Everyone Is A Metaphysician–But Most Are In The Closet

The New York Times Daily Briefing includes a sentence–a telling one–about the pecking order of vaccine recipients

As the virus has spread, infectious-disease experts have gained a better understanding of who among the nation’s nearly 330 million residents is the most vulnerable: nursing home residents, people with underlying conditions, and lower-income communities.

While I happen to agree with the sentiment and the analysis, I don’t necessarily share the NYT’s implicit, post-metaphysic metaphysic. The NYT, here as elsewhere, has rejected the Christian tradition in which such a statement is at home while retaining, in secular guise, a husk of the commitment. The NYT’s hollowed-out metaphysic, I submit, is a secularized form of Christianity.

Everyone, in fact, is a metaphysician, but most are, and shall remain, in the closet. The crucial starting point is to admit the major premise (“everyone is a metaphysician”) so that we can bring into the light of day what the metaphysics really is, whether it’s consistent with other commitments, and whether it’s worth defending. For our ethical life is grounded upon our view of the real.

Christianity is a religion of inversions: the first shall be last, the last first; the meek shall inherit the earth; the spiritually rich yet materially poor are to be venerated; and the most vulnerable are to receive caritas (Christian love in the form of charity). But why are the most vulnerable to receive caritas? Because, for a Christian, every person is an embodied soul, and each is created in the image and likeness of God. According to this metaphysic, we are all children of God and so each is my kin, each my neighbor. I can’t leave anyone out (notice how “inclusion” too is, in its current form, a secularized concept).

But why should the NYT, which is wholly secularized, urge us to care for the most vulnerable? I don’t know and I’m not sure that its editors know either. And that is the danger with maintaining the ethical values (“care most for the most vulnerable”) that rest on a borrowed, yet also partly dismantled, metaphysic. How much longer can we keep this up?

For many years, I’ve advanced the thesis that the good (or ethics) rests on the real (or metaphysics). I don’t see any quasi-post-metaphysical grounds upon which one could consistently maintain commitment to the most vulnerable among us. Naked self-interest, or some version of game theoretic contingent cooperation, strikes me as more likely.

The point please? Metaphysics, brought out of the closet, needs to be rescued and re-established, not chucked out the window as it has been. Modern culture, in its current state, is living on borrowed time.