What Is Metaphysics?

Metaphysics, or the attempt to conceive the world as a whole by means of thought, has been developed, from the first, by the union and conflict of two very different human impulses, the one urging men towards mysticism, the other urging them towards science. Some men have achieved greatness through one of these impulses alone, others through the other alone: in Hume, for example, the scientific impulse reigns quite unchecked, while in Blake a strong hostility to science co-exists with profound mystic insight. But the greatest men who have been philosophers have felt the need both of science and of mysticism: the attempt to harmonise the two was what made their life, and what always must, for all its arduous uncertainty, make philosophy, to some minds, a greater thing than either science or religion.

- Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic

Podcast of the Day

Metaphysics is the philosophical study of reality. But what does that mean? Philosopher Kit Fine explains what metaphysics is and what it can tell us in conversation with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Listen to Kit Fine on What is Metaphysics?

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Short Article of the Day

I’ve occasionally had the disappointing experience of walking into a bookshop, seeing a shelf marked ‘Metaphysics’ and, beginning to peruse it, only then finding that it’s filled with volumes on mindfulness, crystals, and learning about one’s past lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if New Age enthusiasts have occasionally had the reverse disappointment upon learning that a ‘Metaphysics’ course they signed up for will involve arguing about the nature of reality, personal identity, and the problem of free will.

This confusion over what metaphysics is, exactly, is an old one. A historically-minded person asked to define this field of philosophy might say that metaphysics simply studies the sort of issues tackled in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the first work to use the word in its title. But this answer would need a significant caveat: Aristotle did not use this title himself, and indeed the book is almost certainly a collection of disparate materials cobbled together centuries after Aristotle’s death...

Continue reading Peter Adamson's article: What is Metaphysics Anyway?

Further Reading

It is not easy to say what metaphysics is. Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject-matter: metaphysics was the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change”. It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics—first causes or unchanging things—would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Second, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things—the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical... - Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Metaphysics by Peter van Inwagen and Meghan Sullivan

Want to learn more? Check out: The Nine Best Books on Metaphysics

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