Absolute Presupposition

In his lectures Was ist Philosophie?


Prof Hoenen has discussed R. G. Collingwood and his work Essay on Methaphysics. I like here a lot the term Absolute Presupposition. From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:


“From the mid-thirties onwards Collingwood’s work increasingly engaged in a dialogue with the newly emerging school of analytic philosophy. In An Essay on Metaphysics (1940) he attacked the neo-empiricist assumptions prevalent in early analytic philosophy and advocated a logical/epistemological transformation of metaphysics from a study of being or ontology to a study of the absolute presuppositions or heuristic principles which govern different forms of enquiry.”

“Metaphysics, traditionally understood as an ontological enquiry, possesses no subject matter of its own since it undertakes to carry out a study of what exists without asking any specific questions and making any presuppositions. If therefore metaphysics is to be possible at all, it must be subjected to an epistemological reform; it must take the form not of ontology or a study of pure being, but of a study of the presuppositions that underlie different forms of enquiry.”

“In An Essay on Metaphysics Collingwood sought to show that, contrary to the prevailing neo-empiricism of the new philosophical climate, there are indeed meaningful propositions which are neither empirically verifiable nor merely analytic. To this end he distinguished between relative and absolute presuppositions. Absolute presuppositions are presuppositions which govern a form of enquiry and make it possible in the first place. Relative presuppositions are presuppositions that are internal to a particular form of enquiry. To illustrate: the statement that the cause of malaria is the bite of a mosquito would be a relative presupposition, but the statement that we can prevent or produce certain effects by preventing or producing their causes is an absolute presupposition of medical science. Relative presuppositions are empirically verifiable since they may be found to be either true or false. Absolute presuppositions are not empirically verifiable because they are neither true nor false, yet must necessarily be presupposed in order to engage in a particular form of enquiry. Absolute presuppositions are neither analytically true, nor are they empirically true or false, and yet they are meaningful.”

It is interesting to note that people do not like when one touches their absolute presuppositions. Quotes from An Essay on Metaphysics

p. 31 “If you are importunate enough to ask ‘But how do you know that everything that happens has a cause?’ he will probably blow up right in your face, because you have put your finger on one of his absolute presuppositions, and people are apt to be ticklish in their absolute presuppositions.”

p. 44 “This is what in the preceding chapter I called being ‘ticklish in one’s absolute presuppositions’; and the reader will see that this ticklishness is a sign of intellectual health combined with a low degree of analytical skill. A man who is ticklish in that way is a man who knows, ‘instinctively’ as they say, that absolute presuppositions do not need justification. In my own experience I have found that when natural scientists express hatred of ‘metaphysics’ they are usually expressing this dislike of having their absolute presuppositions touched.”

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