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An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five)

March 15, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: March 15, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,795

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Richard Sheen is a young independent artist, philosopher, photographer and theologian based in New Zealand. He has studied at Tsinghua University of China and The University of Auckland in New Zealand, and holds degrees in Philosophy and Theological Studies. Originally raised atheist but later came to Christianity, Richard is dedicated to the efforts of human rights and equality, nature conservation, mental health, and to bridge the gap of understanding between the secular and the religious. Richard’s research efforts primarily focus on the epistemic and doxastic frameworks of theism and atheism, the foundations of rational theism and reasonable faith in God, the moral and practical implications of these frameworks of understanding, and the rebuttal of biased and irrational understandings and worship of God. He seeks to reconcile the apparent conflict between science and religion, and to find solutions to problems facing our environmental, societal and existential circumstances as human beings with love and integrity. Richard is also a proponent for healthy, sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyles, and was a frequent participant in competitive sports, fitness training, and strategy gaming. Richard holds publications and awards from Mensa New Zealand and The University of Auckland, and has pending publications for the United Sigma Intelligence Association and CATHOLIQ Society. He discusses: metaphysics; academic research into metaphysics; the nature of fundamental questions within the remit of metaphysics; being and free will; the nature of morality in relation to the freedom of the will and the nature of the world, of being; and the most coherent sense of the human experience and human life.

Keywords: epistemology, faith, God, metaphysics, philosophy, reason, religion, Richard Sheen, science, theism.

An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You studied metaphysics. What is metaphysics? What is within its purview and not within its purview, in theoretical terms and then in practical terms?

Richard Sheen: The term “metaphysics” is derived from Greek, which literally translates to “after” or “behind” physics. The term “meta” is used as a prefix to designate something as being more fundamental, foundational, or all-encompassing than which it refers to. In this case, “metaphysics” refers to the laws, patterns, and premises on which physics(nature) is made possible (and established upon).

As its name suggests, metaphysics pertains to the non-physical, which excludes any and all empirical information. This includes the understanding of the nature of being, of freedom and the human existence, of time and space, of modality of being, and of the nature of causality and logical relations. In this sense, many of what modern theoretical physics deal with are also metaphysical in nature, such as modern cosmological theories.

In short, metaphysics deals with logical, cognitive, and existential frameworks in which we assess and understand reality from the most “basic” or “foundational” perspective. It does not directly deal with experience or any form of empirical data (but does not exclude them as meaningless, precisely the opposite, good metaphysical frameworks ought to make sense of empirical reality to its best extent), but discusses the premises of experience and evidence, our ability to perceive or trust them, and the underlying a priori frameworks that makes them possible (“a priori” foundations, see Kant).

2. Jacobsen: What was the academic research in metaphysics for you – touched on briefly in some of the previous responses?

Sheen: My area of research primarily focused on epistemology, ethics (meta-ethics and free will problems), and the ontology of God/theological problems. Epistemology sets the foundations and limits of possible knowledge (logical, empirical, or even “spiritual knowledge”, if it makes sense), free will explicates the possibilities of our state of existence, meta-ethics defines possible frameworks of ethics based on free will (at least value-based, normative ethics), and the ontology of God as the final piece of the puzzle that unifies the entire system of truth, meaning, and purpose that a comprehensive logical, philosophical, scientific and axiological framework offers us.

3. Jacobsen: How does metaphysics deal with the nature of the world, of being? Does this relate to the soul, the mind, consciousness, qualia, and freedom of the will?

Sheen: There are as many metaphysical theories regarding the nature of our world as there are minds in the world, as every single one of us will eventually formulate some sort of metaphysical foundations for our experience of reality in one way or another. This is generally reflected in our world view, our positions on the nature of truth, value, meaning, and affects our interactions with others and reality in general in every conceivable way.

The simplest example would be absolutism versus relativism, which can be applied to many areas of epistemology, such as one’s theory of truth, and one’s frameworks of morality. Relativists would claim that truth and/or morality are relative to particular contexts, individuals, cultures, locations or time frames, while absolutists would claim that there exists objectively true statements and objectively correct moral values (although they do not necessarily assert that all objectively true statements and objectively correct moral values are knowable). Due to cultural shifts and popular ideologies, relativism is often embraced by many members of the newer generations today. However, absolute relativism cannot be stated without refuting itself, as the statement “there is no absolute truth” itself becomes absolute truth if the statement were true. In this sense, all forms of metaphysical world views are essentially absolutist in nature, the only difference lies in the scope and degree in which absolutism applies to each framework.

One’s metaphysical world view necessarily affects one’s position on the soul, mind, consciousness, qualia, and free will. Metaphysical naturalism, for example, forbids the possibility of anything existing beyond the scope of natural laws, as such it is a monistic and absolutist position. A metaphysical naturalist would claim that there necessarily exists no supernatural souls and/or qualia (though maybe if the soul existed, it must be natural or physical), that the mind and consciousness are the products of physical processes of the brain (hence they are “not real”, but merely “illusions” which we refer to as a way to make sense of life, like how “weather” isn’t “real” but is rather a cluster of physical phenomena that we refer to), although it may not always rule out the possibility of free will. Dualism on the other hand accepts the possibility of supernatural elements within our reality, that natural laws do not exhaustively define the nature of existence. A dualist would accept the possibility of souls beyond the physical world, supernatural miracles, qualia etc., and are usually more likely to accept the possibility of free will.

