branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between mind and matter.
- 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.
- Woody Allen, Annie Hall (1977)
- If only these metaphysicians would give their attention to the lengthy discursive processes which lead science to build new intuitions.
- Gaston Bachelard, "The Philosophic Dialectic of the Concepts of Relativity" (1949) in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp, Tr. Forrest W. Williams.
- 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.
- A. D'Abro, The Evolution of Scientific Thought from Newton to Einstein (1927) footnote, p. 152
- 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
- There exists a passion for comprehension, just as there exists a passion for music. That passion is rather common in children, but it gets lost in most people later on. Without this passion, there would be neither mathematics nor natural science. Time and again the passion for understanding has led to the illusion that man is able to comprehend the objective world rationally, by pure thought, without any empirical foundations—in short, by metaphysics. I believe that every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist, no matter how pure a "positivist" he may fancy himself. The metaphysicist believes that the logically simple is also the real. The tamed metaphysicist believes that not all that is logically simple is embodied in experienced reality, but that the totality of all sensory experience can be "comprehended" on the basis of a conceptual system built on premises of great simplicity. The skeptic will say that this is a "miracle creed." Admittedly so, but it is a miracle creed which has been borne out to an amazing extent by the development of science.
- Albert Einstein, On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation (April, 1950) Scientific American Vol. 182, No. 4. Also quoted in Ideas and Opinions, 1954, Part V, Contributions to Science.
- Metaphysics, because it opens out a limitless vista of possibilities, must take care never to lose sight of the inexpressible, which indeed constitutes its very essence.
- René Guénon, Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines (1921)
- the search for necessary truths, truths that are not only true, but they couldn't have been false.
- Charles Hartshorne, philosopher, in the Veery journal interview (1996) in response to Veery editor Steven Vita's question of "What is the most rewarding aspect of philosophy?" Hartshorne's anwser of metaphysics with this quoted definition of metaphysics in Veery is then reprinted in 1997 in the Austin American-Statesman and then quoted from in The New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin, October, 13, 2000, entitled “Charles Hartshorne, Theologian, Is Dead; Proponent of an Activist God Was 103.”
- 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.
- Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, E. Jephcott, trans., p. 17
- In an ideal university the student would not proceed from the most recent observations back to the first principles, but from the first principles to whatever recent observations we claim significant in understanding them. ...The natural sciences derive their principles from the philosophy of nature which, in turn, depends on metaphysics. ...Metaphysics, the study of the first principles, pervades the whole. Dependent on it and subordinate to it are the social and natural sciences.
- Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America (1936)
- 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.”
- Carl Jung, Psyche and Symbol (1958), p. 285
- 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.
- James Clerk Maxwell, The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890) Vol.2, XLIV Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics
- 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.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), B. Williams, ed. (2001), § 344
- Find a scientific man who proposes to get along without any metaphysics […] and you have found one whose doctrines are thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized metaphysics with which they are packed. We must philosophize, said the great naturalist Aristotle — if only to avoid philosophizing.
- Charles Sanders Peirce, The Collected Papers, edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), Vol. 1, p. 129
- There is a school of Philosophy still in existence of which modern culture has lost sight. Glimpses of it are discernible in the ancient philosophies with which all educated men are familiar, but these are hardly more intelligible than fragments of forgotten sculpture,-less so, for we comprehend the human form, and can give imaginary limbs to a torso; but we can give no imaginary meaning to the truth coming down to us from Plato or Pythagoras, pointing, for those who hold the clue to their significance, to the secret knowledge of the ancient world. Side lights, nevertheless, may enable us to decipher such language, and a very rich intellectual reward offers itself to persons who are willing to attempt the investigation. For, strange as the statement will appear at first sight, modern metaphysics, and to a large extent modern physical science, have been groping for centuries blindly after knowledge which occult philosophy has enjoyed in full measure all the while. Owing to a train of fortunate circumstances, I have come to know that this is the case; I have come into some contact with persons who are heirs of a greater knowledge concerning the mysteries of Nature and humanity than modern culture has yet evolved...
- A. P. Sinnett, The Occult World, (1881)
- Mathematics is the only true metaphysics.
- William Thomson, as quoted by Silvanus Phillips Thompson, The Life of William Thomson, Baron Kelvin of Largs (1910) Vol. 2, p. 1124
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