A Little History of Thought: What is Metaphysics?


Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily, precisely defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

  • What is ultimately there?
  • What is it like?

The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility.

The purpose of this blog has always been to make some of the most important concepts in Christian thought as accessible as possible to as many English speakers as possible.  Therefore, the parsing further of this subject will prematurely end there, as far as delving further specifically into how Metaphysics goes.  You may, of course, indulge yourself into all that your whim and fancy desires.  Have fun!  Seriously, have a little fun, would ya?  (“Lord, spare me from somber saints!”-St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church; 1 Tim 5:23) That is not to say there isn’t more to glean, but the goal is to keep it as simple as possible, and not get lost in the weeds.  That is all which is necessary for now.

I am an applied scientist.  Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as “natural philosophy”. It was not until the very recent 19th century when this categorization really began to change and the term “natural philosophy” gave way to “science”.  Hence, also why PhDs are Doctors of Philosophy on their subject matters, even though their area of focus is not philosophy and they may never, ever have gone near a philosophy course.  Get it?

Originally, the term “science” (Latin scientia) simply meant “knowledge”. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy.  The inventor of the scientific method was a 13th century English Catholic bishop.  By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called “science” to distinguish it from philosophy.

Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

Warm & fuzzy, right?  🙂