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  • In Defense of the Metaphysics of Goodness
  • Robert Cummings Neville

who would have thought that all four of the excellent commentators on Metaphysics of Goodness would have liked and approved its systematic character? Just when I thought I was the last systematic philosopher! The readers of The Pluralist might prepare for discussions of my system now. Nathaniel Barrett would like me to use Whitehead’s notion of intensity rather than Leibniz’s notion of density of being. Lisa Landoe Hedrick would like me to hew closer to Whitehead’s notion of the location of possibilities than I do. Robert Smid would like me to give evil a permanent place in my system rather than turn out to be merely negative. Tyler Tritten would like me to admit that the Ultimate might be personal rather than non-personal. These are all challenges to my system as such, not mere points to be debated.

Let me begin by considering Hedrick’s question concerning “cosmology” and “metaphysics,” an admittedly difficult distinction that affects even the title of my book. By “cosmology” I mean the study of the generic traits of our existence, rising from our common experience to the highest level of generality. In fact, this is what Dewey calls “metaphysics” and is what Whitehead calls the most abstract of philosophy that yet might be only what characterizes our cosmic epoch. By “metaphysics,” I mean the study of being as such, and it takes place as the study of the one and the many with reference to determinate things; I believe that metaphysics is the study of the ontological creative act as the source of any and all determinate things, and it has no character of its own except what it creates. If it were not to have created, there would be nothing at all, not even the ontological act. Determinate things are harmonies with form, multiple components formed, a field of related harmonies, and the goodnesses of having these harmonies with these forms in these fields of relatedness. [End Page 47]

Metaphysics applies to any possible cosmology, including our own. To illustrate my metaphysics, I must appeal to some cosmology or other, and I nearly always appeal to a cosmology of temporality and process. So forms are future possibilities, the actualization of forms are present moments, the past is actualized forms, and goods are forms in all these modes, including the elimination of forms in the actual world. This cosmology is also very general, or rather vague. I discuss some of its specifications in the book in terms of art, personhood, and the flourishing of civilizations.

My pragmatic colleagues want to limit cosmology even more, however, to what is experienced. Their reason for this is in the matter of proof: I need to prove my metaphysical and cosmological theses by appealing to experience. And so, even in Part 1 of my book, dealing with the most abstract of principles, I have to show how they appear in experience. My discussions of the sunset and of the debates of admirals about the ensuing battle are all experiential. But what is experiential is also cosmological and need not be limited to human experience. And where the cosmology illustrates something about metaphysics, it need not be limited to the cosmology at hand.

So we can say that a human experience illustrates a more general cosmological relation. And a cosmology can illustrate a more general metaphysical relation. From the metaphysical level, the metaphysics is vague with respect to the cosmologies that might specify it. From the cosmological level, the cosmology is vague with respect to the very limited role of human experience. “Vagueness” is a Peircean term.

Barrett’s paper lays out the context for my system. It is held together by two major theses, its axiology or theory of goodness and its metaphysics of the ontological creative act. Both shall be important in my response to these papers, but Barrett is concerned with axiology. It is a realistic theory, denying that all value comes from appreciation. Within realism, it is naturalistic, being a part of a larger theory of nature, denying that it is somehow a non-natural property. Within naturalism, it is highly transcendental...


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pp. 47-55
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