Categories in metaphysics

Anil Mitra, Copyright © July 2016—February 2017



General discussion

Summary: categories and ground

The categories

The ground

The arrangement of the categories


Categories in Metaphysics

This is not definitive. See the conceptual outline.html to The Way of Being.

General discussion

In this article metaphysics is knowledge of the world and its activity is study of the world. The world is understood as the universe and the place of sentient entities, especially human being, in it and in relation to it. Among sentient beings, there is emphasis on human being. The ‘universe’ is understood to be the entire universe of all kinds and not just the empirical or physical universe.

Metaphysics has a number of fundamental problems among which are (a) whether it is at all possible—especially if we ask that the study be of the world as it is and not just as it appears and (b) how shall we do metaphysics.

We will find that the answer to (a) above is a definite though nuanced affirmative. Item (b) is the question of ‘method’—but method may include but is not the same as either ‘guarantee of certainty’ or ‘algorithm’.

In modern thought, metaphysics is often regarded found difficult to define—as there is such a thing that the thing is difficult to specify. Given that in philosophy metaphysics is a family meaning term, is there such a thing? No, somewhat unlike physics, for example, it has not achieved definiteness of subject matter. It is important to note that the term ‘metaphysics’ has various uses. Here, however, (a) we fix on one particular use and (b) show that this use specifies a definite and powerful sense. Thus, while we have not eliminated other uses and nor should we, we find a specific and potent use that should be distinguished from the other uses. Further there is nothing vague about the sense introduced here.

Hitherto metaphysics lacked the definiteness or defining theories of physics. Here a definite and definitive system of metaphysics is found. It is therefore with justification that we can assert that there is a clear definition of metaphysics.

Among the modern notions of metaphysics (and philosophy) is that they are not studies of the world; rather, metaphysics is the study of experience or the study of how to study; and philosophy is, e.g., a therapeutic activity aimed at correcting the excesses of positive claims to knowledge outside science or as in metaphysics. Here, we restore metaphysics and, since the approach is significantly philosophical, we restore philosophy to include the study of the world. We are not claiming however to challenge or discredit the range of modern thought regarding the subject matter of philosophy; nor do we assert that there is no modern thought in which philosophy excludes study of the world. We do claim, however, that the study of the world is more important than frequently thought, especially in analytic philosophy dating back, roughly to the era from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations to the resuscitation of the philosophical analysis of mind, roughly c. 1970.

Another modern notion of metaphysics is the following—just as physics is the study of concrete objects, metaphysics is the study of abstract objects. We will find metaphysics to include the study of the abstract and the concrete.

It is noteworthy—and characteristic of metaphysics as we will do it here—that the method and the instruments are in the world and therefore part of the study itself. I.e., method and mind are part of metaphysics. Mind would be part of metaphysics on two counts—that it is part of the world and that it is associated with the instruments and methods. Also noteworthy is that metaphysics is reflexive—it studies itself; thus there may be metamathematics but no meta-metaphysics. We can also put this: meta-metaphysics would be part of metaphysics. This applies as well to philosophy: certainly there is a definitive subject, today, called meta-philosophy but it is not other than philosophy (of course not all philosophers would agree with this).

How then shall we do metaphysics?

1.     In no such endeavor do we actually begin at the beginning. Even for axiomatic systems we need preliminaries on the language and universe of ideas to entertain. Therefore we begin somewhere in midstream—much endeavor in life is like that—and then, perhaps, build downward a foundation so that the structure and superstructure that we build may be more secure. Of course we are also interested in the nature of ‘security’—for we may find that accepting some degree of uncertainty and error provide the optimum security and outcome.

2.     For inspiration, we turn to existing knowledge, our experience of and with the world, reason and reflection, experiment, and action (experiment can be seen as a kind of action). Let us tentatively label such a system the WELLSPRING OF METAPHYSICS. We have access to earlier studies in metaphysics, reason, science, and other fields. In science, which emphasizes the empirical, we find the concept of matter, suitably understood, to be adequate. We accept that regarding matter to be universal has limitations and we accept that empirical study has limits of precision—the aim includes the pragmatic. But the empirical may be a fraction of reality and the known universe may be a fraction of the entire universe. Matter and mind may be approximate kinds. And the approximation may result from being specified and defined. How do we overcome this approximation?

