For a long time common belief was that the word ‘Metaphysics’ was the title of a book written by Aristotle, a term that was invented by his publisher to describe Aristotle’s lectures that followed from his books about nature, or physics. In said book Aristotle wrote about the general cause of things. The term ‘metaphysics’ was therefore interpreted as ‘what goes above nature’ or, as Webster has it: “after those things which relate to external nature, after physics”. Metaphysics are different from regular physics in the sense that physics investigate in nature the way mankind experiences it, while metaphysics investigate in the (reason for) totality of this all, including that what constitutes a unity. This unity can be considered a truth outside our world, as Plato stated it, or a deeper ground, in which central ideas are founded, as Aristotle stated it. Both ‘types’ of metaphysics have their own adherents.

One draws a distinction between subjective and objective metaphysics. Objective metaphysics seek for the unity in all information. There are various schools of objective metaphysics: the realistic and the scholastic school, and physical, natural and material metaphysics.

Subjective metaphysics seek for the unity in the subject all information is meant for. When one assumes that the unity of the world was realized only by the creating ability of the human spirit, we speak of idealistic metaphysics.

Classical Metaphysics

Before Plato there was a world of timeless, unchangeable ideas, archetypes of unchangeable forms. Sensory perceptions were a perfect reflection of the world of ideas. The world man experienced through his senses was according to Plato not the real, eternal world. According to him only pure ideas could provide certainty: they’d exist by themselves and would be withdrawn from the instability and changeability of the world. Aristotle disagreed with Plato and honored the principle of change. His metaphysical discovery was the evolution of all things towards an objective. Aristotle stated that everything strives for perfection: fundamentally everything is dust and matter. It is lead to perfection by the ‘form’: the power that transforms matter to reality. Whenever something reaches its form then it has realized itself, it has become what it was meant to be. The highest of all forms would be godhead. Aristotle regarded that as a form without matter.

Middle Ages

Theologian Thomas Aquinas wanted to justify Christian faith by backing up theology by Aristotelian metaphysics. He occupied himself with the difference between faith and sense. Thomas stated that man should trust his senses. Sense would know that every material thing strives for purity and perfection. But only faith could have a full understanding of God, and faith would acknowledge God as the creator of the world.

Cusanus can be considered the metaphysician who formed the connection between the Middle Ages and the New Age. He was the first one to regard the eternity of the world as object of discussion. This way he wanted to solve the problem of the relation between God and the world in a new way. He stated that all contradictions in God being infinite fell together. According to Cusanus one had to accept the world and to reject dualism, the separation of two worlds. Only then one would be able to discover the infinity inside finite beings. The world would be a finite infinity, with a created God.

Later Ages

Descartes went along the lines of Cusanus. He sought to infinity by the assumption of methodic doubt. For him it was important to discover something that was so certain, that all doubts would be excluded. Doubting everything would lead to one certainty: he who doubts everything, truly exists. By doubting he thinks, and is therefore certain he exists. And more: who doubts knows by the questions he asks already something from the infinite. What exists for the finite mind is merely a curtailment of the full truth, which is infinite. The awareness of infinity came according to Descartes before the awareness of finiteness, just like the awareness of God came before the awareness of self-existence.

Kant investigated in the borders of metaphysics and the possibilities of the human mind. He questioned whether the human mind was capable of thinking true things. Metaphysics would seem to assume that the existence of a world was apart from the existence of mankind, and he stated that that was impossible. The world behaves according to the rules of mankind. Mankind accepts certain things, but adds its own merits, too. With inherent yet subconscious mental power mankind could form relations between things, like cause and consequence and similarities between events in the past. Kant was the first person who put that not the outside world, but the human mind was the basis of the metaphysical way of thinking.

Twentieth Century

The main form of philosophy in the nineteenth and twentieth century was the idealistic form of metaphysics. Especially Kant’s theories were popular, and were tested and analyzed in a great share of studies. At the moment the works of Heidegger draw much attention. The most trends in science, particularly logical positivism, investigate in traditional metaphysics even more than Kant did. Russell was of the opinion that metaphysics were the result of imprecise use of colloquial language, a vision that had great impact on logical-positivists. Wittgenstein agrees with Russell and adds that metaphysics can’t solve the problems around the concept of truth. Metaphysics are nothing more than juggling with words, according to Wittgenstein. Metaphysicians would take words out of their contexts and add entirely new meanings to the words. Language would never be able to judge over reality.

