Metaphysical illusion evades the tragedy of human finitude.
The first Western philosopher to examine systematically the relationship between the tragedy of human finitude and the ubiquity of metaphysical illusion was Wilhelm Dilthey. Dilthey’s life’s work can be seen as an effort to replace the Kantian a priori—the timeless forms of perception and categories of cognition through which the world becomes intelligible to us—with “life categories” that are historically contingent and constituted over the course of a living historical process.There is a tragic dimension to Dilthey’s historical consciousness, in that it brings out the tragic contradiction between the philosophical desire for universal validity (the metaphysical impulse) and the realization of the fundamental finitude of every attempt to satisfy that desire.
Dilthey’s historical reconstruction of the development of metaphysics aims at no less than its “euthanasia.” Although he holds that metaphysical desire is inherent to human nature, what he seeks to unmask are the illusions that this ubiquitous desire creates. Metaphysical illusion, according to Dilthey, transforms historically contingent nexuses of intelligibility—worldviews, as he eventually calls them—into timeless forms of reality. Anticipating Heidegger, Dilthey holds that every worldview is grounded in a mood regarding the tragic realization of the finitude of life. The metaphysicalization of worldviews transforms the unbearable fragility and transience of all things human into an enduring, permanent, changeless reality, an illusory world of eternal truths.