What is metaphysics?
Response to a Quora Question
Note—this answer has not yet appeared on Quora and I have not yet decided to post it there.
Like many disciplines, metaphysics is hard to pin down. Moreover, the changing nature of metaphysics in response to developments in science and philosophy make metaphysics especially problematic to define. It is therefore common to approach saying what metaphysics is with equivocation—i.e., not in terms of a simple definition but by talking of and around its history and content.
However, I will go against the grain and provide a definition followed by justification.
Metaphysics is study of the real.
This is bound to raise questions and reactions.
1. What is the real?
2. Can the real be known? How?
3. Why is this a good definition? How does it include the range of topics considered to be metaphysics? What topics fall under it?
In response let’s observe that
1. The question of the nature of the real is an aspect of the real and so the first question is a topic in metaphysics as study of the real.
2. The second question is epistemological. However, mind and knowledge, so far as they are real, are also metaphysical objects. Therefore, in a very good sense, epistemology is part of metaphysics. There will be objections. Regardless of the conclusion to the issue of the boundary between epistemology and metaphysics it is critical that to think there is a non porous boundary is to set up artificial problems. Moreover at the conclusion of the section A Theory of Being it is seen that whatever we call mind and matter are interwoven. At minimum, metaphysics and epistemology ought to be studied together1.
3. How to show it is a good definition is the topic of the later sections.
But before approaching this ‘how to’, observe that an enhanced definition of metaphysics is now Study of the real, the nature of the real, and what falls under it.
Let us now turn to justifying our definition.
It is not the aim in this section to define metaphysics. In fact, as for many disciplines, a brief definition may be inadequate. Therefore the aim is to uncover how to say what metaphysics is.
How many we approach saying what any discipline is? It is effective to ask the broader question because it may help by uncovering (i) common difficulties, (ii) commonalities among some disciplines, and (iii) revealing relationships among disciplines and the place of a given discipline within a larger framework of human knowledge.
How shall we define a disciplines?
1. Etymology and analysis of the term itself. We will see that for metaphysics this is not informative. It will be combined with the historical narrative, next.
2. History and practice. This is important and revealing but not adequate in itself. This may suggest a definition and, further, what is valid in the history ought to be included under the definition.
3. The main ideas and topics of the discipline. This may flow naturally from the history and practice. It will be necessary for the definition (i) to contain the historical topics and sub-disciplines (so far as valid) (ii) to be a rational discipline, rationally defined. In the case of metaphysics it should be shown worthy of its place as one of the three or four major philosophical disciplines.
4. Immersion. That is the aim of definition is not definition itself but as focus for the essence of the discipline. We may talk of and around the discipline but there is no substitute for immersion in the discipline—in this case for doing metaphysics. So while it would be too much to develop ‘all’ metaphysics, the final substantive section, A Theory of Being, will present a little metaphysics. This will further reinforce the first three points above which are the topics of the following sections.
In the west, the thought of the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, c. 600 BCE, is often regarded as marking the simultaneous beginning of philosophy and its sub-discipline metaphysics.
However, because of his penetrating thought, Aristotle, along with Plato, has been called ‘the father of western philosophy’2. Aristotle asked of the essences of things and his answers included substance which we may take to be the unchanging ‘thing’ behind changing appearances. He asked questions about Being (roughly existence) as Being (rather than as special kinds such as matter and mind), the first causes of things (the cause without cause), categories of Being (just under Being in generality), and universals (the ‘opposite’ of particulars, e.g. an person a particular while the property of being a person or personhood, if it exists, would be a universal). Because these concerns defined the course of Greek and Scholastic ‘metaphysical thought’ and persist today, Aristotle may be regarded as having launched metaphysics as a formal discipline.
But Aristotle did not use the term ‘metaphysics’. The term appears to have originated with an editor of Aristotle’s works, in all probability, Andronicus of Rhodes3, who noted that Aristotle’s books on metaphysical subjects came after his books on the physical (ta meta ta physika being ”after the things of nature”; or ta meta ta physika biblia—”the books after the books on physics”). That is, the etymology and structure of the term ‘metaphysics’ are not clues as to its meaning.
This is unlike the use of ‘meta’ in metamathematics (the study of mathematics using mathematical methods) and metaphilosophy (study of the nature of philosophy). In metaphysics, ‘meta’ does not connote a study that somehow goes beyond physics. However, if physics is study of an aspect of Being, then in so far as metaphysics is the study of Being, physics would be a part of metaphysics.
In its Greek and Scholastic phases metaphysics had an uncritical aspect—it was rather unquestioningly regarded as possible. That changed in modern era with David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Hume argued, for example, that we cannot know that the world is causal. What we have is descriptions of the world that are as if causal but that the ‘as if’ is part of the description and not necessarily of the world itself. A problem is the gap between appearance and reality—between knower and known, between description and described: the gap may be bridgeable but we do not know it to be so and we cannot validly assume it to be so without demonstration. Kant had an answer to Hume’s critique—for knowledge to be possible, the structure of thought, which Kant called ‘intuition’, must correspond to the structure of the world (and since Newton’s mechanics and Euclid’s geometry were then regarded as perfectly capturing the real, and since we had discovered both, the correspondence between the two structures must be precise, which is only possible if the structure of thought is precise). Of course we now know that Newtonian Mechanics and Euclidean Geometry do not precisely capture the structure of the world and that the structure of experience is not precisely the structure of the world (but Kant’s response regarding intuition remains valuable in that intuition approximately captures a part of the real). But even if Kant’s analysis were perfectly true of our knowledge of our empirical cosmos, it would not be follow that metaphysics cannot transcend the structure of experience of the cosmos and what may be inferred from and about it. That is because science allows that the universe may be greater than the cosmos (even though the cosmos is commonly thought of as ‘the’ universe); particularly, as will be shown, we can know something about Being generally and the universe beyond the cosmos. What is more, that something will be shown to be non trivial.
But this makes it clear why, since Kant, epistemology as the study of knowledge has been considered by many philosophers to be the central discipline of philosophy.
