Metaphysical necessity, or foundationalism, is one of the central questions of philosophy and the most important concept in Platonism. Metaphysical necessity asserts that everything that exists, to avoid epistemological nihilism, must have a foundation. Plato asserted that this foundation is the realm of the forms, or ideas. From Plato to Hegel, metaphysical necessity has been the prevailing thought of all philosophies and religions that rely on foundationalism for their dispositional worldview. Without metaphysical necessity why is your view any more right than another? This has often been the pitfall of nihilistic movements which, in denying metaphysical necessity, nevertheless assert the superiority of their own outlooks.
To highlight the most obvious example of metaphysical necessity, take arithmetic. Does 2+2=4? Why? The epistemological relativist, who exhausts himself into a materialist pragmatism, will have to concede—by logical entailment—no. What matters to the relativistic pragmatist is the practical functionality of arithmetic. If 2+2=4 works for Western culture then that’s what matters. If 2+2=5 if another culture, for whatever reason, but it pragmatically functions well, then that’s what matters. Hence there is foundationalism.
The metaphysic necessitist, or the metaphysical Platonist, holds the opposite view. Arithmetic is a metaphysical necessity. Even without humans or creatures capable of pragmatic utilization, arithmetic holds true regardless of time and space. 2+2 will always equal 4. Whether humans exist or not. Whether humans discover this “law” or not. It is a metaphysical necessity.
This is because, to the metaphysical Platonist, the real springs from the conception (the Form or Idea). Take the obvious example of theology. Let us use the example of the Trinity, though a strict unitarian God would still entail the same conclusion. Even without the cosmos the Triune Godhead exists. The very concept of the Triune Godhead entails arithmetic. Even if you were a strict unitarian, the existence of this singular God entails arithmetic. Nothing is a metaphysical contradiction because there exists the concept of nothingness. In Aristotelian language, this is why there must be an unmoved first principle (i.e. God).
In matters pertaining to politics, for instance, Plato and Augustine argue that there is a concept of justice. If there is no foundational conception of justice, justice is non-existent and purely relative. To highlight the most obvious example of this, justice entails an affront against something fixed. Without the concept of justice to be affronted against then there is no logic behind justice. We return to the world of sophistry endorsed by Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic. Justice is power and the assertion of power. Most “social justice warriors” are frauds, in this respect, because they hold to a relativistic account of justice premised on power. Hence why “justice” is simply a transfer of power: Those who have power must relinquish their power to those who have no power. There is no concept of justice and justice, like arithmetic, is just—pardon the pun—a matter of pragmatic functionality.
Metaphysical Platonism breaks down into two main camps. Teleological Platonism (mostly in the form of German historicism and idealism) and “classical Platonism” (mostly in the form of strict Platonism and fundamentalist Christianity). Teleological Platonism did not emerge from German idealism, there are already traces of it in Catholic theological thought (cf. St. Augustine and Hugh of St. Victor). Contemporary teleological Platonism, however, largely emerged in response to evolutionary science (and not Newtonian science which was Platonic in the fixed sense). Teleological Platonists, like Hegel and Schelling, argued that that which exists is not a perfect reflection of the idea; instead, that which exists is moving (or unfolding) to be in union with the concept and will culminate in perfection at some point in the future (like how a seed grows and matures into fullness in time). Hence telos: end. Classical Platonism asserts the opposite: that which exists is already a perfect reflection of the idea. Teleological Platonism is, frankly, more an outgrowth of Christian Platonism owing to the nature in which the Christian doctrine of the Fall leads to the form being an imperfect embodiment of the true which will fade away through divinization which became secularized by the German idealists to mean union with the ideal and those with a familiarity of Jesus’ parables and use of agrarian imagery should be able to see the cross pollination.
Metaphysical necessity can also be broken down into two other camps: subjective and objective. Objective necessity was best represented by figures Plato, Plotinus, and Augustine. Subjective necessitists included George Berkeley; eastern philosophies and religions (like Buddhism) are also reflective of subjective idealism. The difference here is to which degree the material form embodies the concept.
Thus we can see the dilemma posed to, and from, metaphysical necessity. If there is no foundation everything is relative and nothing true exists. All that matters if pragmatic utilitarianism (which is what is implied in liberal philosophy) or the struggle of forces of power and assertion (which is what fascism asserted). If there are foundations then it is imperative to live in union with this metaphysical reality. This then leads us down into matters concerning natural law but we will not delve into that here as that would be a digression on the subject matter.
Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor of VoegelinView and a writer on art, culture, literature, politics, and religion for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and theology (biblical & religious studies) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.
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