For a long time common belief
was that the word ‘Metaphysics’ was the title of a book written by Aristotle
, a term that was invented by his publisher to describe Aristotle’s lectures that followed from his books about nature, or physics
. In said book Aristotle wrote about the general cause
of things. The term ‘metaphysics’ was therefore interpreted as ‘what goes above nature
’ or, as Webster
has it: “after those things which relate to external nature, after physics”. Metaphysics are different from regular physics in the sense that physics investigate in nature the way mankind experiences it, while metaphysics investigate in the (reason
of this all, including that what constitutes a unity
. This unity can be considered a truth
outside our world, as Plato
stated it, or a deeper ground, in which central ideas are founded, as Aristotle
stated it. Both ‘types’ of metaphysics have their own adherents.
One draws a distinction between subjective and objective metaphysics. Objective metaphysics seek for the unity in all information. There are various schools of objective metaphysics: the realistic and the scholastic school, and physical, natural and material metaphysics.
Subjective metaphysics seek for the unity in the subject all information is meant for. When one assumes that the unity of the world was realized only by the creating ability of the human spirit, we speak of idealistic metaphysics.
Before Plato there was a world of timeless, unchangeable ideas, archetypes of unchangeable forms. Sensory perceptions were a perfect reflection of the world of ideas. The world man experienced through his senses was according to Plato not the real, eternal world. According to him only pure ideas could provide certainty: they’d exist by themselves and would be withdrawn from the instability and changeability of the world. Aristotle disagreed with Plato and honored the principle of change. His metaphysical discovery was the evolution of all things towards an objective. Aristotle stated that everything strives for perfection: fundamentally everything is dust and matter. It is lead to perfection by the ‘form’: the power that transforms matter to reality. Whenever something reaches its form then it has realized itself, it has become what it was meant to be. The highest of all forms would be godhead. Aristotle regarded that as a form without matter.
Theologian Thomas Aquinas wanted to justify Christian faith by backing up theology by Aristotelian metaphysics. He occupied himself with the difference between faith and sense. Thomas stated that man should trust his senses. Sense would know that every material thing strives for purity and perfection. But only faith could have a full understanding of God, and faith would acknowledge God as the creator of the world.
Cusanus can be considered the metaphysician who formed the connection between the Middle Ages and the New Age. He was the first one to regard the eternity of the world as object of discussion. This way he wanted to solve the problem of the relation between God and the world in a new way. He stated that all contradictions in God being infinite fell together. According to Cusanus one had to accept the world and to reject dualism, the separation of two worlds. Only then one would be able to discover the infinity inside finite beings. The world would be a finite infinity, with a created God.
Descartes went along the lines of Cusanus. He sought to infinity by the assumption of methodic doubt. For him it was important to discover something that was so certain, that all doubts would be excluded. Doubting everything would lead to one certainty: he who doubts everything, truly exists. By doubting he thinks, and is therefore certain he exists. And more: who doubts knows by the questions he asks already something from the infinite. What exists for the finite mind is merely a curtailment of the full truth, which is infinite. The awareness of infinity came according to Descartes before the awareness of finiteness, just like the awareness of God came before the awareness of self-existence.
Kant investigated in the borders of metaphysics and the possibilities of the human mind. He questioned whether the human mind was capable of thinking true things. Metaphysics would seem to assume that the existence of a world was apart from the existence of mankind, and he stated that that was impossible. The world behaves according to the rules of mankind. Mankind accepts certain things, but adds its own merits, too. With inherent yet subconscious mental power mankind could form relations between things, like cause and consequence and similarities between events in the past. Kant was the first person who put that not the outside world, but the human mind was the basis of the metaphysical way of thinking.
The main form of philosophy in the nineteenth and twentieth century was the idealistic form of metaphysics. Especially Kant’s theories were popular, and were tested and analyzed in a great share of studies. At the moment the works of Heidegger draw much attention. The most trends in science, particularly logical positivism, investigate in traditional metaphysics even more than Kant did. Russell was of the opinion that metaphysics were the result of imprecise use of colloquial language, a vision that had great impact on logical-positivists. Wittgenstein agrees with Russell and adds that metaphysics can’t solve the problems around the concept of truth. Metaphysics are nothing more than juggling with words, according to Wittgenstein. Metaphysicians would take words out of their contexts and add entirely new meanings to the words. Language would never be able to judge over reality.