Regardless of the question of the importance of metaphysics, philosophers’ views of the nature of metaphysics and knowledge have changed as a result of the critiques of Hume and Kant.
There have been outright rejections of metaphysics, for example by the logical positivists of the early twentieth century. There has been renewed interest in the old questions. There have been metaphysical syntheses such as that of Hegel. But all of these have been marked by greater self-consciousness of the nature metaphysics and its possibility. Further, there have been new questions stemming from (i) the critiques, (ii) questions arising from the intersection of science and philosophy, and (iii) the forward movement of philosophy and metaphysics itself.
From Kant’s critique some philosophers came to regard metaphysics as the study of the world of experience. In this view, metaphysics is metaphysics of experience. In truth it may be observed that (i) metaphysics of experience vs metaphysics of Being are interwoven but (ii) this does not imply that there can be no metaphysics of Being (for all that it implies is that to know Being as Being is problematic). ‘Metaphysics of experience’ refers to a number of things but one is to build a metaphysical picture of the word from our experiences (perhaps motivated by the observation that the individual never quite gets outside their conscious experience).
The negative attitude toward metaphysics heightened, especially in the twentieth century, as it became clear that science had made inroads into so many disciplines that had been considered philosophy no further back than Isaac Newton’s time. A movement called logical positivism emerged in the early twentieth century that argued that anything beyond science was metaphysics and that metaphysics was not possible. There was a program called logical empiricism—to strictly derive the laws of science from elementary observations. That logical empiricism failed because its program did not result in success; and because the view of science as deriving its laws and theories from data changed. That view was found untenable. Rather, theories and laws are hypotheses that explain or predict observations but when new observations do not fit the mold a new theory is called for if repeated attempts to fit the old theory fail. In so far as the universe is incompletely known, existing theories at any time may fail to predict or incorporate new observations.
And there were things not explained by science and, positivism or not, they remained of interest. They included the problems of modality (possibility and necessity); space and time; persistence and constitution (identity); causation, freedom, and determinism: and the mental and the physical4.
Further studies were identified under the umbrella of metaphysics—one is the study of abstract objects. What are abstract objects? Whereas concrete objects are thought of as physical or sensible, abstract objects are not. For example ‘an electron’ refers to (what we think of as) a concrete thing. But to what does the number one refer? If it refers, it would appear to refer to an abstraction (but this is seen as speculative) and since ‘one’ is abstract in itself it is regarded as an abstract object. But why is a number as an object at all? The question arises with the modern axiomatic definition of number. In seeking certainty in mathematics, the empirical view of mathematical ‘objects’ was abandoned. This was made possible by the axiomatic approach and apparent certainty of proof in mathematics. The idea of number as abstract appears to have arisen with Frege’s observations that numbers seem real because of their very definite properties as elements in an axiomatic system but at the same time are not concrete. However, while there is modern consensus in English philosophy that there are abstract objects5, their nature and extension (the class of abstract objects) is not agreed upon. And so, the study of abstract objects is significant in metaphysics today. In fact some philosophers regard metaphysics as the study of abstract objects.
Why is that? Here is how the thinking might go. It is because the sciences, physics particularly, have come to be commonly regarded as the exclusive means to study concrete objects. So, then, if metaphysics is about the world it must be about what is left over after the concrete. By default, then, metaphysics would be the study of abstract objects. However, it is quite true to counter-argue that physics is not the study of concrete physical objects—at least in a real sense. In physics, whatever the stage, some ‘objects’ are regarded as fundamental. In quantum field theory it is the field that is fundamental. Is the quantum field the ultimate and perfectly real? That is not known—but it most probably is not. The truth of physics is pragmatic truth. There remains to be developed a true study of all objects both concrete and abstract. And it is not a vacuous study as will be seen in A Theory of Being.
At this point it is worth observing that it is a default view that the study of the world is science and therefore philosophy cannot be about the world. This is a common view among scientists and philosophers, especially analytic philosophers. Philosophy is argued to be something else. However, in A Theory of Being it will be seen that there is a definite role for philosophical thought as study of the world. Of course philosophy is more than that for, even in that regard, it asks not only what is the world like but how can we come to know it and what is that knowing and so on. But it remains that philosophy can and ought to be also about the world. What seems to have happened is that in academic as in common thought an emergent reality is that the scientific picture is the picture of the real. In so thinking scientists exceed their expertise and philosophers have lost their nerve.
The modern period has not ignored the old questions of metaphysics but may view them differently and from new perspectives. For example (i) The study of Being was resuscitated in new form by Martin Heidegger (ii) The study of causation and substance is significantly informed by modern physics.
Also arising in modern metaphysics are concerns from the ‘new’ self-consciousness of the discipline—e.g. that the critique of pre modern metaphysics, e.g. that there are first causes, is a metaphysical assertion6. More generally, there has arisen the question “What is metaphysics? and the related “What is philosophy?” which may be seen as metaphilosophical questions.
From the historical introduction, here are the main topics that have been studied under the umbrella of metaphysics7
1. Pre-modern metaphysics includes8 (i) Being as such, first causes, unchanging things (ii) Categories of Being and universals (iii) Substance.
2. Modern metaphysics includes9 (i) The older problems studied from new perspectives which may include denial of older metaphysical ‘objects’, e.g. denial of first causes and God as topics in metaphysics (ii) Problems of modality (possibility and necessity) (iii) Space and time (iv) Persistence and constitution (identity) (v) Causation, freedom, and determinism (including freedom of will) (vi) The mental and the physical (vii) Metaphysics of experience (viii) Abstract objects (ix) The study of metaphysics itself.
Readers may be questioning “Very well, you have defined the term metaphysics and fitted it and history to one another but is there a rational justification of the idea of metaphysics that justifies the fit?”
This is best done by construction of metaphysics rather than be indirect argument.
We develop only a skeletal theory with motivation and application. There is more at the website The Way of Being | A Journey10. In the following bold font is reserved for terms being defined and undefined terms; and the italic ‘is’ is short for ‘is defined as’ (‘are’ is short for ‘are defined as’); other terms, also italicized, will be where is and are would be typical. Where ‘or’ is italicized it is the exclusive or.
