What is a metaphysical concept
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. (He had four names for the branch of philosophy that is the subject-matter of Metaphysics: ‘first philosophy’, ‘first science’, ‘wisdom’, and ‘theology’.) At least one hundred years after Aristotle’s death, an editor of his works (in all probability, Andronicus of Rhodes) 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.
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of existence, being and the world. Arguably, metaphysics is the foundation of philosophy – Aristotle calls it “first philosophy” (or sometimes just “wisdom”), and says it is the subject that deals with “first causes and the principles of things”.
It asks questions like: “What is the nature of reality”, “How does the world exist, and what is its origin or source of creation?”, “Does the world exist outside the mind?”, “How can the incorporeal mind affect the physical body?”, “If things exist, what is their objective nature?”, “Is there a God (or many gods, or no god at all). ”
Originally, the Greek word “metaphysical” (literally “after physics”) merely indicated that part of Aristotle’s oeuvre which came, in its sequence, after those chapters which dealt with physics. Later, it was misinterpreted by Medieval commentators on the classical texts as that which is above or beyond the physical, and so over time metaphysics has effectively become the study of that which transcends physics. Aristotle originally split his metaphysics into three main sections and these remain the main branches of metaphysics.
Metaphysical – Longer definition: Metaphysics is a type of philosophy or study that uses broad concepts to help define reality and our understanding of it. Metaphysical studies generally seek to explain inherent or universal elements of reality which are not easily discovered or experienced in our everyday life. As such, it is concerned with explaining the features of reality that exist beyond the physical world and our immediate senses. Metaphysics, therefore, uses logic based on the meaning of human terms, rather than on a logic tied to human sense perception of the objective world. Metaphysics might include the study of the nature of the human mind, the definition and meaning of existence, or the nature of space, time, and/or causality.
The origin of philosophy, beginning with the Pre-Socratics, was metaphysical in nature. For example, the philosopher Plotinus held that the reason in the world and in the rational human mind is only a reflection of a more universal and perfect reality beyond our limited human reason. He termed this ordering power in the universe “God.”
Metaphysical ideas, because they are not based on direct experience with material reality, are often in conflict with the modern sciences. Beginning with the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, experiments with, and observations of, the world became the yardsticks for measuring truth and reality. Therefore, our contemporary valuation of scientific knowledge over other forms of knowledge helps explain the controversy and skepticism concerning metaphysical claims, which are considered unverifiable by modern science.
In matters of religion, the problem of validating metaphysical claims is most readily seen in all of the “proofs” for the existence of God. Like trying to prove the existence of a “soul” or “spirit” in the human, attempts to scientifically prove the existence of God and other nonobjective, nonhuman realities is seemingly impossible. The difficulty arises out of the attempt to scientifically study and objectify something which, by its very nature, cannot become an object of our scientific studies. This reigning belief that everything can be explained scientifically in terms of natural causes – referred to as naturalism – compels many to think that only what is seen or sensed, only what can be hypothesized and tested can be true, and therefore, meaningful to us as humans.
Metaphysics has been attacked, at different times in history, as being futile and overly vague, particularly by David Hume, Immanuel Kant and A.J. Ayer. It may be more useful to say that a metaphysical statement usually implies an idea about the world or the universe, which may seem reasonable but is ultimately not empirically verifiable, testable or provable.
The Status of Metaphysical Truths, and Questions of Method: Are some metaphysical propositions merely contingently true? If so what methods can be used to establish such contingent truths? Are some metaphysical propositions necessarily true? What methods are appropriate in such cases.
Truth makers and Metaphysical Propositions: Do all true statements require truthmaking states of affairs that are external to the statements? What about logically true, or analytically true statements? (Compare Lewis’s postulation of possible worlds to supply truth makers for modal statements.)
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