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Metaphysics

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Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the underlying principles or nature of reality and the origin and structure of the kinds of ultimate categories of those concepts. It is concerned with the study of First Principles (those that cannot be deduced from any other) and of being. Defined as such it is different from philosophical epistemology and so it is not in relation to the study of knowledge. Metaphysics involves thought about abstract concepts not at the empirical level of understanding found within scientific methodology. This includes topics like the mind and body, or what is called the mind-body problem within philosophy. Also there are existential topics like being, non-being and existence usually brought into focus under ontology. Additionally free will and theism are considered metaphysical topics. Classical theism is thought to expresses core characteristics of the Christian concept of God throughout its history as a philosophy and so Christianity is metaphysical. Metaphysics however in the broader more philosophical sense, outside of Christian theism, also interacts with empirical evidences through reason and logic, transcending past just space-time physical reality.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy and Time, Change and Freedom: Introduction to Metaphysics respectively try to define metaphysics along the same lines and so both shed light on the distinction between science and metaphysics.

It is broader in scope than science, e.g., physics and even cosmology (the science of the nature, structure, and origin of the universe as a whole), since one of its traditional concerns is the existence of non-physical entities, e.g., God. It is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes.[1]
However, the subjects that are studied in metaphysics do not lead to predictions of observations and consequently, disputants in this field must rely on logical argument from premises and try to demonstrate logical fallacies in the argument of their opponent.[2]

Contents

History

Ancient

The word metaphysics comes from the Greek words meta meaning after or beyond and physics meaning nature. Simply put, it is the study of things that are "beyond nature". Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) is considered to be the originator of the term and concept around 300 BC in his writings called Physics[1] and Metaphysics[2]. Although many of the same topics were discussed and analyzed in both of Aritstotle's books, certain philosophical topics were categorized so that what is thought of today as metaphysics is seen as only stemming from Metaphysics by Aristotle.

Plato (424 to 348 BC) also substantially developed what is called his theory of forms. The philosophy of Plato, which is called Platonism, saw forms as abstract objects. They are not like the material of the natural world but rather are ideas and are actually the highest and most fundamental kind of reality.

Modern

Saul Kripke (born in 1940), a distinguished philosopher of religion, has made a famous argument that shows how metaphysical necessity is not always the same as a priori knowledge. Kripke offers that "water is H₂O" as an example of a proposition that is metaphysically necessary but cannot be arrived at a priori.[3] Seemingly it is obvious that indeed water is both necessarily, and more importantly a priori H₂O. It is difficult however to see how this molecular structure could be known by mere reflection alone (a priori). A priori concepts are independent of empirical experience. If it was not for the discovery of the science of chemistry the necessity of water being H₂O would have never been known. The fact that the proposition of water being H₂O is empirical (a posteriori) not a priori is a considerable development in the history of philosophy. Because the general presumption among past philosophers that metaphysical necessity and a priori were the same has been overturned the contemporary academic setting of philosophy no longer holds to that notion. A priori remains similar to metaphysical necessity because both are considered their own philosophical concepts but more importantly because they can both apply to the same proposition.[4]

Popular culture tends to relate the word metaphysics with the occult or New Age however it has nothing to do with psychic phenomena, reincarnation, astral travel, auras and the like.[5] In An Introduction to Metaphysics it defines what exactly metaphysics touches upon as a philosophy. The authors put forth three possible definitions and settle on what they call the "definitions-by-example approach".

And finally, there is the definition-by-example approach, according to which metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with such topics as ontology, time, the Mind–Body Problem, the problem of personal identity, the problem of freedom and determinism, laws of nature, causation, and material objects (all of which will be discussed extensively in this book).[6]

Modality

Necessity

Propositions that are metaphysically necessary means that they are true. The propositions cannot be false no matter what possible world human persons may exist within. Some examples of propositions that are metaphysically necessary are;

  • All bachelors are unmarried
  • Red is a color
  • 2+2=4

Physical necessity

Propositions that are dependent upon some law within nature. For example a human person cannot fly the distance across the Grand Canyon if all they have is their clothes. This is because there is nothing to counteract gravitational force upon an object, namely the person. There is a physical law (law of nature) in place called gravity that deters a person acting out such notions. It is not metaphysically impossible however, but rather it contradicts a law in nature of the actual world so that it lacks physical necessity within metaphysics that would allow such a thing. So in other words it is required, by the laws of nature, that a person trying to fly across the Grand Canyon will not happen.

To say that something is physically possible is to say that it is allowed by the laws of nature. So a physically possible future, relative to a certain time, is a way that things could continue from that time that is permitted by the laws of nature. (And a physically impossible future is one that is not permitted by the laws.) To say that something is physically necessary, however, is to say, roughly, that it is required by the laws of nature.[7]

Epistemological necessity

Propositions dependent upon the current state of what can be known. For example it was thought in medieval times that the earth was flat, for all that anybody knew it had the possibility of being true. However as time went on this epistemological necessity changed and now there is epistemological possibility within that the earth is not flat.

