What are the branches of metaphysics
You will get a different answer to this question, depending on the philosophical school to which the answer belongs. Naturally, I would claim that my answer is going to be the best, because I am taking it from the originator of systematic metaphysics, Aristotle.
In Aristotle’s day, the pursuit of wisdom was all the rage. If you became a bona fide wise man, you would gather followers around you and start a school of philosophical thought. What Aristotle did was prove that metaphysics and wisdom are one and the same thing.
He starts his book, Metaphysics, by trying to figure out what wisdom is. Similar to Socrates, he leaves his house and takes a walk (he was the primeval peripatetic, after all). He is embarking on a journalistic inquiry, a sort of Greek Gallup poll, a democratic vote on this one question: what is wisdom? Or, better yet, what are the characteristics of the wise man? After returning home and tallying up the results, he finds that, in the common opinion, the wise man has six characteristics
The word ‘metaphysics’ is notoriously hard to define. Twentieth-century coinages like ‘meta-language’ and ‘meta-philosophy’ encourage the impression that metaphysics is a study that somehow “goes beyond” physics, a study devoted to matters that transcend the mundane concerns of Newton and Einstein and Heisenberg. This impression is mistaken. The word ‘metaphysics’ is derived from a collective title of the fourteen books by Aristotle that we currently think of as making up Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Aristotle himself did not know the word. At least one hundred years after Aristotle’s death, an editor of his works titled those fourteen books “Ta meta ta phusika”—“the after the physicals” or “the ones after the physical ones”—the “physical ones” being the books contained in what we now call Aristotle’s Physics. The title was probably meant to warn students of Aristotle’s philosophy that they should attempt Metaphysics only after they had mastered “the physical ones”, the books about nature or the natural world—that is to say, about change, for change is the defining feature of the natural world.
This is the probable meaning of the title because Metaphysics is about things that do not change. In one place, Aristotle identifies the subject-matter of first philosophy as “being as such”, and, in another as “first causes”. It is a nice—and vexed—question what the connection between these two definitions is. Perhaps this is the answer: The unchanging first causes have nothing but being in common with the mutable things they cause. Like us and the objects of our experience—they are, and there the resemblance ceases.
Any of these three theses might have been regarded as a defensible statement of the subject-matter of what was called ‘metaphysics’ until the seventeenth century. But then, rather suddenly, many topics and problems that Aristotle and the Medievals would have classified as belonging to physics (the relation of mind and body, for example, or the freedom of the will, or personal identity across time) began to be reassigned to metaphysics. One might almost say that in the seventeenth century metaphysics began to be a catch-all category, a repository of philosophical problems that could not be otherwise classified as epistemology, logic, ethics or other branches of philosophy. (It was at about that time that the word ‘ontology’ was invented—to be a name for the science of being as such, an office that the word ‘metaphysics’ could no longer fill.) The academic rationalists of the post-Leibnizian school were aware that the word ‘metaphysics’ had come to be used in a more inclusive sense than it had once been. Christian Wolff attempted to justify this more inclusive sense of the word by this device: while the subject-matter of metaphysics is being, being can be investigated either in general or in relation to objects in particular categories. He distinguished between ‘general metaphysics’ (or ontology), the study of being as such, and the various branches of ‘special metaphysics’, which study the being of objects of various special sorts, such as souls and material bodies. (He does not assign first causes to general metaphysics, however: the study of first causes belongs to natural theology, a branch of special metaphysics.) It is doubtful whether this maneuver is anything more than a verbal ploy. In what sense, for example, is the practitioner of rational psychology (the branch of special metaphysics devoted to the soul) engaged in a study of being? Do souls have a different sort of being from that of other objects?—so that in studying the soul one learns not only about its nature (that is, its properties: rationality, immateriality, immortality, its capacity or lack thereof to affect the body …), but also about its “mode of being”, and hence learns something about being? It is certainly not true that all, or even very many, rational psychologists said anything, qua rational psychologists, that could plausibly be construed as a contribution to our understanding of being.
Perhaps the wider application of the word ‘metaphysics’ was due to the fact that the word ‘physics’ was coming to be a name for a new, quantitative science, the science that bears that name today, and was becoming increasingly inapplicable to the investigation of many traditional philosophical problems about changing things (and of some newly discovered problems about changing things).
Whatever the reason for the change may have been, it would be flying in the face of current usage (and indeed of the usage of the last three or four hundred years) to stipulate that the subject-matter of metaphysics was to be the subject-matter of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. It would, moreover, fly in the face of the fact that there are and have been paradigmatic meta physicians who deny that there are first causes—this denial is certainly a metaphysical thesis in the current sense—others who insist that everything changes (Heraclitus and any more recent philosopher who is both a materialist and a nominal list), and others still (Parmenides and Zeno) who deny that there is a special class of objects that do not change. In trying to characterize metaphysics as a field, the best starting point is to consider the myriad topics traditionally assigned to it.
Where does the Term Metaphysics Come From
The term metaphysics is derived from the Greek Ta Meta ta Physician which means “the books after the books on nature.” When a librarian was cataloging Aristotle’s works, he did not have a title for the material he wanted to shelve after the material called “nature” (Physician) — so he called it “after nature.” Originally, this wasn’t even a subject at all — it was a collection of notes on different topics, but specifically topics removed from normal sense perception and empirical observation.
Metaphysics and the Supernatural
In popular parlance, metaphysics has become the label for the study of things which transcend the natural world — that is, things which supposedly exist separately from nature and which have a more intrinsic reality than our . This assigns a sense to the Greek prefix meta which it did not originally have, but words do change over time. As a result, the popular sense of metaphysics has been the study of any question about reality which cannot be answered by scientific observation and experimentation. In the context of atheism, this sense of metaphysics is usually regarded as literally empty.
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