Individually and in groups, human beings lie on continua of (i) seeking versus satisfaction and (ii) focus on the immediate and everyday versus universal and ultimate. A fundamental question for many persons and for society and civilization is “What shall we do?”11
An approach to engagement is to seek knowledge in process with action—and therefore degrees security or foundation for knowledge. A foundation is commonly regarded an absolutely secure basis. However, absolute security may be impossible or undesirable. Let us think of foundations as follows—(i) We do not begin with foundation; rather we begin where we are, as we are, ‘thrown’ into our life situation; (ii) then, in seeking, we move simultaneously to foundation and to its use in knowing and discovering what we shall or ought to do and its means; (iii) we nearly invariably find that foundational approaches and systems are tentative and in process—and with at most some remove from their use; (i) therefore we conceive a base process of in process foundation and living with the two as co-emergent and the foundation itself as a relatively secure focal reference for the living.
A foundation is a provision for security for knowing or be-ing (living).
A foundation may be (thought of as) absolutely secure and determined, final, stand apart from knowing and living—or relatively secure and well determined, in process, and co-emergent with knowing or be-ing and becoming and action. Co-emergent foundations are not expected to be entirely prescriptive and detailed but may be suggestive and generic; they are expected to be open and the openness includes doubt in two directions—skepticism with regard to validity as well as skepticism itself.
This does not entail neglect of tradition; rather what is valid in it ought to be sought and given some weight. But tradition and traditional foundation (and method) will remain in interaction with emerging knowledge and foundation.
Further, given that realization—answering the question of what we may attain—is not just about our knowledge as representation and for future generations but realization in the identity of all beings, we seek (and shall find ways to) realization of and in identity.
Now, to those who say “But we still find perfect and final foundation worth seeking” I respond “The approach suggested here allows the possibility of both in process tentative foundation and absolute final foundation” and “In the developments that follow what emerges and is shown is there is a perfect foundation with regard to depth of ideas and Being but not with regard to their details and variety amid our living beings; and further in the latter lies the richness and freshness of life.”
The basis for this development emerges as the idea of Being and related concepts that are introduced in what follows.
What is a resemblance (or semblance)? If it is external to ‘mind’ it is incomplete without recognition in mind. If it is in the ‘mind’ but the resembled, real or potential, is in the world—how is the semblance recognized or even possible? This is addressed later in discussing the nature of mind.
A sign is simple or compound.
A simple sign is anything, usually simple, whose significance is only in association with an icon—i.e. a resemblance.
A simple sign cannot be a designator, rigid or otherwise. Signs designate in virtue of the associated icon (in memory, in a dictionary and so on).
As an example of the claim in the previous paragraph, imagine someone shouting “tiger” in a forest in India. Only the English speakers react; the others show no fear. It is because the English associate tigers with the word ‘tiger’ while the others do not. If one thinks ‘tiger’ gets is meaning from word definitions like ‘large cat with black and orange stripes’ it is because one knows the meaning of the terms in the definition. But what, for example, is ‘orange’. Ultimately the words must be associated with icons. That is—
No icon, no reference (or recognition).
A compound sign is an arrangement of simple signs whose significance is in association with an icon (resemblance) or in the arrangement of the sign.
Without the icons, a compound sign designates a resembled class but no particular referent.
A symbol is the association of the icon and the sign.
A simple symbol is one for which sign is simple.
A compound symbol is one for which, for a sign system, a compound sign is necessary.
The icon or the symbol may be graphic, e.g. on a canvas or in stone, or of the mind; it may also be dramatic—e.g., movement, expression, and acting through. The association of icon and symbol is habitual, conventional, or by common use.
A referential concept—alternatively, an intentional concept—is one that intends or is intended to refer; a referent, if there is one, is that to which the concept refers.
In the following ‘concept’ shall denote ‘referential concept’.
A concept may have another concept as its referent. Concepts are as much in the world as anything else. ‘Matter’ and ‘mind’, which we often think of as categorially distinct, are not different categories (but we have not yet said anything significant of what they are).
Meaning is constituted of a concept and its possible referents.
It is a triple of sign, icon, and referent.
I regard this as related to but a better ‘meaning of meaning’ than to think of the concept as having meaning.
A definition (effective definition) is specification of the meaning of a concept.
Effective definitions of ‘Being’ and related concepts are given later.
When a definition is given and it is not clear that there is a referent, the existence will be proved. Otherwise, except where the contrary is stated, it will be assumed or merely stated.
Once two terms A and B are defined, ‘A is B’ is used to say used to say that A and B are the same referent (or, if B is a property, A has the property B).
Knowledge is meaning realized in a definite referent (the referent may be a collection of referents).
Abstraction is filtering out of distorting detail from the concept; and which results in perfectly faithful abstract knowledge. Pragmatic knowledge, which may also have abstraction, is knowledge that is good enough or even perfect for purposes at hand.
The join of abstract and pragmatic may be more powerful and reliable than each individually. If the abstract reveals a perfect value, the join of the abstract and the pragmatic may be perfect knowledge in terms of that value. The real metaphysics to be developed is perfect in this sense.
Language is typically regarded as a sign system with meaning, in which the meaning lies in the arrangement of the signs as determined by convention, reason, habit, and usage. That language is thought of as divested from icons is because the icons are tacit and we think we can talk of language without association of the signs to the icon. But as seen earlier, icons are essential
However, since icons are essential to meaning in an actual situation, it is better to think of language as a symbol system in which the focal point of meaning is simple symbols and compound signs (in reality of course, the symbols, too, are compound and meaning lies not only in the simple signs and icons but also in their arrangement and in the context).
Recognized functions of language are its effectiveness in representing, storing, and communicating regarding the real.
The focus on simple symbols and compound signs renders language close to effectively discrete representation or ‘digital’ but still symbolic and semantic (a focus only on signs and their arrangements is syntactic). The power of this is that it is effective in actual representation and communication.
