Sunday, January 15, 2012

What is metaphysics?

I have just listened to Kit Fine in conversation with Nigel Warburton on the Philosophy Bites website on this very topic.

The key points are:
  • the term was first used by an editor of Aristotle to describe a collection of his writing but it is not a term that Aristotle would have used. Metaphysics by Aristotle
  • notoriously difficult to define
  • meta means "beyond" or "after", but the term has a deeper meaning than "after physics"
  • differs from scientific knowledge as metaphysical knowledge is "a priori", i.e. independent of observation / experience
  • an example of a metaphysical issue in philosophy is the question of causation
  • David Hume (1711-1776) held that we reason inductively by associating constantly conjoined events, and it is the mental act of association that is the basis of our concept of causation (this is now referred to as the Regularity Theory of Causation)
  • An alternative view on causation is that there is some kind of necessary connection between one thing following another in the world
  • The true nature of causation is not an empirical question, it cannot be proved scientifically, and hence it is a metaphysical issue
  • Another example of a metaphysical question is the nature of a person
  • What is a person - what is their very nature?
  • Is a person a body, a soul, a combination of both or merely a collection of experiences?
  • 'What is free will' and 'what is the nature of space and time' are other examples of questions that are metaphysical
  • What is a number - are they the same as the signs for numbers (numerals), are they something abstract, existing in some form of Platonic realm independent of us, or are they a kind of mental construction akin to a fictional character made up by an author
  • Metaphysics operates at a very general level and doesn't deal with specifics
  • Metaphysics deals with the nature of things in themselves.
  • There are similarities between mathematics and metaphysics in the use of a priori reasoning, but mathematics is a narrower subject
  • In the 20th century, metaphysics came under attack, principally from the logical positivist movement
  • For example AJ Ayer in Language Truth and Logic (1936) deployed the verification criterion of meaning to argue that metaphysical statements are meaningless
  • It is only recently that metaphysics has recovered from these attacks and it is now flourishing

No comments:

Post a Comment