3.     Being will be defined here as that which is (i.e. that which exists—or existed or will exist). The absence of specificity is what makes the concept of Being precise if bland. The blandness is that it points out nothing in particular—except the difference between existence and non-existence—and so it may well be that despite its precision, Being is impotent as a concept to understand the world. It will turn out that, in combination with other concepts, Being enables a potent and ultimate ‘pure universal metaphysics’ that shows the world itself to be ultimate. But a question arises. What could it mean that something does not exist—for if ‘it’ doesn’t exist then there is no ‘thing’ in the ‘something’? This is the well known problem of negative existentials. A resolution lies in a careful conception of meaning (the more ‘traditional’ resolution is in analysis of ‘orders’ of predicates; order one refers to ‘real’ objects but order 2 refers to concepts of real objects and so on; this will be seen to be unnecessary complication).

4.     What is the justification of meanings as introduced above and in what follows? It is that the system of meanings results in a definite—and ultimate—explanatory system for being, i.e. a metaphysics. It is important to note, then, that meanings must be specified and that while this does not eliminate other meanings it is important to not confuse the specified meanings with others.

5.     What is meaning? It is a concept and the object (objects) to which it refers (and in the case that there are no objects we say that there is no existing object or, colloquially, ‘it doesn’t exist’). This is of course referential meaning and this is sufficient for the present development—i.e., while meaning is broader than as defined here the present definition is sufficient to the present development. Note further that in linguistic (referential) meaning a sign is attached to the concept; signs may be simple or compound—as in sentences; that the structure of compound signs may contain meaning; and that a symbol is a sign and its associated concept.

6.     Having tentatively suggested Being as a fundamental concept of metaphysics—indeed we will also conceive metaphysics as the study of Being—what other ingredients might we need to develop metaphysics? In the spirit of beginning midstream we begin tentatively. We turn to the wellspring of metaphysics. Consider science, particularly physics. Physics is the study of matter and radiation (and, if we include cosmology, the history of their distribution in the known universe). But to do physics we need further concepts. There are matter and radiation but also space and time, force or interaction and field—as, say, interaction-itself, and motion. These are some of the fundamental concepts. They constitute an analogy for metaphysics (a) in showing the need for a system of concepts and (b) perhaps as analogy for specific metaphysical concepts. In the beginning, however, the concepts of physics are too specific to provide a concrete analogy. However, what we see in physics is that there are a number of concepts at the level of the physical or just below the physical in terms of their generality. A further point to the analogy (c) is that the categories should not be but mere classes or ‘kinds’ but should include concepts that contribute toward an explanatory system and perhaps even a dynamic.

7.     To begin to develop an explanatory system in metaphysics we introduce the idea of the categories or classes of Being—a system of concepts at the level of Being or just below that will be adequate to metaphysical explanation. Aristotle was perhaps the first thinker to introduce categories; more recently Kant and Schopenhauer also introduced systems of categories. The system here will not be the systems of those thinkers. But how shall we proceed. The origin of the system I present was arrived at via a rather long incremental process. What I present are the principles rather than the details. And after the principles I will present the categories along with sufficient reason to show the system to be adequate to a full metaphysics.

8.     Just as Being is, after all embedded in experience as the idea of what is there, so we should at least begin with experience—particularly, experience-as-awareness or experience-as-consciousness. But reflect that we never escape experience and that everything that we know is ultimately registered in experience. Our world is a world of experience—but note that this is not to say that existence depends on experience or to argue for solipsism; however it is to say that experience is an important ingredient of the real if not, as some thinkers might argue, the only ingredient. But though experience may be not the only ingredient of the real, it is the place that all significance is registered. In beginning to specify categories, we conclude that Being and experience are coequals at the highest level of the real.

9.     A further category—beyond Being-experience—found, incrementally, to be of use derives from the idea of ‘part-hood’. This system includes the ideas of whole, part, and null (null is the idea of emptiness as an entity). And then, the universe is all being, a being is a part of the universe, and the void is the null being.

10. Yet another category will be the category of the real. This includes Being-experience—but its essence will be the possibilities and actualities of the real—actuality is that which does obtain, and possibility is that which can or may obtain. For a given context the possible includes or is identical to the actual. For the universe, the actual and the possible are the same.

