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Metaphysics

Metaphysics


The term metaphysics refers to the study of things that are removed from sense perception. Modern metaphysics studies the kind of things that exist and the way they exist.

In the dialogue of science and religion, metaphysics, science, and religion do not necessarily refer to separate endeavors that need relating. Religious faith, for example, can be pervasive so that nature is seen as divine creation and science as a form of worship. Neither do the terms refer to universal bodies of knowledge and belief independent of context. Metaphysics has affected the dialogue between science and religion. These effects have depended on the content of metaphysics and on whether it functioned as science or religion. Moreover, metaphysics and religion have shaped epistemology. Metaphysics has served as presupposition, sanction, motive, criterion for theory choice, criterion for the choice of kinds of explanation (regulative principle), and as part of explanations (constitutive principle). The focus in the dialogue between religion and science is on how God interacts with the world, and on the relation between knowledge of God (religious knowledge and the systematic reflection on it in theology) and knowledge of nature (views of nature, as well as the systematic development of empirical knowledge).

Ancient Greek metaphysics shaped the understanding of God's action in the world in each of the three Abrahamic religions. (Eastern Orthodoxy is an exception in this respect while Judaism can be said to have been only insignificantly influenced.) In Christianity and Islam, the possibility of dialogue between religion and science depended, among other considerations, on how the relationship between theory and observation was envisioned. For ancient Greek philosophers, reliable knowledge was knowledge of the ultimate. Different types of metaphysics had preferred ways of knowing ultimate reality. The Platonic ideas were best known by reason. For Democritus, the random movement of atoms was ultimate reality; their material combinations were best apprehended by sensation. Sensation was also the only source of knowledge of nature for the nominalists, who denied the existence of universal ideas. This reinforced the distinction between observation and reason in eleventh- and twelfth-century scholasticism. To protect divine intervention from naturalistic explanation, theologians distinguished between God's ordained power operating in regular natural phenomena and his absolute power manifested in miracles. In addition, reasoning in theology was limited to avoid conflict with divinely revealed knowledge. Thus the possibility and nature of dialogue between science and religion came to depend on how the relationship between nature and supernature was envisioned.

Metaphysics affected the dialogue between natural philosophy and religion via the content of both. While in Greek metaphysics the order of nature was autonomous and necessary, in the Abrahamic religions it depended totally upon the creator. These traditions were combined by medieval Christian theologians. They acknowledged both a relative autonomy of nature (God's ordinary power) and a divine sovereignty (God's absolute power). Yet theological responses also included the naturalism of William of Conches (c. 1080c.1150). This set the stage for future discussions. One question was whether purpose in organisms reveals God's natural or supernatural action. Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274) interpreted Aristotle's natural final cause as divine providence, thereby creating a link between natural philosophy and religion. When natural philosophers took purpose as a natural cause, theologians saw the power of God diminished. In response, different forms of voluntarism developed in both Muslim and Christian theology in which creatures were denied causal power because it detracted from God's power. When theologians insisted on God's purposive action in organisms, natural philosophers indicated that God could act through natural law. Responses to these questions regulated the content of both theology and natural philosophy. If animals generate their own purposes, Aquinas considered, inanimate things could prove God's existence more convincingly. Therefore, Aquinas excluded animals from his teleological proof for the existence of God. William Harvey (15781657) believed that everything has a God-given purpose. He reasoned that venous valves were created pointing in the same direction in order to prevent reverse flow and to assure the continuous circulation of blood.

In Western Christianity, the idea of absolute divine power did not discourage the exploration of nature's regularities because it was balanced by the idea of ordained power. No such balancing act occurred in the Ashirite school of Muslim theology even though it distinguished between Allah's absolute power and the derived power of humans. This distinction was not applied to natural phenomena. The Ashirites believed Allah creates a cause especially for the occasion of a phenomenon according to a regular pattern of cause and effect. This pattern, however, could be interrupted by prayer. Therefore, knowledge of this pattern remained unreliable even though it was believed to be implanted in the believer's mind by God. Western distinctions between sensation, reason, and faith as ways of knowing became separations. Thus raising the question of their relationship.

