Metaphysics

branch of philosophy
If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics. ~ Pierre Duhem
Even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by the thousand-year-old faith, the Christian faith which was also Plato's faith, that God is truth; that truth is divine. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world of experience, and thus is never easily or precisely defined in contingent terms; it is the study of fundamental principles intended to describe or explain all that is, and which are not themselves explained by anything more fundamental; the study of first principles.

QuotesEdit

Alphabetized by author
 
The basic drive behind real philosophy is curiosity about the world, not interest in the writings of philosophers. ~ Bryan Magee
  • I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.
  • There are metaphysical problems, which cannot be disposed of by declaring them meaningless. For, as I have repeatedly said, they are "beyond physics" indeed and demand an act of faith. We have to accept this fact to be honest. There are two objectionable types of believers: those who believe the incredible and those who believe that "belief" must be discarded and replaced by "the scientific method."
    • Max Born, in Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1964), p. 209
  • The only way to avoid becoming a metaphysician is to say nothing.
    • Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (1925), p. 224
    • Often misquoted or paraphrased as "The only way to avoid metaphysics is to say nothing." Cf. on p. 225, "you cannot avoid metaphysics".
  • [E]ven the attempt to escape metaphysics is no sooner put in the form of a proposition than it is seen to involve highly metaphysical postulates.
    For this reason there is an exceedingly subtle and insidious danger in positivism. If you cannot avoid metaphysics, what kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination? Of course it goes without saying that in this case your metaphysics will be held uncritically because it is unconscious; moreover it will be passed on to others far more readily than your other notions inasmuch as it will be propagated by insinuation rather than by direct argument.
    • Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (1925), p. 225
  • The objective world of science has nothing in common with the world of things-in-themselves of the metaphysician. The metaphysical world, assuming that it has any meaning at all, is irrelevant to science.
  • Kant's attitude toward Newton's absolute space is somewhat confused. At times he defends the absoluteness... At other times he presents his own arguments in favor of the relativity of space and motion. ...At any rate the problem of the absoluteness of space and time in classical science refers not to the essence of space and time (a problem which would degenerate into one of metaphysics, hence would be meaningless to the scientists), but solely to a discussion of those conceptions which are demanded of the world of experience. Hence we may realise that a man ignorant of mechanics is in no position to pass an opinion one way or the other. And Kant's knowledge of Newtonian mechanics was extremely poor, to say the least.
    • A. D'Abro, The Evolution of Scientific Thought from Newton to Einstein (1927) footnote, p. 417-418
  • Now these two questions — Does there exist a material reality distinct from sensible appearances? and What is the nature of reality? — do not have their source in experimental method, which is acquainted only with sensible appearances and can discover nothing beyond them. The resolution of these questions transcends the methods used by physics; it is the object of metaphysics. Therefore, if the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.
    • Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), tr. Philip P. Wiener, 1991, Princeton University Press, p. 10, ISBN 069102524X
  • The metaphysical apologia at least betrayed the injustice of the established order through the incongruence of concept and reality. The impartiality of scientific language deprived what was powerless of the strength to make itself heard and merely provided the existing order with a neutral sign for itself. Such neutrality is more metaphysical than metaphysics.
  • To all appearance, the phenomena exhibited by the pendulum are not to be accounted for by impact: in fact, it is usually assumed that corresponding phenomena would take place if the earth and the pendulum were situated in an absolute vacuum, and at any conceivable distance from one another. If this be so, it follows that there must be two totally different kinds of causes of motion: the one impact—a vera causa [true cause], of which, to all appearance, we have constant experience; the other, attractive or repulsive 'force'—a metaphysical entity which is physically inconceivable.
  • Metaphysical assertions, however, are statements of the psyche, and are therefore psychological. ... Whenever the Westerner hears the word “psychological,” it always sounds to him like “only psychological.”
  • The only way to avoid metaphysics is to avoid thinking.
    • Robert C. Koons and Timothy H. Pickavance, Metaphysics: The Fundamentals (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), p. 9
  • The basic drive behind real philosophy is curiosity about the world, not interest in the writings of philosophers. Each of us emerges from the preconsciousness of babyhood and simply finds himself here, in it, in the world. That experience alone astonishes some people. What is all this — what is the world? And what are we? From the beginning of humanity some have been under a compulsion to ask these questions, and have felt a craving for the answers. This is what is really meant by any such phrase as "mankind's need for metaphysics."
    • Bryan Magee, in Confessions of a Philosopher : A Journey Through Western Philosophy (1997), p. 232
  • It has been asserted that metaphysical speculation is a thing of the past and that physical science has extirpated it. The discussion of the categories of existence, however, does not appear to be in danger of coming to an end in our time, and the exercise of speculation continues as fascinating to every fresh mind as it was in the days of Thales.
  • All metaphysical theories are inconclusively vulnerable to positivist attack.
    • Iris Murdoch, Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953), Ch. 9. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989, p. 127
  • "Will to truth" does not mean "I do not want to let myself be deceived" but—there is no alternative—"I will not deceive, not even myself"; and with that we stand on moral ground. ... You will have gathered what I am getting at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by the thousand-year-old faith, the Christian faith which was also Plato's faith, that God is truth; that truth is divine.

See alsoEdit

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