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Chapter 7: The Epistemological Roots of Monism

3. The Case of the Natural Sciences

In view of these disastrous effects of a beginning excessive reaction against the excrescences of positivism, there is need to repeat again that the experimental methods of the natural sciences are the only ones adequate for the treatment of the problems involved. Without discussing anew the endeavors to discredit the category of causality and determinism, we have to emphasize the fact that what is wrong with positivism is not what it teaches about the methods of the empirical natural sciences, but what it asserts about matters concerning which—up to now at least—the natural sciences have not succeeded in contributing any information. The positivistic principle of verifiability as rectified by Popper2 is unassailable as an epistemological principle of the natural sciences. But it is meaningless when applied to anything about which the natural sciences cannot supply any information.

It is not the task of this essay to deal with the claims of any metaphysical doctrine or with metaphysics as such. As the nature and logical structure of the human mind is, many a man is not satisfied with ignorance concerning any problem and does not easily acquiesce in the agnosticism in which the most fervent search for knowledge results. Metaphysics and theology are not, as the positivists pretend, products of an activity unworthy of Homo sapiens, remnants of mankind's primitive age that civilized people ought to discard. They are a manifestation of man's unappeasable craving for knowledge. No matter whether this thirsting after omniscience can ever be fully gratified or not, man will not cease to strive after it passionately.3 Neither positivism nor any other doctrine is called upon to condemn a religious or metaphysical tenet that does not contradict any of the reliable teachings of the a priori and of experience.

  • 2. See above, p. 69.
  • 3. "Lhomme fait de la métaphysique comme il respire, sans le vouloir et surtout sans s'en douter la plupart du temps." E. Meyerson, De l'explication dans les sciences (Paris, 1927), p. 20.