The answer further illustrates how metaphysics has affected the dialogue via epistemology. According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (17241804), scientific knowledge of phenomena arises when sensations are organized by the mind using concepts such as space, time, and cause. Beliefs about nature become scientific knowledge if they correspond to phenomena. Since beliefs about God do not result from sensations they can be accepted only on faith. This separated scientific and religious knowledge into different categories so that no dialogue was possible between them. This separation became an issue in the engagement between religion and biology. The German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (17521840) used purpose as a natural secondary cause in explanations of animal development and saw God as the primary cause. For Kant, however, this meant that supernatural causes had been included in explanations of nature. That is, the religious belief that God had created things for a purpose had constituted a scientific explanation. Kant was willing to accept only the regulative use of purpose as a guide to research.

The existence of purposive behavior in organisms is described by a concept of goal or function that excludes from scientific explanation both divine and animal intent. It is used both to guide research (what is the function of venous valves?) and to explain the observations (the function of venous valves is to block reverse flow). In twentieth-century positivism, metaphysics and religion were denied the status of knowledge and meaning because their concepts were believed not to refer to sensible realities. However, Kant's separation and its positivistic interpretation failed for a variety of reasons. As a result, there is renewed interest in metaphysics, which has revealed that it often mediates between science and religion.


See also Dualism; Epistemology; Kant, Immanuel; Materialism; Naturalism; Nature; Ontology


Bibliography

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southgate, christopher; deane-drummond, celia; murray, paul d.; negus, michael r.; osborn, lawrence; poole, michael; stewart, jacqui; and watts, fraser. god, humanity, and the cosmos: a textbook in science and religion. edinburgh, uk: t&t clark, 1999.

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jitse m. van der meer

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metaphysics

metaphysics (mĕtəfĬz´Ĭks), branch of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature of existence. It perpetuates the Metaphysics of Aristotle, a collection of treatises placed after the Physics [Gr. metaphysics=after physics] and treating what Aristotle called the First Philosophy. The principal area of metaphysical speculation is generally called ontology and is the study of the ultimate nature of being. However, philosophical theology and cosmology are also usually considered branches of metaphysics. In the history of philosophy there have been many great metaphysical systems. One of the most carefully constructed systems is that of the scholastic philosophy (see scholasticism), which essentially is based on Aristotle's metaphysical system. In the 17th cent. the great rationalistic systems of René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Nicolas Malebranche, and G. W. von Leibniz were developed. They were followed in the 18th cent. by Immanuel Kant's critical philosophy, which demonstrated the impossibility of a scientific metaphysics. This was in turn succeeded by the metaphysics of German idealism (of J. G. Fichte, Friedrich von Schelling, and G. W. F. Hegel). Since the middle of the 19th cent. the dominant philosophical trend has been in the direction of positivism, which denies the validity of any metaphysical assertion. This is clearly reflected in the contemporary movement called logical positivism. A revival of interest in metaphysics since 1950 has been sparked by P. F. Strawson, whose descriptive metaphysics is an attempt not to construct a new metaphysical system but to analyze the metaphysical systems that already inform prevailing modes of thought.

See D. W. Hamlyn, Metaphysics (1984); B. Aune, Metaphysics (1985); D. H. Mellor, Matters of Metaphysics (1991).

