Metaphysics Matters

Reflection by Stephen Mumford on N=1 Stephen Mumford

The CauseHealth project is one of the most exciting things in which I’ve been involved. I’m proud to say that I’ve been part of it almost from the start. It was Rani’s idea entirely, but I saw it develop and grow until it became the successfully-funded project that has kicked-off in the last year with two fascinating and stimulating interdisciplinary events.

My personal take on the N=1 Workshop is a result of my own background. My career has been in metaphysics. This is the branch of philosophy that concerns the fundamental nature of reality considered in a very general, abstract and non-empirical way. At least since 1739, other philosophers have questioned the relevance and legitimacy of metaphysics. Because it has no empirically testable content, some have thought it meaningless. But I believe Aristotle was right to think of metaphysics as First Philosophy. It is about the most fundamental suppositions upon which all other knowledge is built. It is thus vital we get that basis right otherwise a mistaken starting-point will skew everything else that follows.

CauseHealth is proving an excellent case in point. Healthcare can claim many successes with the advance of science. But that success is not complete and we have to be honest that there are also failures, such as the recalcitrant problems of side-effects to drugs, multi-morbidities and medically unexplained symptoms that go persistently unresolved. One of the hypotheses I want to see CauseHealth test is that medical science has reached dead-ends in certain areas precisely because it has been based on a faulty but widely accepted metaphysics.

It is too early to say whether the project has confirmed any such view. But what seems so special about the project is that researchers from so wide a range of disciplines have been brought together so that an abstract metaphysician, at one end of the spectrum, can have a meaningful discussion with a practicing clinician at the other. I think this is the best hope of answering my own questions. Others on the project may be seeking answers to their own problems and that is perfectly fine. The signs at the moment are that we will all be able to profit from the collaboration in ways that address a range of concerns.

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