On to the third major field of philosophy: Metaphysics. Metaphysics, according to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, is “The science of the principles and causes of all things existing; hence, the science of mind or intelligence. This science comprehends ontology, or the science which treats of the nature, essence, and qualities or attributes of beings; cosmology, the sciences of the worlds, which treats of the nature and laws of matter and of motions; anthroposophy, which treats of the powers of man, and the motions by which life is produced; psychology, which treats of the intellectual soul; pneumatology, or the science of spirits or angels, etc.” It also may include discussions of “the existence of God, his essence and attributes.” Webster goes on to say that these divisions are not really in current usage, and that metaphysics tends to deal with immaterial existences. Here’s a more modern, manageable series of definitions from Dictionary.com:
- The branch of philosophy that treats of first principles, includes ontology and cosmology, and is intimately connected with epistemology.
- The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.
- The philosophical study of being and knowing.
- The field in philosophy that studies ultimate questions, such as whether every event has a cause and what things are genuinely real.
Here are three overarching questions for the week:
1. What is this world made of?
2. What else exists outside or besides this physical universe (that we experience with our senses) and which is apprehended by something other than our senses?
3. Does this material realm really exist, and in what way(s)?
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book/story in which this world was not all there was? Maybe the protagonist found him/herself in a parallel universe, in a spiritual realm, in another time (and is that really another world??), in an imaginary location, etc. Did you ever consider if these places were theoretically or actually possible? Did you ever wonder why our imaginations long to jump outside of our earthly existence, and if this might be a proof of other worlds?
Philosophy students: Please post a response to at least two of the following questions/discussions. Be thorough: when responding to one of the points below, respond to every query, not just one. Add other thoughts as well as they come to you. It’s a good idea to browse some of the recommended websites on your syllabus to get ideas. Others besides students are, of course, more than welcome to join the conversation.
1. Think of a book or movie that presents another world besides this terrestrial existence. The Matrix is off limits, since we’re using that as our in-class example. Describe the following: a) the ways in which that world differs from ours; b) the ways in which it resembles ours; c) how the character(s) get there; d) how the character(s) perceive/interact with/effect that world; e) whether/how much they remember it if and when they return to this realm; and f) if/how much/in what ways that world has an effect on or an interaction with this one.
2. Describe Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in your own words. Explain what each level symbolizes or represents. Compare this story to either The Matrix or Narnia: The Silver Chair or another work of fiction. Talk about what elements of these stories might be true. How does our world exist, and how do you know it does? What does it even mean to exist?
3. Explain what your personal beliefs are about metaphysical realities. What else exists, besides things you can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear? How do you apprehend these objects/beings/entities? How do you know they exist? In what sense do they exist? Do you think you could get to them/go there/experience them? How? When? Are these beliefs all parts of your religious creed, or do you have any other metaphysical beliefs or speculations?
While I am not including questions about them, there are other aspects of metaphysics that I would love to see discussed here, such as:
- Is there an entity which has an eternal, self-sufficient existence? What/Who? How?
- How did this physical world come into being? What/Who did it come from?
- What is this world made of, ultimately or fundamentally? [Louisa, would you grace us with a little bit of physics here if you have a moment?]
- Does man have an eternal soul or some other kind of eternal existence? If so, is that existence also eternal back into the past, or only on into the future?
- What does it mean to be? What is the relationship between being and becoming?
- What is the relationship of the Arts to Metaphysics? Is it part of the job of artists to try to depict realities beyond the physical? How can they even attempt such a task? Also, in what sense does a work of art exist, and in what sense do its qualities exist?