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metaphysics

metaphysics The most ambitious of all philosophical projects is to devise a theory of the nature or structure of reality, or of the world as a whole. This project is commonly termed metaphysics, and its intellectual viability has been widely challenged in twentieth-century Western philosophy. Metaphysics flourished in classical Greece, and also in the context of scientific revolution in seventeenth-century Europe. Philosophers such as Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza thought that a systematic use of reason could lead them to a view of the nature of the world, which turned out to be very different in character from our ordinary, everyday understanding of it. But science, too, had this consequence. The philosophers Immanuel Kant and David Hume are the sources of modern scepticism about the pretentions of metaphysics. For both thinkers, significant use of language is possible only within the bounds of possible experience. Metaphysicians appear to make sense by using words drawn from everyday language, but in using these words to speak about a world beyond the limits of possible experience they fall into contradictions and incoherence. Some modern analytical philosophers have defended a more modest vision of metaphysics–‘descriptive’ as distinct from ‘speculative’, or ‘revisionary’–as the attempt to analyse and describe the framework of basic concepts and their relationships underlying everyday and scientific discourse.

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Metaphysics

Metaphysics. The study of the most fundamental constituents of reality. The term was given by a later editor to a series of treatises by Aristotle, because the topics covered came after (meta) the philosophy of nature (physics). In those treatises Aristotle dealt with topics which do not belong to any particular science, both the analysis of fundamental concepts like ‘substance’, ‘cause’, ‘form’, and ‘matter’, and theological questions, especially that of the ‘Unmoved Mover’.

The Logical Positivists dismissed metaphysical claims as meaningless, because unverifiable ( A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 1936). More recently, P. F. Strawson has distinguished between ‘descriptive’ metaphysics, which is content to describe the actual structure of our thought about the world, and ‘revisionary’ metaphysics, which aims to produce a better structure (Individuals, 1959). The former at least remains a lively and respected branch of philosophy today.

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metaphysics

metaphysics the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. Metaphysics has two main strands: that which holds that what exists lies beyond experience (as argued by Plato), and that which holds that objects of experience constitute the only reality (as argued by Kant, the logical positivists, and Hume). Metaphysics has also concerned itself with a discussion of whether what exists is made of one substance or many, and whether what exists is inevitable or driven by chance.

Recorded from the mid 16th century, the word represents medieval Latin metaphysica (neuter plural), based on Greek ta meta ta phusika ‘the things after the Physics’, referring to the sequence of Aristotle's works: the title came to denote the branch of study treated in the books, later interpreted as meaning ‘the science of things transcending what is physical or natural’.

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metaphysical

met·a·phys·i·cal / ˌmetəˈfizikəl/ • adj. 1. of or relating to metaphysics: the essentially metaphysical question of the nature of the mind. ∎  based on abstract (typically, excessively abstract) reasoning: an empiricist rather than a metaphysical view of law. ∎  transcending physical matter or the laws of nature: Good and Evil are inextricably linked in a metaphysical battle across space and time. 2. of or characteristic of the metaphysical poets. • n. (the Metaphysicals) the metaphysical poets. DERIVATIVES: met·a·phys·i·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv.

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metaphysics

met·a·phys·ics / ˌmetəˈfiziks/ • pl. n. [usu. treated as sing.] the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. ∎  abstract theory or talk with no basis in reality: his concept of society as an organic entity is, for market liberals, simply metaphysics. DERIVATIVES: met·a·phy·si·cian / -fəˈzishən/ n.

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metaphysic

metaphysic sb. XIV. — (O)F. metaphysique — medL. metaphysica fem. sg., for earlier n. pl. (repr. by metaphysics XVI) — medGr. (tà) metaphusikà, for tà metà tà phusiká ‘the things (works) after the Physics’; see META-, PHYSIC(S)).
So metaphysic adj. XVI, metaphysical XV, metaphysician XVI. Aristotle 's Metaphysics followed in the received arrangement the treatises on natural science known as tà phusiká ‘the physics’.

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metaphysics

metaphysics Branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of reality and with the nature of the universe. Metaphysics divides into ontology, the study of the essence of being, and cosmology, the study of the structure and laws of the universe. Leading metaphysical thinkers include Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, and A. N. Whitehead.

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Metaphysics

METAPHYSICS.

This entry includes two subentries:

Ancient and Medieval
Renaissance to the Present

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metaphysic

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metaphysical

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