There is no doubt that syntactic formalization is powerful, not just in resolution of foundational questions (especially in the abstract or symbolic sciences, e.g. logic and mathematics, but also in the concrete sciences), but even in formulating the questions.
However, to emphasize only syntax aspect is limiting. To think only in terms of signs may result in poverty of meaning (because not iconic) and excess of meaning (in the sense that meaning in sign arrangements allows multiple instantiation).
But if compound symbols are allowed but not required, the limitations are resolved (and the only limits, then, are human limits). This suggests of intuition as a formally recognized instrument—in balance with the symbolic but not as replacement. This is already done informally (in non-intuitionist systems) but what may change is, the admission of optimal—perhaps lesser—security in search of greater power; the relative weights of the intuitive and the formal symbolic, of the semantic and the syntactic, and of the rational and the empirical; and the admission of new ways of dealing with signs—as in computation.
Though outgrowth of the significance of language, especially formal languages in the abstract sciences such as mathematics and logic, is not foreseen, in view of the current state of those fields, and developments in metaphysics showing the universe to be the greatest possible, the nature and knowledge of language and of its relative use in balance with other ‘faculties’ of understanding and reason is likely to change.
A being or existent is that which may validly be said to be; the plural of ‘being’ is ‘beings’; and Being or existence is the property of beings as beings.
In the definition of being, it is intended that ‘to be’ is some form of the verb to be—e.g., is, are, was, will be and so on; but it is more than those particular cases for it may be is or was etc, and was there or is here and other such combinations.
It is necessarily at least implicit in the definition of a being that there is a concept of the being and the referent being. Thus an enhanced definition of a being would be A being is that which is identified or referred to by a concept—and for symbolically capable organisms is typically denoted by associated symbol. In practice, however, any part of the icon, symbol, or referent may ‘stand’ for the Being.
Generally, the concept specifies the being (or existent or referent) in pragmatic terms. However, with sufficient abstraction—elimination of detail—of concept and intention, the concept may be faithful.
For example, if we ask whether there are tigers, the pragmatic answer is ‘of course’. However, the concept of ‘tiger’ almost certainly does not capture the referent precisely. This may be unimportant in day to day affairs. But if we want to understand precisely the nature of a human being or an electron—i.e., something on the border of understanding, we must admit that our concepts are at best pragmatic.
So let us ask whether there are beings at all. Again, pragmatically the answer is that there are. But suppose we ask whether there are concepts. Well of course there are for without them there would be no icons; and if you argue that that is illusory, the response would be that illusions are concepts (this is essentially Descartes’ famous cogito argument). That is—there are some beings; and there is Being. Further, with sufficient abstraction Being is a being (Heidegger’s concern that Being is not a being refers to deep aspects of Being that are suppressed in this paragraph but which of course may be filled in).
Now though the establishment above that there are beings is fairly trivial, it is the start of a powerful metaphysics. Rather than specify the nature of the world (‘material’, ‘mental’, and so on) in advance, to talk of the world in terms of Being allows the nature of the world and the issue of what are the beings of the world to emerge. The idea of Being is central to an algebra of metaphysics; and other key players in the algebra, in what follows, will be power, cause, universe, law, logic, and the void.
It is significant that a being is a given, and thus neither relative foundation nor subject to infinite regress. Rather, ‘being’ is shorthand for ‘that which may be validly said to obtain’. That is, a metaphysics that begins with Being is not encumbered at outset by a (possibly) erroneous posit of substance (‘matter’, ‘mind’, ‘spirit’, ‘monism’, ‘dualism’, and so on). That is Being is suitable to foundation without regress. And though its power might seem trivial, it will emerge that the triviality is that it is transparent but not that it is without conceptual power.
The concept of spirit is intended to refer to (i) a mode of existence higher than the secular and the mundane, (ii) a cognition-intuition-feeling of higher aspects of the mundane, or (iii) a higher ideal within of the one world of persons within themselves and not relative to the rest of the world.
The approach from Being suggests and will show that the real and only meaning of spirit is the third.
Note that the definition of a being might be enhanced to “A being is that which may be validly said to obtain somewhere in extension and duration.” However, rather than to posit extension-duration (spacetime) it is preferable to let it emerge from more primitive terms.
A hypothetical being is one for which the referent has not been established; a nonexistent being is one for which it has been established that there is no (actual) referent.
Power is the ability to affect and be affected.
That is, power is material cause.
The universe is all Being.
The universe exists.
There is but one universe.
The cause or generator of the existence of the universe, if there is one, is not another being for there is no other being; it is not material or physical cause for material cause would be the effect of another being.
A creator of the universe is a being other than the universe.
The universe has no creator.
The concept of the universe is different from the concept of the empirical cosmos for the former is ‘what is’ (in a sense of ‘is’ over all extension and duration) while the latter is ‘what is observed so far’. It is consistent with science and our cumulative experience for the universe to be far greater than the empirical cosmos in extension, duration, and variety of Being (e.g. the theories of physics, the constituents of ‘matter’, and the nature of living and sapient organisms).
Possibility is that which can obtain.
Possibility is possibility according to criteria that determine its kind (e.g. physical possibility, below).
From the construction, “it is possible that the possible is impossible”, it may seem that possibility and all possibility are inconsistent or self contradictory. However the construction does not show inconsistency for it violates the meaning of the term possibility. This can be seen in that the construction is rendered “it can obtain that what can obtain cannot obtain”.
A pattern for a being obtains when the information required to completely specify the being is less than the raw data.
A natural law or law is a pattern, usually abstract in nature, for a being (e.g. our empirical cosmos).
Natural laws for the entire universe are not known. Particularly, our natural laws—the laws for our empirical cosmos—are not known to hold for the entire universe.
A (concept for a) being is physically possible when the concept follows physical law or theory.
The criterion for physical possibility stems, at least in part, from the world—for laws or patterns are of the world.
Real possibility—physical or other natural—is in conformation of the concept to the world.
A concept is logically possible when the concept itself does not rule out existence; logic is what must obtain of concepts so as to be logically possible.