Non-necessity

Propositions that are not metaphysically necessary come in two flavors which are; impossible and contingent.

Metaphysically impossible

Propositions that are metaphysically impossible are basically those that violate the laws of logic. They cannot be true and have to be false. Some examples of metaphysically impossible propositions are;

  • Not all bachelors are unmarried
  • Red is not a color
  • 2+2=5

Metaphysically contingent

Propositions that are contingent and can be either true or false or to put it another way they are not necessarily true nor necessarily false. Contingent propositions are dependent on what may happen in the unknown future. In other words there is a chance it may rain on Tuesday, would be an example of a metaphysically contingent proposition. Some other examples are;

  • Kant is wise
  • Red is the color of some sports cars

Possible Worlds

Possible worlds really covers possible space-time realities, not just a possible earth. A possible world consists of conjunctions. Conjunctions are many true propositions or their contradictory negations. This then presents what is referred to as the maximal description of reality. Each individual proposition connects to other propositions forming a conjunction, so that for there to be an actual possible world is to have all conjunctions to be true. So for instance, the proposition "The Prime Minister is a prime number" is not metaphysically necessary in any possible world, and therefore not true. This is simply because real-world experience with numbers show that they are really abstract objects. While people, the "Prime Minister" in the example above is called, within metaphysics, a concrete object. Which is of course also a human being or human person. It is concluded by the metaphysician that there is no possible world where, "The Prime Minister is a prime number" can be a true proposition.

To posit "God exists" in some possible world is to have a proposition that is "true in some maximal description of reality."[8]

Abstract Entities

An abstract entity or abstract object is some thing that lacks spatial-temporal properties. It exists in the form of a concept or idea, which is an abstraction as opposed to a concrete spatio-temporal object that it represents. Abstract entities do not have physical or tangible and measurable properties (which are considered corporeal properties). They are overarching generalities of specific things. Therefore abstract objects cannot be approached through the natural and physical limitations of the scientific method producing empirical knowledge (See: Materialism). Abstract entities are not physically located in space-time, lacking the nature of a body or substance and instead are what is called incorporeal.

Abstract entities are said to be abstracted from particulars.[9]

Abstraction

  • Five
  • Human
  • Redness

Concrete

  • Five books
  • Socrates
  • The red coloring of the blanket

There are generally six main types of abstract objects. Traditionally within the branch of philosophy called metaphysics they are; numbers, sets, geometrical figures, propositions, properties and relations.

Numbers

Numbers are 0, 1, 2, 3, 5,000, 490, ... etc, having no causal power within nature but rather are considered descriptions or representations of laws. Many mathematicians think that numbers exist necessarily as opposed to contingently or having a cause of their being.

Sets

A set contains objects and becomes an object in its own right. A set is denoted by a capital letter and then an equals sign with the set listed in curly brackets. set A = {1, 2, 3}. A classic way to illustrate sets, or what is also called set theory within mathematics, is through a Venn diagram.[10]

Geometrical figures

Geometrical figures are a triangle or circle, or trapezoid. These are also examples of abstract entities. According to Robert Audi within The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy abstract entities like geometrical figures are not confined by particulars but are the general form;

The abstract triangle has only the properties common to all triangles, and none peculiar to any particular triangles; it has no definite color, size, or specific type, such as isosceles or scalene.[11]

Propositions

In metaphysics, epistemology and even logic, three core branches of philosophy, propositions are fundamental for philosophizing. Propositions are the abstract contents of sentences. The meanings of thoughts within a declarative statement. A specific proposition can have the property of true or false (See: Epistemology). The belief either way is another type of metaphysical abstract entity, called a relation, from the person to the proposition. Being abstract, propositions can be written in different languages. English and French for example could be used to write the same sentence in a different language but allow the same belief about actual reality. The differences in the languages do not effect belief in the proposition of the sentence in any way. It becomes merely a language and therefore translation issue. There does not remain reason to the notion that belief in a proposition is contingent upon the type of language used.

It is important to distinguish between sentences and propositions.

...
In expressing his belief, Paul would say, "The sky is blue," and Pierre would say, "Le ciel est bleu." Though each expresses his belief by a different sentence, each believes the same proposition.[12]

Properties

The redness of the color red, or the shape of a book are considered properties.

Relations

The distance between two cities is considered a type of abstract entity called a relation. A belief is a relation between a subject and a proposition.

The mind-body problem

Main Article: Mind

Creationists hold to a dualist view of the mind-body problem so that the mind is distinct from the human body or what should be referred to more specifically as the brain. It is important to note that the mind within the disciplines of philosophy or psychology is used as a synonym for the word soul that carries with it a more theological connotation. It is within philosophy of the mind as a discipline monists argue for no distinction or difference between the mind and brain. Ultimately monists conclude that both the mind or soul are purely physical. Materialism underpins a monist view of the mind-body problem. According to monism the human mind is nothing but the activity of the brain. The natural conclusion of this view is that when a person dies their mind ceases to exist. According to dualism the human mind transcends matter, being the spiritual component of our being. The natural conclusion of this view is that when a person dies their mind (soul) leaves their body and continues to exist.

