How do you take your metaphysics?

By metaphysics I understand all so-called knowledge that goes beyond the possibility of experience, and so beyond nature or the given phenomenal appearance of things, in order to give information about that which, in some sense or other, this experience or nature is conditioned, or in popular language, about that which is hidden behind nature, and renders nature possible.

But the great original difference in the powers of understanding, and also their cultivation, which requires much leisure, cause so great a variety among men that, as soon as a nation has extricated itself form the uncultured state, no one metaphysical system can suffice for all.

Therefore in the case of civilized nations we generally come across two different kinds of metaphysics, distinguished by the fact that the one has its verification and credentials in itself, the other outside itself.

As the metaphysical systems of the first kind require reflection, culture, leisure, and judgement for the recognition of their credentials, they can be accessible only to an extremely small number of persons [...]

The systems of the second kind, on the other hand, are exclusively for the great majority of people who are not capable of thinking but only of believing, and are susceptible not to arguments, but only to authority.


[...] A system of the first kind, that is, a philosophy, makes the claim, and therefore has the obligation, to be true sensu stricto et proprio in all that it says, for it appeals to thought and conviction.

A religion, on the other hand, has only the obligation to be true sensu allegorico, since it is destined for the innumerable multitude who, being incapable of investigating and thinking, would never grasp the profoundest and most difficult truths sensu proprio. Before the people truth cannot appear naked.

[...] Therefore, not only the contradictory but also the intelligible dogmas are really only allegories and accommodations to the human power of comprehension [...] This allegorical nature of religions also exempts them from the proofs incumbent on philosophy, and in general from scrutiny and investigation.

[...] We therefore see that in the main, and for the great majority unable to devote themselves to thinking, religions fill very well the place of metaphysics in general, the need of which man feels to be imperative.

They do this partly for a practical purpose as the guiding star of their action, as the public standard of integrity and virtue, as Kant admirably expresses it; partly as the indispensable consolation in the deep sorrows of life.

In this they completely take the place of of an objectively true system of metaphysics, since they lift man above himself and above existence in time, as well, perhaps, as such a system ever could. In this their great value, indeed their indispensability is quite clearly to be seen. For Plato rightly says: "It is impossible for the crowd to be philosophically enlightened."

The controversy between supernaturalists and rationalists, carried on so incessantly in our own day, is due to the failure of both to recognize the allegorical nature of all religion.

[...] Religions are necessary for the people, and are an inestimable benefit to them. But if they attempt to oppose the progress of mankind in the knowledge of truth, then with the utmost possible indulgence and forbearance they must be pushed on one side. And to require that even a great mind - a Shakespeare or a Goethe - should make the dogmas of any religion his implicit conviction, bona fide et sensu proprio, is like requiring a giant to put on the shoes of a dwarf.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.164, 166-8

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