A concept is impossible if it is not possible. A concept is necessary if its not obtaining is impossible (if it must obtain).
In what follows the unqualified terms ‘possibility’, ‘necessity’ and their various forms will be used in their logical sense.
It was seen that the cause of the universe, if there is one, is not material cause.
What is left over is non material or logical or modal cause.
However, mere possibility ought not to be regarded as a cause. For to say that something is possible is also to say that it might not obtain—that the its obtaining would be an accident.
Therefore only necessity would be acceptable as cause of the existence of the universe in manifest form. Let us show that it is acceptable to label the cause of the universe as necessity. It will also follow that the universe is the greatest possible.
Necessity has no presumption (that is, while real necessity flows from laws and so on, logical necessity is necessity of and only of itself). If a class of contingent cases is necessary because it exhausts the possibilities, the individual cases cannot be exclusively necessary.
Name the concluding sentence of the previous paragraph the principle of symmetry of necessity.
That which obtains exhaustively, i.e. without exception, is necessary for ‘necessary’ and ‘without exception’ cannot be distinguished.
Name the assertion just above the principle of identity of necessity and exhaustion.
Real possibility presumes logical possibility (which is typically tacit).
The void is the absence of (manifest) Being.
It is not assumed in advance that the void exists.
The universe is without exception in one of (i) a manifest (ii) the void states.
From identity of necessity and exhaustion, the universe is necessarily one of void or manifest.
From the symmetry of necessity, the universe must phase between manifest and void states. That is, the universe is necessarily manifest (at times which repeat eternally) and void (at times which repeat eternally).
Then from the identity of necessity and exhaustion, the universe cannot only be in one of its possible states.
That is, the universe is the realization of the (logically) possible.
The greatest possible universe cannot be less than the (logically) possible; but the greatest possible cannot exceed the (logically) possible for the latter cannot obtain. Therefore—
The universe is the greatest possible.
Therefore, the void exists.
Name the above assertion the fundamental principle of metaphysics and Being (abbreviated to the fundamental principle of metaphysics, fundamental principle, or FP).
The empirical cosmos is an infinitesimal part of the universe.
The hypothetical being that has no power is nonexistent.
Note that ‘greatest’ does not mean ‘best’ or ‘perfect’. And while the ‘best’ and ‘perfect’ of common use may not be pertinent in the greatest realm, there may be emergent perfection within that realm.
As the it shows the universe to be a rendering of all possibility, which includes our empirical cosmos as a limited but necessary part of the universe (i) there is no violation of our empirical science (ii) that the cosmos itself does not realize all possibilities while in limited form is not a violation of the principle that in the universe all possibilities are realized. Since FP is ‘logical’ there can be no violation of logic.
It follows from the fundamental principle that the universe is limitless in extent, duration, variety, peaking-sustenance-and-dissolutions of Being.
Are our logics and grammars adequate to express this limitlessness? No, for they are just some forms of expression. That is, despite their richness relative to human experience they are limited relative to possibility.
Necessity is recognized as a cause that is named necessary cause.
Material and necessary cause are distinct in kind.
The cause of the universe may be said to be necessity or necessary cause.
The fundamental principle is ideal in being perfectly faithful knowledge. How might we negotiate in this greatest possible universe that contains our empirical cosmos?
Tradition is what is valid in the entire history of human culture including knowledge practice. It includes ‘methods’ of knowledge and practice as in process.
Tradition is an instrument for exploration of the universe. Its validity is ‘pragmatic’ or good enough for certain purposes; and it is limited for other purposes. However, it is what we have for the negotiation of the universe that is limitlessly greater than our immediate realm. Further the limitlessly greater realm shows that to seek perfection (in terms of faithfulness) is effort wasted relative to the ultimate (even if useful locally). Thus the ideal knowledge revealed by the fundamental principle illuminates tradition and tradition as pragmatic is perfect for exploration of and illustrates the ideal. The two form a perfect system of two parts each perfect in its own way. But as the parts are interactive and as tradition is embedded in the ideal (FP) the system is unitary.
We are located in a limited realm—the empirical cosmos. How may we negotiate the real? It is via the real metaphysics—the ideal of the fundamental principle (and what flows from it—below) and tradition for negotiating our cosmos and, as seen below, other cosmoses.
The system carries with it its own justified conception of knowledge as perfect according to the dual criteria that emerged above.
Note that the ‘system’ in question has emerged from fundamental considerations. It is therefore not subject to the usual criticisms and doubts regarding systematic metaphysical systems that they are (i) hypothetical (‘speculative’) and (ii) incomplete (even if valid as far as they go).
What does the metaphysics tell us about the universe and our place in it? In the following, the assertions—some are repetitions—flow from the fundamental principle and definitions.
In a first definition, experience is aware consciousness in all its forms.
Experience is the place of concept and significant meaning; it is the place of our essential Being.
The hypothetical object that affects no experience is effectively nonexistent.
The forms or kinds of experience are attitudinal (perception, feeling, thought, emotion), neutral or pure (e.g. thought and emotion again, stream of consciousness), and actionable (will in the sense of directing action and thought).
A common view is that experience, attitude, and action are distinct aspects of mind. Here, attitude and action are seen to be experience in relation to something experienced. In attitude and action, experience is relation or interaction. But even in the pure case, experience is relation internal to the experiencer. That is—
Experience is relation or interaction.
On strict materialism (the universe is material, mind is no part of matter), experience (including emergent experience or consciousness) is impossible. Therefore, elementary interactions must have an aspect that in aggregate is what we experience as our consciousness.
Elementary beings (atoms etc) have what, in combination, sum to consciousness which can therefore now be labeled higher experience or consciousness.
In a second and broader definition, experience is the interaction among the elements that is the root of higher conscious experience (the term ‘experience’ is being ‘overloaded’).
From the metaphysics, there can be no absolute element. Therefore, in the extended sense, experience goes to the root of Being.