Metaphysics (Ontology) is basically the study of the possible assumptions one can make when faced with reality. The three most commonly seen metaphysics being different forms of Materialism, Dualism, and Idealism. Some other notable metaphysics are Vitalism, Naturalism, Historicism, Objectivism, Subjective Relativism, and Personalism.

For the purpose of convenience I will explain in brief detail the differences between these metaphysics. The basis of all metaphysics is to describe what is real and more importantly what is most real. before I get to it; for those of you who ask why this is important (Philosophy bakes no bread) these metaphysics are the basis of religions ways of dealing with life, which some people will kill for.

First the most simple which is the basis of modern science: Materialism. Materialism, in metaphysics, is characterized by defining matter (stuff) as most real. For hard materialists this means that the only things that are real are those things which you can touch. When one goes to look at consciousness from this perspective, it can only be a result of matter and chemicals. Hard materialists don't believe in things like heaven or God. The most notable materialist is Karl Marx who also resembles a historicist, more on that later. Also from the actual texts we have Gautama Siddhartha (The Buddha) appears to be materialist.

Second we cover the opposite end of the spectrum Idealism. Idealism, in metaphysics, is characterized by defining soul/consciousness/form (non-stuff) as most real. Most idealists are soft idealists believing that matter exists, but that it for the soul purpose of creating ideas, or that it is an illusion created by non-stuff. Their are several notable idealists Hegel, Hindus, Berkeley, and others. Berkeley goes beyond most idealists by basically denying the existence of stuff. As I recall Kant is in this same line of thinking. Hegel develops the concept of Historicism (which can also assume one of the other two basic metaphysics) declaring that Guist (or world spirit) is behind everything. The Hindus believe in Brahman, a consciousness that is everything and is behind everything in the material world.

Third is the last of the most basic metaphysics, and perhaps the most commonly believed: Dualism. Dualism is the belief that there is both matter (stuff) and spirit (non-stuff). They have one major problem in interaction (if there is both stuff and non-stuff how/why do they effect each other). This view is that of the Hebrew Religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) but perhaps more accurately a Dualism based on Personalism. Notable dualists include St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes (although some might place him with the idealists), Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Hiedegger (also a Personalist.), Plato, Aristotle, and the list goes on and on. This view includes things like God, man, Heaven, Earth, mind/soul, body, form, and object (this list was ordered by the non-stuff and opposing stuff).

As for the others here is what they elevate above all else, and their primary influence(s):

  • Vitalism: the elevation of vitality (sex, sort of). This a more accurate version of what the Hindus believe.
  • Naturalism: A belief in natural laws, and an elevation of natural above all else (and the denial of the supernatural), a friendlier Materialism. The common view of reality in Greece before the appearance of Socrates.
  • Historicism: The elevation of history above all else. Hegel uses the patterns of history and envisions World Spirit (a sort of god). Marx does something similar but denies the existence of God.
  • Subjective Relativism: The elevation of the subject above all else. The objective is denied and all things believed true by the subject are then true (note: nothing can have any real truth or falsehood in this system).
  • Hedonism: The elevation of self above all else. This concept (popularized by Hedon) is what modern Capitalism's morals most closely resemble. Their is only stuff, and so you should do whatever feels good.
  • Objectivism: Ayn Rand's philosophy, just go to the node.
  • Personalism: The node does not yet cover the metaphysic, but hopefully it will. Personalism is the elevation of people above everything else. This idea entered into religion with Jesus. The long and short of it is love one another.

That ends this short lesson in the metaphysics, I hope that you can take something from it.

Metaphysics is the investigation of the world outside of us via our minds rather than via our senses. It ultimately amounts to a denial of the world as we see it because it always claims that there is always something higher and somehow more "real" that lies behind what we are capable of sensing. Because we cannot sense this extra layer of reality, the correct organ for its investigation is held to be the mind.

And metaphysics, by and large, is dead.

Metaphysics died under the assault of modern science. Scientists hold that the only things that can be truly known about the world are those that we can sense and record and so prove. Science aims to produce truth-claims of the sort, "Under X conditions, Y will occur". Such claims have an incredible plausibility because they can be repeated. The metaphysicians never managed to create anything of this sort; nothing they ever said could be proved in the real world. And as we humans always must remain part of the real world and grounded much more firmly in it than in the realm of thought, the victory of science was inevitable.

