The
Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

12: Metaphysics:
What is there?

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         What is Metaphysics?
        
         There have been several meanings each with their own purpose associated with the word “metaphysics.” As you read the list, please ask yourself which one fits your understanding best and/or which is the most interesting or has the most potential for your wellbeing (This is a paraphrase of my philosophical dictionary entry).
        
         1. An attempt to explain systematically and completely the world as it really is. It is the attempt to get answers to questions beyond science or theology; the attempt to get absolute answers (cosmology).
        
         2. The study of being as being. What is the meaning of existence? This is akin to asking about the meaning of “A” as “B”. For example: what is the meaning of studying a person as a social animal rather than studying a person as a rational animal.
        
         3. The study of the most fundamental properties of existence: change, continuity, time, causality, space, substance, identity, uniqueness, sameness, difference, unity, variety, oneness.
        
         4. The study of ultimate reality as it is different from reality as it appears.
        
         5. The study of the source of all things, of what must be and cannot not be (theology).
        
         6. The study of anything that is “spiritual” for example: the occult, the supernatural or the immaterial.
        
         7. The critical examination of the underlying assumptions of our systems of knowledge.
        
         A common characteristic of all of these definitions is that they are all rationalistic. This means that the answers can be found simply by thinking. A thought experiment is the closest one would need to get to a real scientific experiment.
        
        
         Philosophy Club 12: Metaphysics
        
         What is the most important metaphysical question from the list below?
         1. Is there really a world?
         2. What is of primary importance: existence or consciousness?
         3. Does the universe have a beginning and an end or is it eternal?
         4. Is the world [good/neutral/evil]?
         5. Are people born [good/evil] and then some become [good/evil]?
         6. Are we free to choose the causes of our actions or are we determined by outside forces to choose as we do?
         7. Are essences or basic categories real or just useful fictions?
        
         1. Is there really a world? We see motion; we feel that we are separate beings. Are ours senses sensing just illusions? Consider the arguments that suggest that the world cannot possibly be the way we perceive it: Are the units of time and/or distance infinitely divisible or not? If distance or time can be infinitely divided into ever smaller units then motion is impossible since we have to overcome an infinite number of infinities of space or time to move BUT if distance or time is not infinitely divisible then there is a unit of time or space, the center of which we cannot reach. If we cannot get to the center of a distance or of a time then we cannot get to the end – so motion seems impossible. Yet motion appears everywhere. If motion is an illusion then separateness may be too. Consider what separates any two objects? Air. What separates the object and the air? If we keep asking this question, eventually the only answer seems to be that nothing separates everything – or that there is nothing separating us. The world is one. What do you see as being at stake with these ideas?
        
         2. What is of primary importance: existence or consciousness? In other words what is more important for the development of knowledge and life: the world as it really is or the world as we perceive it? If you choose the first you are more likely to be a realist/empiricist; if you choose the second you are more likely to be an idealist/rationalist. Aristotle, Machiavelli and Marx seem to me to have favored existence because they seem to have looked at the real world first in order to create their philosophy. Plato, Kant and Gandhi seem to have favored consciousness because they seem to have started off with a goal or vision that ought to be applied to the world. In some times and places either the primacy existence or consciousness has been preferable to the other. How about today in our world?
        
         3. Does the universe have a beginning and an end or is it eternal? Modern cosmology claims that the universe began in a Big Bang and will end with the heat death as the universe is consumed in entropy. But it may be that the universe is eternal and that it goes through several stages in a repeating cycle. If ever there was nothing then there should still be nothing – so something must have always been (something must be eternal). If the universe is not eternal then there must be an eternal being (God) but if there is no god then the Universe must be eternal. What is the value of your life on earth if your life is a step on the way to an afterlife compared to the possibility that you have lived your life before and will live it innumerable times again?
        
         4. Is the world [good/neutral/evil]? In the history of Christianity all three ideas have been dominant. The idea that the world is good seems to have been held mostly when and where there were small towns, frontiers, good times and there existed a unified Christianity. The notion that the world is evil has been held by sects that are not dominant, are being persecuted, are envious of cities and sects that concentrate on the next world (doomsday or apocalyptic cults). Today in most mainstream churches I sense that the world is considered neutral, “the world is what we make it,” seems to be a common mantra. Which belief is most beneficial for us today?
        
         5. Are people born [good/evil] and then some become [evil/good]? Christians have traditionally believed that we are born with original sin and therefore we are bad and deserve to die. But we can be made good through belief in Jesus. Buddhists believe that we are born good and that some make mistakes that turn them bad; proper restitution can restore a bad person into a good person. What are the psychological effects on people’s wellbeing of these two beliefs?
        
         6. Are we free to choose the causes of our actions or are we determined by outside forces to choose as we do? Free will verses determinism, that is the question. When we think we have a choice between several alternatives do we really have a real choice or is the “choice” we make a reflection of the largest of various forces that have influence over us. There are serious consequences for politics and ethics depending on which side one believes. What are the consequences of each belief?
        
         7. Are essences and basic categories real or just useful fictions? We seem to categorize reality; we organize reality with categories we define things by their essence. Are these categories real in the sense that they are absolute and unchanging requirements for an accurate understanding of reality OR might our categories be determined by culture, gender, circumstances etc. OR might our categories be totally arbitrary?
        


© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren