Short summaries of the main thinkers and arguments.
What is it?
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality. It also considers the nature of existence, time, and causality.
Metaphysics is one of the traditional four main branches of philosophy, alongside ethics, logic, and epistemology. It is an ancient subject that continues to draw human curiosity: what is the nature of reality?
Metaphysics is the undercurrent of western philosophy that has, from the time of Ancient Greece until now, inquired into that which is - that is, into Being and its reasons.
The philosophical importance of the question of Being is greater than its place in the history of thought. This question has been important since the Greeks because Being, in one single word, defines the universe as a whole along with our own ephemeral existence in it. Fragile as it is, Being, including our own, might well have never come into existence. Yet Being is and we are, at least for a time. It is this mystery and our perplexed relation to it that is the origin of philosophy and of metaphysics. The attempt to think "Being" reaches into something unknown, and possibly unknowable. How do we even begin to describe the reality of something that exists?
All explanations can only explain Being from Being. Although one may derive Being from another principle (like God), the ensuing explanation does not really explain why there is something rather than nothing. Thus the following paradox: Being, which calls for an explanation, resists all meaning and explanation.
Aristotle, Book IV of Metaphysics: There is a science which investigates Being as Being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these others treats universally of Being as Being. They cut off a part of Being and investigate the attribute of this part, this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do.
Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804: As for the name metaphysics, it is hard to believe that it was born out of chance since it fits this science so well: if we call nature physis and if we can only arrive at the concepts of nature by experience, then the science that follows after it is called metaphysics (from meta, trans, and physica). It is, in a way, a science that is beyond the physical realm.
Metaphysics has as the proper object of its inquiries three ideas only: God, freedom, and immortality.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, 1646-1716: And nobody will be surprised if the queen of the sciences that we know as first philosophy and which Aristotle called the desired science (zetouménè), still remains today an elusive science.
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900: Mystical explanations are considered deep; the truth is, they are not even shallow.
Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860: I have described religion as the metaphysics of the people....Music is the occult metaphysical exercise of a soul not knowing that it philosophizes.
Theodore Adorno, 1903-1969: Mysticism is the metaphysics of idiots.
Questions that lead us to the idea of metaphysics:
What do we mean by reality?
There are modes of existence: what allows us to say: "something is possible," or "something does not exist," or "it cannot be."
Are there differences between being, substance, and essence?
What is a thing?
How do you explain change? Or causation?
How do we get to the distinction between subject and object?
Necessary and contingent attributes: Substance and attributes.
What creates the identity of a thing? And what maintains it over time?
Where does personal identity come from?
What is language?
Is there a being that can only be accessed through thought?
What is the nature of mathematical objects, like numbers and shapes?
Does something absolute, like God, exist?
Is not the person who thinks the absolute herself the absolute? (Adorno paraphrased). How does Metaphysics inform philosophical anthropology?
What connects different beings, assuming they have independent existence?
Metaphysics addresses some of the following problems:
Metaphysics is derived from questioning the meaning of the word "it is."
Space, Time, and objects: How does it all work together?
What is Causality?
Modes of existence: Necessity and Possibility
The problem of the universals
Analogia entis: Analogy of existence and being
Unity and multiplicity / identity and difference
Being, existence, and essence: How do these terms relate?
Metaphysics is the inquiry into that which is, into Being and its reasons. In what ways can it be divided into sub-disciplines?
Theology and Metaphysics, or onto-theology: How do you reconcile the idea of God with being and reality?
Language and Reality: Is Western metaphysics just a "language game?' (Wittgenstein)
How do we explain the relationship of finitude and infinity?
Epistemology and metaphysics: What should come first?
The idea of metaphysics as a universal science of Being as Being, or of substance - is this outdated in the light of modern physics?
Hegel, Encyclopedia: Metaphysics is nothing else [nichts anderes] but the entire range of the universal determinations of thought, as it were, the diamond net into which everything is brought and thereby first [zuallererst] made intelligible. Every educated consciousness [jedes gebildete Bewußtsein] has its metaphysics, an instinctive way of thinking, the absolute power within us of which we become master only when we make it in turn the object of our knowledge. (G. W. F. Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, II:11, § 246 (Zusatz): “Denn Metaphysik heißt nichts anderes, als der Umfang der allgemeinen Denkbestimmungen, gleichsam das diamentene Netz, in das wir allen Stoff bringen und dadurch erst verständlich machen. Jedes gebildete Bewußtsein hat seine Metaphysik, das instinctartige Denken,
Adorno, Negative Dialectics: "Thought that does not capitulate before wretched existence comes to nought before its criteria, truth becomes untruth, philosophy becomes folly. And yet philosophy cannot give up, lest idiocy triumph in actualized unreason [Widervernunft] … Folly is truth in the shape that human beings must accept whenever, amid the untrue, they do not give up truth. Even at the highest peaks art is semblance; but art receives the semblance … from nonsemblance [vom Scheinlosen] … . No light falls on people and things in which transcendence would not appear [widerschiene]. Indelible in resistance to the fungible world of exchange is the resistance of the eye that does not want the world's colors to vanish. In semblance nonsemblance is promised." (ND 404–5).
Grondin, Introduction to Metaphysics. Conclusions: The critics of metaphysics are certainly right on one thing: It has constituted, albeit discreetly, the guiding thread of the entire Western tradition. The question is whether it really has to be jettisoned and why that would need to be the case. As this book has argued, there are, to begin with, many forms of metaphysics. The metaphysics one rejects is more often than not just one possibility amongst many and is always taken to task in the name of some other type of metaphysics. Plato is held to be the founder of metaphysics, with very good reasons, yet his theory of ideas was constantly challenged by Aristotle, another founding figure of metaphysics. If Descartes lambasted Aristotelian scholasticism, he did so while presenting his own Metaphysical meditations (1641). Kant, for his part, only called to question the possibilities of knowledge of pure reason in order to lay the groundwork of a new metaphysics.
This refreshing variety of metaphysical thinking is however not devoid of a common-core, without which it would make no sense to speak of metaphysics. This book hopes to have made the case that metaphysics is, in essence, the self-critical endeavor of the human mind to understand the whole of reality and its reasons, an undertaking which can indeed be seen to have supported the Western intellectual tradition. It is self-critical since metaphysicians have always corrected their predecessors and even their own previous attempts at coming to grips with the main features of our experience. It is nothing more than an endeavor since most of its thinkers were aware of the audacious nature of their undertaking and of the limits of language in their attempt to grasp “Being.”
This metaphysical endeavor came to the fore when Parmenides raised Being to the level of thinking: Being and thinking are the same, he said at the beginning of metaphysics. Plato seized upon this insight when he recognized that reason can glimpse true Being when it is arrested by the splendor of the eidos—that is, the order, symmetry and harmony—which shines through the world of our experience. Thinking then, unmistakably but humbly, becomes aware that this world of ours is not only guided by the random whims of fortune and chance, which can hardly guide anything. They testify to some good that rules our world and our action and which we strive to understand when we think metaphysically. (Grondin, Jean. Introduction to Metaphysics (p. 256).
What is Identity? Where does this concept come from? How "real" is it? Does it only exist in language?
What is the relationship between language and reality?
What is the relationship between a substance and its properties? Or substance and reality?
What is the meaning of "to be:" Is "existence" a property?
If x and y are identical (are the same thing), must they always be identical? Are they necessarily identical?
What does it mean for an object to be the same, if it changes over time? (Is the tree in 2020 the same tree as in 2021?)
If you replace every part of an object over time, as in the Ship of Theseus example, in what way is it still the same?