There is an interpretation of the universe as experience. This is not in opposition to the standard interpretation of the cosmos as a material cosmos in which there are selves or centers of experience that experience a world that contains their experience, themselves, and others—all in a material environment. There is, however, a proviso. It is that the ‘material’ does not have the strict interpretation of being exclusive of ‘mind’. Therefore the standard interpretation is a particular case of the general interpretation.
The universe is a field of experience (or Being) with local cosmoses that present just as ours—worlds with selves and others in an environment.
There is a sense in which do not transcend experience. If recognize a mountain because I have, for comparison, an image of the mountain (or mountains) that is retrieved from memory. I may doubt I see the mountain—due to possible faulty memory, illusion, distortion by the environment. To be sure ‘the mountain’ is the mountain, I may check my image with a reference, seek corroboration (others’ experience), or physically check the mountain (e.g. closer view, touch, experience the result of an instrument). But all of those acts remain in my experience (and I experience the mountain as ‘objective’ because the entire experiential system is implicated in seeing the mountain but close to instantaneously and not at an explicitly conscious level; but for unfamiliar ‘objects’ the system takes repeated experience to build up; while for doubtful ‘objects’, the system may never build). That is—While what I think of as the concept is the image drawn from memory, what I think of as the ‘object’ is really an extended concept. As noted earlier, this does not imply that no objectivity is possible—I know there is illusion (as experience), (and therefore) experience, Being (and beings), the universe, and some essential facts about the universe (no material cause, modal cause). And the metaphysics opens up a whole world of interwoven perfect and pragmatic objectivity.
It was earlier asked what a resemblance is and how resemblance is recognized and possible. The foregoing explains what they are and in so doing show their categorial possibility as well as their pragmatic recognition. From the discussion above—
A resemblance is a concept and the resembled is the extended concept.
Earlier, a simple symbol was seen to be capable of reference but a sign was not. However, what is the reference of the symbol ‘and’? But first, how is ‘and’ a symbol in the way ‘an apple’ is a symbol? Intuitively or naïvely, one sense of ‘and’ is as a symbol, not of a thing in the literal sense of ‘thing’, but of combining more than one thing into one thing. Now that seems rather abstract. In fact, the ‘thing’ designated by ‘and’ is an abstract object.
From the metaphysics, every consistent concept has an object (it may be a class of objects but a class of objects is an object).
An object is the referent of a consistent concept (an object is an existent).
Relative to an individual, the object may be actual or potential; relative to the universe it is actual. Entities are objects but the class of objects is not limited to members that are entities.
Some objects are touched and seen, for example a brick. An electron is seen indirectly, via instruments (as extensions of the senses). Electrons and bricks are located in space and time and are causal in the material sense. We can also think (conceive) such objects. We think of the brick as an object of Newtonian Mechanics (and more); of an electron as an object of the Dirac equation or as an excitation of a quantum field. But we can think some ‘things’ that we do not sense or measure with instruments. Such ‘things’ include number, property, and operations (e.g. ‘and’). But these things are objects. However, they are not or do not seem to be located in space and time or to be sensible or materially causal (note that being causal, in spacetime, and sensible are present or absent together in objects in a fairly obvious way). The perceived kind have been labeled ‘concrete’; and the thinkable but not perceived kind ‘abstract’. Thus, in a fairly well established line of thought, there are thought to be concrete objects and abstract objects; and in the same line of thought, the existential status of the former is regarded as transparent (‘real things’) but the latter are mysterious (Where and when are they? Nowhere. Are they causal or sensible? No! So, then, what are they (in kind)? We are not sure, goes the said line of thought.)
However, from the metaphysics we can now say that both concrete and abstract objects exist and have the same existential status (real, i.e. have Being as evidenced by location in experience). But though there is a distinction, per the previous paragraph, it is not categorial but marked by a continuum defined by how they are known. But that is relative to kind of experiencer, for surely there can be perceivers that might shift the entire spectrum so that what is abstract (concrete) for us is concrete (abstract) for them.
Are we saying experience creates or causes existence? No. Rather, existence is located in experience or as an aspect of it (and as noted earlier, this allows and there is a meaning to objectivity as faithfulness).
Relative to sentient beings the following defines a continuum—
A concrete object is one that can be sensed; all objects can be thought (of); an abstract object is one that can be thought or conceived but not sensed.
Identity is sense of sameness of existent. Individual or personal identity is that which occurs when the existent is ‘self’—i.e. the sense of sameness is that of an experiencer. A person is an existent with personal identity.
Duration (time) is marked by sameness of identity through change. Extension (space) is marked by different identities from the perspective of a person.
Because identity defines and identifies (‘measures’) duration and extension, the latter are perspectival (relative) and bound together with identity.
That is, while ‘matter’ may be seen as form (in space), ‘mind’ is relationship or interaction (among forms). ‘Mind’ and ‘matter’ are interwoven; and in what may be called dynamics of being, mind or relationship or interaction may be seen as a driver of change.
The universe is far greater than the empirical cosmos. It must have personal identity (self). The universe and its identity are limitless in extension, duration, variety or kind of Being, peak, and dissolution. Individuals (persons) must inherit this limitlessness (or else the universe would be limited). That is, while death is real, it is not absolute and the individual approaches the ultimate either in their present life (if rarely) or after dissolution (death) into the general background. There are pathways of approach to the ultimate (the universal) from the immediate (this life).
That there is approach to and realization of the ultimate is given from the fundamental principle. If the reader, despite the demonstration of the principle, prefers to find this approach speculative, they may choose (or not) to find a best approximation in ‘this life’. However, the fundamental principle does imply not only the givenness of realization of the ultimate but also, if they accept a simple ethic, to find and be on a best path.
Here the I must note a certain equivocation regarding this implication. My response, noting the consistency of the principle, is to regard the fundamental principle as (i) a fundamental postulate and (ii) an existential principle of action. As a fundamental postulate I recognize it as hypothetical. However, in view of the value of what it reveals if true, and knowing that it cannot be shown untrue, it is also a principle of action for which a best (‘optimal’) degree of risk is (at least apparently) not known—but it is and can be known that no risk and mere risk are both less than best.
