A History of Metaphysics Definition and Approach

The term metaphysics is first found in the Aristotelian treatises, which defines it as ta meta ta physica, literally meaning what comes after the physical. There is an inherent ambiguity within this definition, as it may both refer to the works of Aristotelian that come after the physical works dealing with material science, or a study that deals with things that come after the physical. There has been considerable debate over the actual meaning of this phrase, and the term that was later derived from it  metaphysical.

Buhle, in the 18th century after a close reading of Aristotles metaphysics, came to the conclusion that it is used primarily as an editorial term like appendices, cataloguing works that come after the physical.
However, most future philosophers would summarily disagree with such a definition, as there is neither proof nor rationale behind it. Parmenides of Elea undertook a study of astronomical bodies and the cosmos in the fifth century BC, and tried to explain the being of these bodies. This formulation established the meaning of the word being in Greek philosophy, which meant that which was permanent and immutable, not subject to change. This was opposed to becoming, which meant objects that are of a temporary and changeable. As such, metaphysics  the study that dealt with being, was well established within the Greek tradition even before the term was coined by the disciples of Aristotle.

Plato placed the things of immutable nature within the scope of Ideas, the permanent and unchangeable entities, of which all sensible things were mere shadows. The highest type of science, according to Plato, was the study of Ideas. Aristotle wrote in the same tradition, and believed that for every changing and mutable object, there is a permanent and immutable correspondence in the realm of the supersensible. Aristotle expanded this doctrine to state that the study of separate substances was the primary science, and in being primary it was also universal. This kind of study dealt in a focused way, with the study of the supersensible but since the supersensible contained everything, this study also included the general characteristics of everything. This made it the supreme science, because it tried to explain the highest causes behind the material, sensible world.

This location of the metaphysical in the realm of the supersensible raised many questions among subsequent philosophers. Particularly, after the Christian era there ensued a scriptural debate, as Christian philosophy considered God as the first principle and as the First Principle, which transcended the human logical approach. Reactions to the Aristotelian view also came from the Middle East, as Arabic thinker Avicenna distinguished between a study of the highest God who transcended philosophy and the study of the unity of beings in general and the supersensual level. Averros, a century later opposed this to state that metaphysics most rightly belonged to the realm of the supersensible. Among Christian thinkers, Siger of Brabant had reservations about considering God as a proper subject of this investigation, and a study of human beings as the subject of metaphysics, and God should be wholly kept out of it. However, whatever pure human reason could obtain about God was considered to be a part of metaphysics. This conception laid the foundation for the battling ground between traditional Aristotelian concept of being and Christian theology, particularly with relation to creation. According to the Christian doctrine of creation, the immutable was not only permanent, but its creation also had to be significant and contingent in some way. The discussion that followed throughout the Middle Ages became a jumble of contrasting theological views, from among which no consensus seemed possible.

Francis Bacon was the first to divide the traditional differences of metaphysics in such a way as to include only the study of common axioms and the essences of materials. The study of God, angels and other supersensual beings were relegated to the realm of Natural Theology. This division set the course for metaphysics in subsequent Western philosophy. For Descartes, for example, metaphysics included an investigation of the first principle, though the original principle was cogito and not the sensual things like Aristotle. This stream that dealt with human mind, God and the general axioms, were categorized by him as First Philosophy. Spinoza included it under the general head of ethics, and Leibniz created a separate discipline for the study and defense of the Christian God, and arguments for and against it, which he termed as theodicy. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the subject matter of traditional metaphysics was again in a muddle, leading Christian Wolff to systematize it into four heads  ontology dealing with being in general  which meant notions about things and not things directly, general cosmlogy dealing with the sensible universe, psychology dealing with the study of the human soul, and natural theology, which would devote itself to the study and philosophical enquiry about God. We find a return to Wolffian metaphysics by neo-scholasticism who try to maintain the divisions. Their inability to fit in the Cartesian cogito within the Wolffian categories has lead to the development of a separate science devoted to it, called epistemology.

The Wolffian categories, however, faced serious criticism in the hands of Immanuel Kant, who attacked each of the categories for fallacies and stating emphatically that human thought only belongs and relates to its own sphere, and nothing outside it. Kant, moreover, relocated the term metaphysics to include scientific investigation of human thoughts, and even hinted at a practical application in his Metaphysics of Morals. Hegel, disturbed by the complete negation of metaphysics in Kant, tried to relocate it within the mainstream of philosophy in the form of a logic of the internal necessities of ideas, leading to many grandiose systems of idealistic metaphysics in the nineteenth century (Owens, 1985, p.9), most of which ended up being a futile search. It elicited strong reaction from many quarters.

Postitivists dismissed it, pragmatists laughed at the lack of rigor, logical positivists shunned it because it was not verifiable, linguistic analysts clearly expelled it from the purview of science, mathematical logic thought it to be an indulgence into a logically impossible procedure. It was summarily thought to belong more to the domain of fiction and poetry rather than philosophy. Some of its proponents wre Bergson, Collingwood and Existentialists who all tried to relocate it within mainstream philosophy in different ways.

