The Scope of Metaphysics

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Techne, Dec 17, 2011.

  1. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    When people come across the term “metaphysics” they often associate it with new-age spiritual mysticism that deals with the mysterious non-physical aspects of reality such as spirits or spiritual healing or ghosts or astrology. This is quite understandable as the etymology of the word suggests just that. The word is derived from Greek meaning beyond or after (meta) physics.

    The main reason for this confusion can be traced back to the Latin scholars who translated and commented on Aristotle’s works. Aristotle wrote several books on physics and Andronicus of Rhodes placed several of Aristotle’s more philosophical works after these books. Andronicus labelled these works as “the books that come after the physics” and the Latin scholars thought it meant “the science of what is beyond the physical”, hence “metaphysics”.

    Aristotle never used the term “metaphysics”. Instead his works labelled as metaphysics is what he labelled as “first philosophy”. Aristotle most probably borrowed from the terms philosophus and philosophia that were first employed by Pythagoras (in Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations). Philosophy roughly meant to Pythogoras as the pursuit of wisdom. The term philosophy then in turn changed to signify wisdom and the love of it, which was seen as the highest kind of knowledge. To Aristotle the only way to reach the highest kind of knowledge was to engage in what he labelled as “first philosophy”.

    Aristotle’s philosophia prima or metaphysics is concerned with real being and its attributes. In other words it is concerned with the very nature of a thing, with being itself, with the root principle, causes and operations of existing things. To Aristotle metaphysics deals with the most fundamental and deepest aspects of reality and was viewed as the queen of the sciences.

    The Scholastics referred to empirical physical sciences as “real sciences” or “scientiae reales” as these sciences studied things such as objects, substances, processes, organisms etc. They also labelled the study of logic, the process of attaining certain proofs and truths, as a “rational science” or “scientia rationalis”.

    Importantly one cannot engage in any metaphysics without being informed by the real sciences as well as the rational sciences. Aquinas described metaphysics as the science one studies after having mastered the sciences that deal with the physical world. And a coherent and consistent first philosophy can only be successful if it interprets the empirical facts logically, coherently and consistently.

    So what is the scope of metaphysics? No, it’s not some new-age, mystical, spiritual woo-woo. It is fundamentally concerned with describing or understanding the nature of being and becoming (change). We all have our metaphysical views or first philosophies. This may not be apparent at first but as soon as people attempt to answer questions such as “what is your view of the concept of matter?” or “do you think time is real or just an intellectual abstraction of change?” or “are you a realist?” or “is free will compatible with determinism?” or "what is the relationship between cause and effect?” etc.then their philosophia prima becomes recognizable.

    It is only by engaging in metaphysics or a first philosophy that one can begin to answer such questions. To answer such questions in a logically consistent manner is the main aim of metaphysics and as always definitions are important.
     
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  3. ughaibu Registered Senior Member

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    What it means to be informed by the sciences, is a metaphysical issue, in short, you're making metaphysical assumptions before you engage in metaphysics. The dependence is two way.
     
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  5. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    I suppose you need to have a few properly basic beliefs (and thus metaphysical assumptions) before engaging in any science. The belief that your brain is reliable, the belief that you are talking to other persons etc. perhaps trivially true beliefs, but metaphysical assumptions nonetheless.
     
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  7. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    First or primary principles, which could still be somewhat construed as "beyond the physical”, in the sense of not pursuing yet more empirical objects or discrete material phenomena as "answers/sources". IOW, like discerning and studying general principles that a physical world conforms to slash seems regulated by. (Or perhaps even the a priori principles that consciousness of a world conforms to; i.e. Kant.) Such global abstractions don't correspond to concrete phenomena or particulars in either perception or personal imagination (apart from symbols / descriptions used to represent concepts and rules). Thus, as close to "non-physical or non-appearance" as one can maybe get, given the later pessimism about and aura of mumbo-jumboism concerning a literal apprehending of real being or some ultimate, transcendent reality (existence as unperceived, unconceived, undescribed -- independent of sense and reason generated representations).
     
  8. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    The word meta / para when applied to science is quickly equated with pseudo / crank / crackpot science. After all, something that is "beyond science" is... well... not science by its very definition.
     
  9. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    That is why the correct, and original, view of metaphysics is that it is a rational science in the sense that it is a first philosophy (philosophia prima) instead of something that is "beyond science".
     
  10. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    Unfortunately for those who wish to use the term, most of the scientific world does not share that outlook; however, they do have a term to use which you may want to consider. It's called "protoscience".
     