What is a proper level of confidence in the principle as a postulate? What is an appropriate level of risk in relation to the existential aspect? There are definite numerical answers but it is desirable (i) at least qualitative assessment of doubt (ii) in relation to risk, to ignore neither the immediate nor the ultimate. For (i) other proofs and heuristics may be given (a journey in being-manual-essential.html and other documents). For (ii) comparison with Pascal’s Wager is illuminating. Secular response is that doubt in the Christian Ultimate is near absolute and the secular immediate is all we have; it is therefore rational to not take the wager. However, in relation to the real metaphysics, the ultimate may be far greater than the immediate. If all possibilities are equally probable, the ultimate is greater with near certainty than the immediate in quality and unbounded numerical magnitude.
The path to universal identity must be experience for else there is no continuity of identity. Experience is the place of individual and universal identity and meaning. Experiencing is relationship—experience of the world and experience in action. Even ‘pure experience’ is relation inner to the individual. Now experience has and must have form and this form is (a part of) the form of the body.
As individuals do not create their own meaning entirely, community—especially the dedicated community (‘Sangha’ in Buddhism), is significant to realization. And yet, certain (relatively) realized individuals, often in charismatic relation to the community, are significant in emergence of meaning and paths to realization.
The path to the ultimate must involve experience in two ways, (i) in the transformation of experience itself and associated transformation of body (ii) in instrumental use of experience (knowledge) to transform material form (and associated transformations of civilization).
From the fundamental principle, there are paths to the ultimate. They are cultivated by intelligent enjoyment of the immediate and seeking of the ultimate. The way necessarily has ecstasy and pain. The paths themselves ought not to emphasize or suppress ecstasy; they ought not to ignore pain. The problem of pain is important and it ought to be addressed in terms of our best therapy and medicine; but the most complete address of pain lies in also being on the path. This is true even of senseless pain, e.g. that of the infant or cancer, for while it cannot eliminate the pain itself, it is the best resolution of the apparent senselessness of it in the context of community. The best approach to significant life (‘meaning’) is in intelligent discovery and realization of the ultimate in and from the immediate, and enjoyment of the same.
Cosmology is the study of the variety, extension, and duration of being and its kinds.
It is implicit that any methods of cosmology are tacit to cosmology.
Speaking expansively, cosmology is part of metaphysics. But the term ‘cosmology’ is intended in a particular sense in which, if metaphysics is about the principles, cosmology is about detail.
Cosmology has already begun in the previous sections, A Theory of Being and The Individual and the Universe. The kinds of Being identified were ‘material’, experiential, (by implication) sapient, and among the latter are beings with identity. It was seen earlier that the universe has no creator. However, there are higher forms of Being. Are these Gods? Generally, not in the sense of ‘creators’, ‘rulers’, ‘perfect beings’, or apart from the world and its creatures. On the other hand as the peak of Being of the universe, in which we all participate, we are part of whatever it is that is the highest expression of Being, the peak of universal Being.
The peak of Being, of which we are part, is the concept of Brahman from Advaita Vedanta.
In so far as there is ‘God’, it is an aspect of the process of the world, and we are part of it.
Beings that are more advanced than us are possible and we might have relations to them but we have no evidence of them in this cosmos (so far). Their primary value appears to be symbolic and relative to particular cultures.
What is the method of this cosmology so far? There were two parts to the understanding (direct knowledge) and reason (inferring) developed above—(i) logic (and logical possibility and necessity) and (ii) law or science (and real possibility and necessity, e.g. physical possibility).
Thus far the appeal has been to logic—to the realizability of concepts to existents in the universe in terms of their intrinsic structure.
We now turn to appeal to the conformation of concepts to existents in formed cosmoses, particularly our empirical cosmos—i.e., in terms of our sciences; which presume and are framed by logic.
But shall we appeal to our sciences and encapsulated cumulative experience when it is not known that all of that pertains to more than the empirical cosmos12? That we should is already implied in talking of the real metaphysics. But there are specific reasons (i) while the laws and behaviors are specific to our cosmos, the paradigms may have greater universality (if not entirely universal to all formed systems, the fundamental principle implies they are application to the many cosmoses similar to ours—and where and if our local paradigms do not extend, there is will be experience, metaphysics, and logic to fall back on) and (ii) they are at least among the local instruments of realization.
That is, our traditions are a source of paradigm.
One set of main paradigms is from the sciences—(i) from the physical sciences we may learn about material cause and its two sides of mechanism and randomness; we may learn about microscopic and macroscopic behavior; and we may learn about the emergence and dynamic of the empirical cosmos; (ii) from the life sciences we may learn about function and its microscopic and macroscopic aspects; and we may learn about abiogenesis and evolution and, particularly, the paradigm of random variation and structural selection in the emergence and evolution of true novelty; (iii) from psychology we may learn about what freedom and necessity—though not logical necessity—in human behavior and thought; and we may learn of possibilities and blocks to creation and creativity; (iv) from social science we may learn about group limits and enhancements to human possibility; (v) from economics, politics, and technology we may learn about constraints and possibilities for large scale groups—for civilization.
These paradigms may be complemented by earlier traditions from other cultures—secular, transsecular, and primal.
And they may be all interpreted, enhanced, and complemented by general thought, especially philosophy.
This section is continuation of and may be seen as part of the previous section.
Relations among the paradigms are particularly significant and perhaps potent for interactive development; and the relations include various framings, particularly of the real by the logical.
The micro-macro structure relation may be critical to the possibility of life and other cosmological structures—and so to their understanding.
The variation and selection paradigm from biology—a paradigm of emergent structure—may be applicable to the origin of cosmological systems. Naturally the particulars of ‘evolution’ would be different for cosmoses and life. And the paradigms would have exception since the universe realizes all possibility. What then would the use of the paradigms be? They may be indicators of stable worlds, populations, probabilities, and novel structure.
Our traditions suggest pure and pragmatic dimensions of Being that are instrumental in forging paths to the ultimate. From the foregoing, the pure dimensions are experiencer and world; from dimensions, a useful pragmatic division of the world begins with psyche as follows: psyche ® world ® world as psyche, nature, society (and civilization), and the universal.
