The study of the nature and origin of ultimate reality; one of the five classical fields of philosophical inquiry (see also Aesthetics; Epistemology; Ethics; Logic). The term originated when the writings of Aristotle were collected and his work in on "first principles" Was given a title that merely denoted its place among the manuscripts, meta to physica, or "after the Physics." Because of this linguistic accident, metaphysics has acquired the sense of being concerned with things beyond the physical.

Aristotle's Metaphysics was concerned with such problems as the nature of Substance and causation (including the "first Cause, " Or God) as well as the foundamental nature of Being, which is the subject of the branch of metaphysics known as ontology. For centruries after Aristotle, these preoccupations defined the content of metaphysical inquiry, and the assumption that the search for fundamental principles was a feasible undertaking went largely unchallenged.

That challenge finally came from Immanual Kant, who presented the view that the perceived "Truth" Of metaphysical concepts might simply be the result of Cognitive structures within our minds. This, on top of the Cartesian policy of doubting everything and the Empiricists' belief in nothing beyond the evidence of the senses, undermined confidence in the validity of the metaphysical enterprise. For example, while most religious beliefs are founded on a metaphysics in which the First Principle is God, much modern theology has moved toward scientific or Humanistic conceptions of deity and creation.

Since Kant, metaphysics has shifted away from the search for fundamental causes toward questions such as whether reality is basically mental or basically physical. Indeed, over the past two centuries the term has come to be used deprecatingly, as many philosophers have sought to "overcome" Metaphysics, accusing others of retaining metaphysical elements in their thought. This knid of dispute hinges on the factious problem of what is metaphysical, while others maintain that science is itself one metaphysical position among others; Marxists see the Dialectical analysis of socioeconmic structures as the only stance free of metaphysics, while others call the assumption of fundamental principles in Marxist Dialectical Materialism hopelessly metaphysical; and so on. (p.259-260)

CHRIS ROHMANN, A WORLD of IDEAS-A Dictionary of Important Theories, Concepts, Beliefs, and Thinkers, New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1999


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