  11. gmilam Valued Senior Member

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    Original, maybe - need references. Correct, debatable.
     
  12. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    Well I am not really a fan of such generalizations. Who knows, it may even be true. Seems irrelevant though. Metaphysics as a rational science and first philosophy appears to be in line with its original usage and aims.


    Metaphysics is a pretty well established field (and as pointed out, fits quite nicely with the view that it is a scientia rationalis) so that term is perhaps best reserved for something else.
     
  13. Crunchy Cat F-in' *meow* baby!!! Valued Senior Member

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    I am just saying Techne, science recognizes Meta-/Para-(science) as crank/crackpot/pseudo science and it will be systematically separated from the real thing.
     
  14. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    "science recognizes"?

    I am saying, as explained in the OP, that there is no reason to think that metaphysics (given that it was originally meant to imply "first philosophy") is a "crank/crackpot/pseudo science". Metaphysics/first philosophy attempts to deal with the real thing in a logical, coherent and consistent manner - correctly labelled as a rational science.
     
  15. Arioch Valued Senior Member

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    @Techne --

    Whether that's theoriginal meaning or not, the scientific community has(for the most part) eschewed calling what you describe metaphysics, instead using that label for various pseudosciences. And there's no real reason for them not to, so long as there's universal or near universal agreement on the definition between those who are discussing things it doesn't really matter what word they use. The scientific community decided to repurpose the word for a different usage, and since they all tend to agree on that new definition it's functional and serves a purpose. In other words, the word can still assist in the communication of information.

    And this is hardly the first time that a word has been repurposed or altered in history, just look at what happened with the word "fagot". Originally the word meant "a bundle or burden of sticks or kindling", and over the course of time it changed and mutated. First it was "someone who picks up sticks or kindling", then when it was discovered that most "fagots" were the elderly it was changed to the derogatory definition "a person who is a burden"(which is the first derogatory use of the word I can find), and eventually it became a derogatory word for homosexuals(or a term for a cigarette, depending on where you are). Another example would be the LGBTQ community's repurposing of the word "gay" to mean "homosexual" rather than it's original definition as a synonym for "happy".

    Examples of people redefining words for one purpose or another are abundant in history, and for the most part it really doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things so long as people are still able to use those words to communicate. The problems start when one or more individuals are using a definition that the others haven't agreed to(such as in some of the Religion sub-forum threads).

    I think that this is probably a lost cause for you considering that the agreement of the scientific community has already effectively filtered down to the common masses. And I'm sure that the constant misuse of the term by cranks and pseudos hasn't helped your cause any either.
     
  16. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

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  17. river

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    if we can , and only draw from this definition from my electronic dictionary

    (2) : abstract philiosophical studies : a study of what is outside objective experience

    agreeed ?
     
  18. NietzscheHimself Banned Banned

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    Metaphysics? Is is concerned at all with nature or does it go beyond?
     
  19. river

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    both
     
  20. Techne Registered Senior Member

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    Arioch, I am curious to understand what you imply by "scientific community" and why you have come to the conclusion that this particular community has come to a particular agreement regarding metaphysics.

    It may be that you refer to the empirical scientific community? And that the empirical scientific community does not view metaphysics as an empirical science? If so then I of course agree, but this would be trivially true.

    The empirical scientific community is of course not the only scientific community. Do have another scientific community in mind? It would be ironic if the empirical scientific community does indeed view metaphysics as some sort of proto- or pseudoscience since empirical inquiry is itself grounded in various metaphysical premises or first philosophies.
     
  21. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

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    We are only arguing over a definition here. Both usages are allowed within a philosophical context (like here), though i think Arioch refers to less educated (from a philosophical definitions context) persons' assumptions on the word. It is essentially a philosophical term that is sometimes used outside of philosophy to label "Mumbo Jumbo". There shouldn't be an issue if the two parties within any discussion decide on the definition they wish to use. If a joint decision can't be made for the sake of the debate then the debate will fail.

    I feel a decision has to be made here to proceed?

    Both definitions are valid, yet one is needed for the debate to move away from definition squabbling.
     
  22. NietzscheHimself Banned Banned

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    Metaphysics is the study of the unknown. It deals with anything immaterial physics has yet to explain.

    So... There is not much on the subject that doesn't refer to either belief or imagination. Which ultimately could be more real to a person than the interpretations of physics.

    Since a proper scientific breakdown of consciousness can not be completed until everything about physics, biology, and chemistry is known, we may never understand metaphysics. Or what is defined under metaphysics today becomes a part of physics.
     
  23. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

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    Yeah, 'cos science doesn't do that.

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