The brief historical survey makes it clear that there has been as many ways of thinking about metaphysics as there have been schools of thought. However, what cannot be denied is that every thinking individual has a strain of thinking on a line that has been traditionally been designated as metaphysical.

Examples of Equivocity in Language
Some schools of Early Metaphysics believed in the existence of essence of all material objects existing outside them.
The fragrance of the essence filled the ball room
Fire is the cause behind smoke
It is worth dying for a cause you strongly believe in
Marcus Aurelius was a man of deep knowledge and understanding
The battling factions finally reached and understanding
Examples of Univocity in Language
Some theologians believed God to be the ultimate source and destiny of all creation
For Plato, the Ideas were the ultimate causes behind all earthly entities
All monotheist religions propound the belief in a single, omnipotent God
The very existence of God was debated by the positivist thinkers in nineteenth and twentieth century
Chivalry appears to be a thing of the past
You may or may not believe in the existence of even such a thing as an angel

Definition A definition is a passage describing the meaning of a term, which can be a word, a phrase or a set of symbols. In philosophy, definition is of extreme importance, precisely because often normal, day to day words are rendered important through special definitions that are allotted to them.

Essence  The definition of essence lies in the aspect of indestructibility, immutability and constancy. It could mean the intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something, the crucial or most important ingredient of any object, and the inherent or unchanging nature of a thing or class of things. As such, it could also mean a spiritual or incorporeal entity. In philosophy, an essence of something can be defined as something that is distinct from, and logically prior to, its existence.

Argumentation An argumentation is the presentation and elaboration of an argument or arguments. It may refer to a debate or the deductive reasoning employed in debate. In Logic, it refers to the process of reasoning methodically.

Rational Rational can be defined as having or exercising the ability to reason. This faculty must be consistent with or based on reason, or logical.

Ultimate Ultimate in philosophy has two different significations. It can be defined as the last in a series, process, or progression and can also be defined as fundamental or elemental. In general usage it can mean of the greatest possible size or significance or representing the utmost or extreme possible development or sophistication of something.

Causes Cause is the one, such as a person, event or condition that is responsible for an action or result. It is a basis for an action or response. In general usage, it can refer to a ground for legal action, a goal o principle served with dedication and zeal or the interests of a person or group engaged in a struggle.

Effects An effect is something that is brought about by a cause or an agent, the result. It also refers to a scientific law, hypothesis, or phenomenon. It can also refer to bring into existence or the production of a desired impression or that impression in general.

Knowledge Knowledge would mean the state or fact of knowing familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study. In philosophy it would also refer to the sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned about a particular aspect of investigation.

Belief It is the mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something. It is accepting something as true. It refers in particular to a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a person or a group of persons.

Religion Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. It can also mean a personal and institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship. A religion can also refer to a cause, a principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

God A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions. He is a force, effect, or a manifestation or aspect of this being. He is believed to be in possession of supernatural powers, is widely believed in a widely worshipped by people, is usually a male deity and is believe to control some parts or whole of reality.

Empirical Any branch of study relying on or derived from observation or experiment. An empirical knowledge is usually verifiable, or can be proved to be probable by means of observation or experiment. An empirical knowledge usually depends on practical experience and not on theory, particularly in medicine.

Supersensible Anything beyond the perception of senses

Qualitative Procedure Classification and study from a viewpoint of sensibly observable characteristics is called Qualitative Procedure. We can example of this methodology in sciences like Botany and Zoology, where a database is created on the basis of colors, sounds, odors, tastes, temperature, hardness and other such features that are sensually verifiable, through which materials appeal to human cognition in the most immediate way.

Quantitative Procedure This is related directly with the aspect of measurement. Quantitative procedure was applied with mathematics, astronomy, harmonies and Optics.

Thing A thing refers to an entity, an idea, which can be perceived, known, or purely thought to have its own existence. As such it can be a real and concrete substance of an entity existing in time and space, or any inanimate object.

Faith A faith is a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. It is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. It can also refer to allegiance and loyalty.

Science Science is the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. It can refer to any methodological activity, discipline, or study or any activity that appears to require study and method.

Understanding understanding is the quality or condition of one who understands, and can also refer to the faculty by which one understands i.e. intelligence. In normal parlance, it can refer to a reconciliation of differences and reaching a state of agreement.

Explanation it refers to the act or process of explaining, something that explains, or a clarification of disputed terms or points reaching to a reconciliation of disputing ideas.

Proximate Very near or next, as in space, time, or order. However, in philosophical discussion it can be defined as approximate.

Experience Experience is the apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind. It can also refer to the knowledge or skill derived from direct and active participation in events or activities.

Wisdom The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting. It refers to insight, and often to good judgment.

Tabula Rasa The Tabula Rasa refers to a mind before it receives the impressions gained from experience, or a need or an opportunity to start from the beginning. In philosophy, it refers to the unformed, featureless mind implied by John Locke. It literally means a clean slate.

Innatism It is a philosophical doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas knowledge, and that is directly in opposition to the clean slate theory of John Locke and early empiricists. It asserts that not all knowledge is obtained from experience or gathered through the senses.


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