Philosophical thought (freed from its current limitations from scientific dogma, academic boundaries, and self limitation as only a special kind of activity) will be essential. For example, the sciences as practiced as well as information models are inadequate to understanding the nature of ordinary consciousness and its place in the lives of human beings and the universe. For that understanding we may turn to philosophy and of course to experience. As another example, philosophy is essential in scientific revolutions (in revaluation of the concepts). Another example is that philosophical reflection will be essential to revaluation of the use of formal and informal language suggested in § Concepts, meaning, knowledge, and language; and philosophy itself and its ‘methods’ will benefit from the same revaluation. Finally for our modern culture, careful reflection of experience and experience of experience will be needed to break free from the bonds that see consciousness as a peripheral oddity and reclaim experience as an essential way to universal Being.
Let us conclude that metaphysics is the study of the real by reviewing the criteria set up in A meta-question—How to approach defining metaphysics?
1. Etymology and analysis of the term itself. While the etymology is not informative the term may be infused with meaning for if physics is the study of the elements of the universe in pragmatic terms, what lies ultimately beyond physics may be seen as the study of the real in perfect terms. But is perfection possible? In A Theory of Being perfection has been demonstrated.
2. History and practice. A review of the Historical introduction to the discipline of metaphysics and The disciplines and topics of metaphysics show that the topics traditionally and currently studied do fall under the real. Even the epistemological questions can be seen to fall under study of the real. Modern practice tends to deny that metaphysics is study of the world but A Theory of Being denies the denial.
3. The main ideas and topics of the discipline. If it is possible to study the real then the historical topics fall under it. But is it a rational discipline—i.e., is it possible to study the real? Descartes’ establishment of the existence of thought—that is what his cogito argument amounts to—is an example. A Theory of Being is a study of the entire real. Above all it has been shown that Being (and experience) are real and that they are foundational without regress. A source of the power of the concept of Being is that it refers, simply, to ‘what is’ rather than something else as in substance theories. Now ‘Being’ might seem trivial—and indeed it is but it is trivial in the sense of being clear and not in the sense of being contentless or without conceptual power. For, together with the ‘categories’ of the universe, the void, logic, and law it is ultimately potent as pivotal to an ultimate metaphysics. The intimate relationship between metaphysics and epistemology has been argued, not only in principle, but in A Theory of Being they have been found to be joined as one.
4. Immersion. For immersion we have developed A Theory of Being. This shows not only the ‘possibility’ of metaphysics but an actual and ultimate metaphysical system that incorporates beings and knowledge and their destinies. Noting that the theory developed identifies Being as the real and contains with it an epistemology—i.e. a justification of the metaphysics as study of the real and the nature of the real. The theory has not been developed to the point of including the range of topics considered to be metaphysics but enough has been done to show that such an extension is possible.
Though a definition of metaphysics as study of the real has been justified a question of conflict among definitions ought to be addressed. Some of the activities in The disciplines and topics of metaphysics have been considered definitive of metaphysics. There is no essential conflict between those possible definitions and ‘study of the real’. They are of course different but as pointed out they fall under study of the real. Problems with other definitions are (i) they make metaphysics out to be less than its potential, (ii) some make metaphysics vague or unclear where it is the result of inadequate thought rather than essential vagueness, (iii) they may make the place of metaphysics within philosophy questionable where it is not.
seeking, satisfaction, everyday, universal, what shall we do, engagement with the real, knowledge, foundation
icon, sign, simple sign, compound sign, symbol, simple symbol, compound symbol, concept, referential concept, intentional concept, referent, meaning, definition, effective definition, knowledge, abstraction, abstract knowledge, pragmatic knowledge, perfect knowledge, language, discrete representation, semantics, syntax
being (a being), existent, beings, Being, existence, spirit, hypothetical being, nonexistent being, power, material cause
possibility, pattern, natural law, law, physical possibility, real possibility, logical possibility, logic, impossibility, necessity, modal cause, symmetry of necessity, identity of necessity and exhaustion, void
the universe is the greatest possible, fundamental principle of metaphysics and being, necessary cause, tradition, real metaphysics
experience (as aware consciousness), attitude, pure experience, action, experience (in a more inclusive meaning as interaction among the elements that is the root of higher conscious experience), resemblance, resembled, object, concrete object, abstract object, sameness, change, identity, personal identity, person, duration, extension, matter, mind, dynamics of being
death, sangha, realized individuals
paradigm, sciences, physical sciences, mechanism, randomness, life sciences, psychology, social science, economics, politics, technology, civilization, secular, transsecular, primal, philosophy
dimensions of Being, paradigm of emergent structure, experience as an essential way to universal Being
1 Along with other disciplines. And it is worth noting that while we ought to recognize conventional academic and disciplinary boundaries we ought not to be bound by them.
4 Follow the above link to the Stanford Encyclopedia article on metaphysics.
6 Follow the above link to the Stanford Encyclopedia article on metaphysics.
7 The special metaphysics of topics such as God and spiritual being are omitted as being an attempt to impose upon rather than discover the real. Historically, ‘special metaphysics’ was a major interest and mainly studied by the Scholastic philosophers.
8 Follow the above link to the Stanford Encyclopedia article on metaphysics.
9 Follow the above link to the Stanford Encyclopedia article on metaphysics.
10 When the article ‘Metaphysics’ is written this link will be changed to point to it.
11 This is one of Immanuel Kant’s famous three questions “What can I know?” “What must I do?” “What may I hope?” Here the form of the second, “What shall we do?”, is the sole question for it suggests the first which entails an answer to the third.
12 From science itself—probability is contingent on what we know—it probable that the extent is beyond the empirical but it is unknown whether it extends to the end of the entire universe. But, even from science, if we assign equal probabilities to all possibilities, the probability that the range of our sciences (here it is physics that is relevant) is the entire universe. And as we have seen from the real metaphysics, the range of our physics is infinitesimal.