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Metaphysics

The branch of philosophy called metaphysics deals with understanding the ultimate nature of being, reality and the universe. The word metaphysics comes from the Greek word meta, meaning after, and the Greek word physika, meaning physics. Thus, the word metaphysics literally means after or beyond physics and science. Mankind wondered about metaphysics and asked metaphysical questions throughout their entire existence. Examples of metaphysical questions follow:

  • What is the nature of reality?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Do people have souls?
  • Does the world exist outside of the mind?
  • What is the nature of events, objects, and places?
  • What is the place of humanity in the universe?

As a central branch in metaphysics, ontology consists of the investigation of things. It asks what type of things exist in the world and how do they relate to each other.

Additionally, metaphysicians investigate the concepts people use to understand the universe, such as object hood, property, space, time, causality, and possibility.

Contemporarily, people also use the term 'metaphysics' to refer to non-philosophical topics that deal with that beyond the physical world. For example, a so-called metaphysical bookstore does not contain philosophy books, but rather contains books about faith healing, occultism, crystal power, spirits, and so on and so forth.

Before developing modern science, people used to include scientific questions as a branch of metaphysics called "natural philosophy." However, the Scientific Revolution transformed science into a empirical field based on experimentation, which eventually lead to it gaining the name science.

Aristotle divided metaphysics into three main parts, which now exist as the branches of traditional Western metaphysics:

Firstly, theology refers to the study of god(s) and religious issues. It involves questions about the nature of religious, the existence of divinity, the origin of the universe, and other spiritual issues.

Secondly, ontology, as mentioned before, deals with things or entities. It includes the study of being and existence, as well as the properties and classification of things, both physical and metal. It also includes the nature of change.

Thirdly, universal science consists of the study of first principles. Aristotle viewed first principles as the foundation of all other inquires. For example, the law of non-contradiction makes up most of the foundation for most forms of logic.

Since the advent of modern philosophy in the 1600s, metaphysics has adopted some new issues. However, many parts of metaphyics now have their own category, including philosophy of science, philosophy of perception, philosophy of the mind, and philosophy of religion.

Central themes in metaphysics include:

  • objects and their properties
  • matter and mind
  • time and space
  • identity and change
  • possibility and necessity
  • spirituality and religion
  • mathematics and abstract objects
  • freewill and determinism
  • cosmogony and cosmology

Occasionally, certain subjects of metaphysics get explained physically and naturally, which thus makes them a part of physics. For example, people used to think spiritual demons caused many diseases, especially psychological ones; but advances in science found biological explanations.

Many philosophers, including David Hume and A.J. Ayer, have rejected metaphysics. They view metaphysical statements as inherently meaningless and/or unverifiable. Such a view often results conduces to reductionistic philosophies such as monism, atheism, materialism, and moral nihilism. Such philosophies base their conclusions as well as their arguments solely on observable and verifiable phenomena. They view it as meaningless to talk about anything "beyond this world," anything "out side the realm of physics," or anything "metaphysical." To that point, David Hume wrote:

"If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

We hope this article answered all of your questions about metaphysics. If you have any remaining questions, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please post them in our Philosophy Forums.