No discipline has been more uniformly derided for a longer period than metaphysics. Of the ancient and medieval sciences now in disrepute, even astrology and alchemy get better press. The most devastating--and currently the most influential--attack on metaphysics has come from a broad spectrum of thinkers including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt, Levinas, Derrida, and Milbank, who have argued that metaphysics is the root of modern nihilism and totalitarianism.
Anthony Mansueto puts this claim to the test, developing a historical sociology of metaphysics that analyzes the social basis and political valence of metaphysical systems. Mansueto does this globally and cross-culturally, engaging not only the Hellenic tradition and its extension into medieval Christendom and Dar-al-Islam, but also the Indian and Chinese traditions. Specifically, Mansueto argues that far from representing the roots of nihilism or modern state terror, metaphysics emerges (and continues to be necessary) as a way to ground meaning and value in societies--especially in market societies in which these have become problematic. Metaphysics tends to restrain exploitation and to encourage the redirection of surplus toward activities that promote development of human capacities.
Knowing God: The Journey of the Dialectic concludes with an outline of a new dialectical metaphysics that reconciles a Buddhist metaphysics of interdependence in the Hua-yen tradition with a historicized metaphysics of Esse, yielding results that look startlingly like the dao xue, or neo-Confucianism of Song China. Mansueto shows how such a metaphysics can ground meaning and value while answering postmodern concerns to safeguard difference.