The most basic and oldest metaphysical idea of all is the idea of God. It was hence no coincidence that when Nietzsche said that God is dead he really meant - as I have explained in that writeup - that metaphysics was dead. Cicero said that the idea of the existence of gods is "engraved in the minds of all men", and Hannah Arendt has suggested that the idea of God stems from our ability to think. What she means by this is that God - and metaphysical concepts - stem from our ability to think beyond what we can actually sense, and to imagine perfection; in politics, we call this utopia, but in spiritual terms this perfection is God. The fallacy is to imagine that just because perfection exists theoretically in our minds, it also exists out there somehow as a part of reality.

Because these things cannot actually be found in reality, metaphysics had to hold they could be demonstrated by reason. But metaphysics proved self-defeating because of the strength of the claims it made about what could it could discover. Plato used to say that a grounding in mathematics was essential to a study of philosophy, and for millenia the illusion persisted that the products of our thought could have the same factuality as the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 or of the existence of some object that you and I can both perceive and agree exists. But the products of rational thought alone, like God or the Platonic forms, can never achieve the level of verifiability of scientific truths.

Modern science shattered this illusion by redefining the notion of truth and claiming that only that which can be proved in reality through empirical investigation can be held to be true; all is to be doubted and investigated. And because metaphysics could never produce experiments that could be replicated, the trains of mental reasoning it produced looked entirely irrelevant to an understanding of the world.

The problem faced by metaphysics lay in the fact it confounded two types of truth. Science has as its correct field of investigation the empirical world that we can sense, but it has nothing to say about ultimate questions of meaning. This is one type of truth. Science deals with what exists without ever asking why it exists - what made it exist, what its purpose is, what will ultimately cause it to cease to exist and why; this is another type of truth. Claiming that we could know the answers to these questions in the same way that we can know that science's products are true was the greatest error made by the metaphysicians, and is why the rise of modern science so completely discredited them. This was part and parcel of philosophy's descent into ignominy, and it was highly dangerous because it simply removed the most fundamental questions facing us about the world and meaning from the field of human enquiry.

In the last century, some philosophers attempted to move "beyond metaphysics" by redefining its search for truth. Foremost among them was Martin Heidegger, who said that metaphysics should be seen as a form of poetry. Poetry is the perfect example of a thing that gives life meaning and vitality without ever trying to prove anything; nobody would claim that poetry is useless because it cannot be proven to be true. Heidegger went on to support Nazism, causing the indignant outrage of posterity; yet he was merely the most systematic representative of modern, scientific man, who shed all his prior beliefs that could not be proven and plunged into the task of finding meaning within himself, like a poet. Once we accept that meaning - and hence how people should live with one another - cannot be proven, there is no recourse but the retreat to a commitment to an arbitrary value system.

And this is why are playing with fire.

Met`a*phys"ics (?), n. [Gr. after those things which relate to external nature, after physics, fr. beyond, after + relating to external nature, natural, physical, fr. nature: cf. F. m'etaphysique. See Physics. The term was first used by the followers of Aristotle as a name for that part of his writings which came after, or followed, the part which treated of physics.]


The science of real as distinguished from phenomenal being; ontology; also, the science of being, with reference to its abstract and universal conditions, as distinguished from the science of determined or concrete being; the science of the conceptions and relations which are necessarily implied as true of every kind of being; phylosophy in general; first principles, or the science of first principles.

Metaphysics is distinguished as general and special. General metaphysics is the science of all being as being. Special metaphysics is the science of one kind of being; as, the metaphysics of chemistry, of morals, or of politics. According to Kant, a systematic exposition of those notions and truths, the knowledge of which is altogether independent of experience, would constitute the science of metaphysics.

Commonly, in the schools, called metaphysics, as being part of the philosophy of Aristotle, which hath that for title; but it is in another sense: for there it signifieth as much as "books written or placed after his natural philosophy." But the schools take them for "books of supernatural philosophy;" for the word metaphysic will bear both these senses. Hobbes.

Now the science conversant about all such inferences of unknown being from its known manifestations, is called ontology, or metaphysics proper. Sir W. Hamilton.

Metaphysics are [is] the science which determines what can and what can not be known of being, and the laws of being, a priori. Coleridge.


Hence: The scientific knowledge of mental phenomena; mental philosophy; psychology.

Metaphysics, in whatever latitude the term be taken, is a science or complement of sciences exclusively occupied with mind. Sir W. Hamilton.

Whether, after all, A larger metaphysics might not help Our physics. Mrs. Browning.


© Webster 1913.

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