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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 17. August 3, 1950

In Search of . . . — What Duggan Meant

In Search of . . .

What Duggan Meant

The only school of thought' which Dr. Duggan will admit to the status of Philosophy is Realism. Philosophy, for Dr. Duggan, is merely Metaphysics in all its ramifications.

When he was asked whether he could, without committing linguistic and syntactical errors, define metaphysics as anything other than a figment of mans' imagination, i.e., as non-sense. Dr. Duggan replied that metaphysics was the study of infinite being.

Let us consider these two symbols, "infinite" and "being" (N.B. for the sake of brevity, please note that in the verb "to be" are included its other forms—"to exist," "to become," etc.). To avoid being wearisome we will quite hypothetically assume a meaning for "infinite," and will concentrate upon "being." "Being" can be used as a verbal noun, but where as other verbal nouns, e.g., "sitting", assert an activity, the verbal noun, "being" asserts a thing that is. "Being" can also be used as a non-verbal noun as in "human being," c.f. the use of "sitting" in "a sitting of eggs." This is an arbitrary usage, however, and if Dr. Duggan is using "being" in this way he will have to face up to the fact that "I am a human being" la equivalent to "I am I", "Eggs are a Bitting" la equivalent to "Eggs are eggs," and that "Metaphysics is being" is equivalent to "Metaphysics is metaphysics." His definition will therefore be merely a tautology. The way to avoid this is to commit the error in language of attempting to use. "being" both as a verbal noun, asserting something that is, and as a non-verbal noun which can be qualified by an adjective such as "infinite."

But, if "being" is to be used at all as a verbal noun, the user should realise the implications of his act, for it is demonstrable that the verb "to be" has no meaning of itself, but that it is merely oil for the wheels of language. When used as a copula, as in "the table is red," the verb "to be" is not a necessary symbol, since "the table is red" asserts no more than does "red table." When, too, the verb "to be" is used in the assertory sense—"the table is (red)"—It is again not a necessary symbol, for "table is" asserts no more than does "table." When I say "I love" I assert "love" and not "I", and when I say "I am", I aasert "I" and not "am"—again the verb "to be" is an unnecessary symbol.

It is self-evident that if a symbol is not necessary it, is meaningless, and the verb "to be" is thus, strictly speaking, meaningless of Itself. It is merely a, linguistic convention. "Being," a verbal noun, part of the verb "to be", is therefore a meaningless symbol—non-sense, By his own definition, Dr. Duggan's metaphysics, his Philosophy, is the study of infinite nonsense—for "infinite being" he might as well substitute "infinite glug"—it would mean just as much.

Thus the language in which Dr. Duggan's philosophy, and, indeed, all philosophy, is conceived is, to say the very least, defective—defective not only in that it is open to erroneous use even in the hands of those who realise its defects, but also in that its very structure assumes the meta-physic philosophy which it is used to Justify.

It would appear then that the study of the problems presented by this language, the realisation of its shortcomings, and the clarification of its ambiguities, would be fundamental to any serious study of philosophy; and yet Dr. Duggan dismisses this linguistic study with a shrug of the shoulders, and, apparently in blissful ignorance of the limitations of the medium in which it is conceived holds up metaphysics as the philosophical study.—David Walshe