influencing and being influenced by some fields (which are either objects whose parts occupy spacetime regions, or are fancy ways of talking about certain properties of spacetime points). Macroscopic objects are swarms of these particles.

That picture of the world isn’t far off what you might get from a popular book on particle physics (though it’s much more sophisticated vis-a-vis spacetime). And according to mainstream contemporary physics, it is systematically and utterly wrong. Furthermore, it was never really thought to be right: it’s not even really a good account of what people thought in the 19th century.

So my feeling (simplifying grossly; hey, it’s a comment in a blog post) is that there are two kinds of metaphysics that can reasonably be done. There are projects which really do engage with the details of the physics, and those are continuous with philosophy of physics. And there are projects which are fairly neutral on the details of the physics: having a general idea of the way physics tends to work is a very good idea, but you don’t need quantum field theory. (Personal identity is my paradigm example of a problem like this; maybe natural laws, too.) The projects that run into trouble are the ones that actually are dependent on details of the physics, and rely on a badly wrong conception of physics.

Now to be fair, identifying when a project is so reliant is tough. One rough-and-ready criterion: if your approach is dependent on the correct interpretation of quantum theory, I doubt you can pursue it without getting into the details of the physics. Another: if you actually need to say things about subatomic particles, you probably can’t avoid learning particle physics. Jason gives the example of using quark colour in a paper: if you genuinely need to talk about quarks, I don’t think you can avoid learning about what quarks actually are; if you can get away with talking about tables, do that instead. Trouble only ensues if you end up talking about a popular-science conception of quarks. A third (perhaps) is the one I suggested above: ask if your theory still works if all matter is made up of earth, air, fire and water, mixed to varying degrees. If it doesn’t, but it does on the picture of the world I give above, then worry.

It’s worth observing that the special sciences don’t have any problem being largely neutral about fundamental physics. I don’t see much reason why we can’t have comparably physics-neutral programmes in metaphysics. But if the project you want to pursue can’t be done in that emergent, physics-neutral way, because it’s concerned with the true and ultimate structure of reality, then I don’t see any way to pursue it sensibly without engaging with modern physics in full.”