or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad,|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
“”Gwendolen. [Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.
|—Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest|
Metaphysics refers generally to one of two similar but distinct uses of the term. In general, metaphysics is the study of that which is beyond the physical or scientific, and includes the study of the origin of all things, morality, the underlying nature of all existence, causality, the nature of objects, and the nature of personhood.[note 1] The second, loosely associated use is from the wooish New Age community, which uses the term liberally for all things "spiritual" and "mystical" and "cool."
One particularly amusing explication of this difference is the disclaimer given by Professor Ron Amundson, a philosophy professor at the University of Hawaii, warning that the metaphysics course offered by his department is to do with things like free will and mind-and-body, and that those interested in ESP, auras, and astrology should drop the course because they'll fail.
Aristotle's Metaphysics was a pairing of his other seminal work, "Physics." One is a tract on science and the natural world, the other is a study and exploration of what can't be known by science or natural exploration, but which comes from questions and reflections, and indeed intuition. The name came from the words of the tract's title in Greek, tà metà tà physiká ("After the Physics"), and that has stuck ever since. Aristotle's work on metaphysics was in three parts: Ontology, the study of existence and personhood (being); Natural Theology, the study of god, gods, and things "supernatural"; and Universal Science, building blocks for logic and scientific reasoning.
Aristotle did believe (like Plato) in a craftsman to the universe, but based it on a complicated argument from movement. His enquiry was partially based on the pre-Socratic Parmenides, tracing all motion back eventually to what a conception his commentators would call causality. It requires the force of an Original Unmoved Mover. The result is a doctrine much more complicated than its usual modern interpretation, which is often blamed (by modern Aristotelians) on Plotinus' simplistic fetishization of the Unmoved Mover argument. The full argument for and about causation for Aristotle is prevalent throughout the rest of his work, including the Nicomachean Ethics, and leads him to some shockingly novel ideas about human responsibility and the nature of action. Like it or not, causality principles are also one of the only ways of bypassing the is-ought problem.
- As philosophy develops and expands over time, many of these subjects lumped by the Greeks into "metaphysics" become fully fleshed out philosophical disciplines in and of themselves.
- Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest — A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, 1895, via Project Gutenberg.
- Metaphysics disclaimer. Phil 310, Metaphysics, University of Hawaii.