Free will

Main Article: Free will

Free will, moral responsibility or moral freedom is the action exorcised by an agent (human person capable of moral freedom) to act as they choose without antecedent conditions determining the action. The metaphysics of free will is important and deals with time, causation and ultimately crafting an individual worldview that either informs or informs and grounds morality. While theism coherently derives a moral ought from an is, it is not so easy to within the atheistic worldview where morality is no longer obligatory but a cultural relativity, merely adaptation of biological evolution.

Paradigms

Metaphysical paradigms are philosophical views about the universe itself. There are three dominant metaphysical paradigms related to creationism.

Naturalism

Main Article: Metaphysical naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism or ontological naturalism is a worldview in which reality is composed of nothing but natural things, forces, and causes. All concepts related to consciousness or to the mind refer to entities which are reducible to the same such natural things, forces and causes. There is no objective existence of any supernatural thing, force or cause, such as are described in various religions and mythological accounts. All supernatural things are ultimately explainable purely in terms of natural things. Metaphysical naturalism is a monistic and not a dualistic view of reality. It is an ancient doctrine, and has existed in constant conflict with theism and supernaturalism, as exhibited by ancient manifestos of naturalism such as On the Nature of Things;

It is now the dominant doctrine of modern science. The word naturalist today usually refers to one who holds this philosophy, although in the 19th century the term naturalist was used to refer to one who studied nature.[13]

For example, one naturalist wrote:

Science is fundamentally a game. It is a game with one overriding and defining rule: Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes, without invoking the supernatural.[14]

Theism

Main Article: Theism

Theism is the religious metaphysical philosophy that asserts God exists and that He created and sustains the cosmos. Classical theism states that the creator God not only exists but is omniscient, omnipresent, exists necessarily, nonphysical, eternal and essentially good. The most competitive alternative philosophy within the modern intellectual climate is metaphysical naturalism, an entrenched philosophy of science acting without the existence of God and the soul, preceding with the assumption of strict materialism.[15]

Supernaturalism

Main Article: Supernaturalism

Supernaturalism is the belief that there are beings, forces, and phenomena such as God, angels or miracles which interact with the physical universe in remarkable and unique ways. Supernaturalism is a fundamental premise of theism. Theists by definition hold to a supernatural worldview which stands in contrast to the atheistic premise of naturalism, which denies the existence of any supernatural phenomena.

The word supernatural comes from the Latin word super meaning "above" plus nature. It should however be noted that although some supernatural phenomena may not be perceived by natural or empirical senses, a great many supernatural events have been witnessed in biblical and modern times. Numerous miracle events in history require a supernatural belief before they can be correctly understood or interpreted.

Theistic realism

Main Article: Theistic realism

Theistic realism is the position that nature should be defined as how things are, rather than how we think things are. Thus, when God interacts with the universe, those activities are just as natural as anything else. Acts by God do not violate the laws of nature. Instead, they reflect laws of nature which we cannot yet understand. Since the purpose of science is to understand nature, and God acts naturally, the purpose of science is to understand God.

Popular Questions

Metaphysical studies can concern difficult, perhaps unanswerable, questions bordering theology, and includes any suggestion that something, not immediately obvious, does exist.

Some examples of metaphysical types of questions are:

  • What exists?
  • What entities form this universe?
  • Can we act freely?
  • What is it for something to exist?
  • How are causes related to their effects?
  • What is time?
  • What is space?
  • Are there substances outside of space-time?
  • How is change possible?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • What is the mind and body?
  • Do objective moral values and duties exist?
  • Does the human person have a soul, mind, spirit, immaterial existence?
  • Is the human mind corporeal or incorporeal?

References

  1. Robert Audi, Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2nd Edition 1999), pg. 563
  2. Quentin Smith and L. Nathan Oaklander, Time, Change and Freedom: Introduction to Metaphysics (Routledge University Press 2005), pg. 5
  3. Naming and Necessity By Saul Kripke, pg. 116
  4. John W. Carroll and Ned Markosian, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press 2010), pg. 6-7
  5. John W. Carroll and Ned Markosian, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press 2010), pg. 1."Let’s start with what metaphysics is not. Metaphysics – as we are using the term – is not the study of the occult."
  6. John W. Carroll and Ned Markosian, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press 2010), pg. 4
  7. John W. Carroll and Ned Markosian, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press 2010), pg. 49
  8. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Crossway 3rd Edition, 2008), pg. 184
  9. Robert Audi, Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2nd Edition 1999), pg. 3
  10. Venn diagram By Wikipedia
  11. Robert Audi, Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2nd Edition 1999), pg. 3
  12. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 2
  13. On the Nature of Things By Carus, Titus Lucretius. Accessed 2011-01-03
  14. Richard Dickerson, Journal of Molecular Evolution 34:277, 1992
  15. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell Publishing 2009), pg. 8


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