There are some popular, albeit misinformed ideologies that are vigorously against the legitimacy of metaphysics as a valid method of inquiry, all of which follow the tradition of logical positivism and other, less sophisticated forms of it, such as scientism or lay materialism in general. One need not further look into the validity of such claims if one possesses even the slightest understanding of metaphysics, as any claims that ultimately exclude anything that isn’t physical as real or meaningful, or at least claims that every aspect of reality necessarily supervenes on the physical, is a metaphysical claim (is the meaning and information in this statement itself physical…?). Unless one is ready to adopt the logical absurdity of rejecting metaphysics with metaphysics, consequently leading to the rejection of one’s own argument, one ought not further reside within the contemplation of such contradictory reasoning.

4. Jacobsen: In the most precise and generalized sense, what is being? How does freedom of the will play a role in the world? 

Sheen: The first question is very broad, and may usually refer to two different subjects: either “being” as a “thing that exists”, or “the state of being in existence”. There is a third, albeit less common usage raised by Heidegger which refers to “being” as a sort of meta-cognitive framework or “intuition” in which our mind refers to in order to comprehend “being” in the two meanings mentioned formerly. Heidegger’s “being” can be logically understood as “nothingness”, which is the premise in which any idea or awareness of the state of “being in existence” is conceived, sometimes in a confused, subconscious sense. In this sense I would say that the most general and foundational understanding of “being” is probably Heidegger’s interpretation, as it seeks to provide the background in which other meanings of “being” are successfully interpreted.

The role of free will and how it interacts with the world is a different question, but a relatively linear one. To explain it in the simplest sense, we generally understand natural laws as necessary and consistent in order to make sense of our reality from our observation and experimentation in a largely consistent way. We observe natural causes and effects, and conclude, at least on the predictive level of empirical science, that the same sufficient cause necessarily leads to the same effect according to natural laws, while a chain of such natural causal reactions consistently results in a necessary chain of causal effects that are predictable through such natural laws. This is referred to as causal necessity, and grounds the entire foundations of our empirical understanding, e.g. gravity necessarily causes objects to fall if they are dropped. Free will, or at least the possibility of free will, on the other hand, is understood as a “first cause” – that is, it is not fully determined by an external causal effect, and hence does not always follow the rules of causal necessity that we observe in nature. As such, free will, when exercised to its fullest potential, is its own cause – it is capable of “transcending” the deterministic cage that causal necessity locks everything else within nature, and is able to rise above its chains to perform its very own miracle – the miracle of choice and agency.

5. Jacobsen: How does metaphysics deal with the nature of morality in relation to the freedom of the will and the nature of the world, of being?

Sheen: The primary focus of the metaphysics of free will and the nature of morality is the relation between agency, rights, and responsibility. If one’s metaphysics does indeed allow free will to be possible/real, then one must be held accountable for one’s actions and decisions (or at least held partially responsible, as in most, if not all cases we are always under at least some degree of external influence, and unless one is either completely mad or retarded one would retain some degree of free decision making abilities), as the consequences of one’s actions and decisions would at least partly originate from one’s own freedom of choice, or at the very least one would retain the possibility(however insignificant) to refuse the action in the first place.

On the other hand, if one’s metaphysics resists the possibility of free will entirely, then it would be morally unjustifiable to hold anyone responsible for their actions or decisions, for their thoughts and actions are not their own, they are fully determined by external causal effects – even worse, “they” would not even “exist”, as there is no “person” or “agent” to refer to, only a “module” that necessarily expresses an output given a particular input is provided, no different from a vending machine spitting out a drink (or at least is supposed to) when you pay for one. The vending machine cannot “refuse”, not out of its own “will” as it does not have one, hence, it cannot be held responsible if it failed to deliver a bottle of drink for any reason, as the error is merely the result of functional flaws of necessary, predetermined designs, rather than any “individual choices”.

Responsibility, on the other hand, leads to rights. Responsibility is more or less derived from rights, the history largely traces back to Enlightenment philosophy and political theory, where the roots of modern universal human rights were established. Responsibility and rights are mutual in the sense that responsibility is one’s unconditional obligation to protect one’s own and other’s fundamental human rights (as the old saying goes, “your right is my responsibility”). Hence one cannot demand rights without responsibility, and if one so chooses to violate the rights of others (as a result of moral negligence or even deliberate violation of one’s own responsibility), one necessarily forfeits, automatically, one’s own rights in the same respective area, and hence deserves a punishment if it is indeed (at least partly) one’s very own decision to do so.

6. Jacobsen: What philosophy, given prior responses and metaphysical beliefs, makes the most coherent sense of the natural world? What philosophy makes the most coherent sense of the human experience and human life from – to quote Dr. Cornel West’s oft-used phrase – “womb to tomb”?

Sheen: If one must, one way or another, separate the “natural” from the “existential”, then I am afraid to say I cannot answer this question, as I see no ways to reasonably separate the natural from the existential (or teleological, axiological, whatever you wish to refer to the realm of faith, values, meanings of human life and existence etc.). If I am allowed to give an answer where the natural and the existential are not seen through a dichotomy but rather a harmonious unity, then I would personally say a “panentheistic”(a type of philosophical theism) overall philosophy, as it encompasses both the natural – factual, and the supernatural – teleological under an umbrella of meaning that extends beyond our limited understanding. As I have mentioned earlier, I believe in God, and as I see it, God is ultimately the “link” between everything we perceive to be contradictory or contrary (or “severed”, “scattered apart”, if we want to be more theological/biblical), and is the ultimate reality that “holds together” a world that would otherwise be in pieces (or to lead everything to “come together into the right relationships”, again, if we want to be more theological/biblical).

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 15, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/. Image Credit: Richard Sheen.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five) [Online].March 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, March 15). An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, March. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2020. “An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (March 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):March. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Richard Sheen on Metaphysics, Being, Free Will, and More (Part Five) [Internet]. (2020, March 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-five.

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