11. Note that Being-experience in all its richness not marked by precision. Yet the idea of Being-experience is precise. This precision is arrived at by abstraction of the idea of Being and experience from the welter of Being and experience. Thus as a concept, Being-experience refers precisely or perfectly to its object. Such categories are labeled ‘pure’. The pure categories will also include those experiential notions of identity and change provided sufficiently abstracted and the idea of form.

12. Now, we do not derive the laws of science from data as premise via proof to the laws as consequence. Rather, the laws and theories begin as explanatory hypotheses bases at least in part on guesses (often inspired guesses from intuition mixed with inference). In science, empirical data are among the real data. For metaphysics which is understanding at a more inclusive level than science, the ‘data’ includes science and other disciplines—while of course also including experience. But in importing the ideas of science, to do so a pure form we must abstract the notions first. As such laws and theories of science may be among the pure categories.

13. The ideas discussed so far will enable a pure metaphysics that, it turns out, shows that the universe is ultimate in that all logical possibilities are realized. But, while this pure metaphysics reveals an ideal side to Being and while it enables inspiration, it does not provide so much as an instrument of temporal living. Here there are other instruments—science, technology, art, and others—the wellspring of metaphysics. Perfect precision is not their mark. But they provide an instrument in realizing the ultimate revealed by the pure. The associated categories will be called ‘pragmatic’. But it is also seen from the pure universal metaphysics that (a) there can be no perfectly precise pragmatic categories, (b) they are the ‘best’ instrument of realization, (c) they are therefore perfect as the best instruments. That is the pragmatic categories are perfect as instruments of the real (realization).

14. But the pragmatic as immediate will be more than instrument. They will serve as models for the pure. For example, the matter-interaction-motion paradigm from physics will serve as a model analogy for ‘dynamics’ at a higher level for Being. But it will not be sufficient to merely import and impose the analogy. Rather, the analogy is inspiration but the application and its limits of application must be derived and this will be done in considering identity and change. The philosophical substances of mind and matter will form an analogy for substance at the higher level of Being. But again mere import is insufficient. We will have to show of necessity from experience the nature and limits of substance at the metaphysical level. We will find, to state the case in rough terms, that there is no ultimate substance at all but the substance is always potential and associated with significance.

15. The pure and the pragmatic combine in a universal metaphysics—in which the prefix ‘pure’ has been dropped—that is perfect in dual but perfect epistemic criteria—the pure that is perfect in the sense of (representational or correspondence) truth, and the pragmatic that is perfect as instrument though imperfect in the traditional sense of precision (but which may also be seen as perfect to its role in universal realization).

16. We saw above that the purity of a category is a matter of perspective or abstraction. This is the case for most of the pure categories. On the other hand consider science. In the Popperian view of science approaching the universal, science—physics at least—never reaches an ideal of universality or precision and is therefore pragmatic in nature. On the other hand the sciences very definitely reveal actual local patterns. Further there is an abstract of the pattern that is pure—i.e., precise in abstract. In all cases the purity vs. pragmatism is a matter of perspective or abstraction. Therefore the classification of a category as pure or pragmatic will be in part a matter of convenience. Of course we want the main entry of Being to be pure (but it may also be entered among the pragmatic; and similarly some categories may be entered more than once).. For reasonably obvious reasons we will include the pure versions under Metaphysics below and the pragmatic versions under Cosmology.

17. In the categories below, I present two schemes (i) ideal and (ii) practical—the practical will be the convenient basis of a development. Rather than lay out the schemes in sequence pure « pragmatic it is more convenient to have them interlaced. Nonetheless, (a) there is a pure framework and (b) the pragmatic drives and instrumentalizes the pure.

18. Finally, note that reason—as logic, the necessary, and science and the contingent and more—are included in the categories.

Summary: categories and ground

The categories

The aim is ultimate understanding of the world—the universe and our relation to it.

We’ve seen that an ultimate understanding will have two meshing parts

1.     A pure, universal and ultimate part. This illuminates. It shows us what is possible and actual. What can and what will be achieve. In itself it does not show us the ‘how’.

2.     A pragmatic, local, and approximate part. Though rough, there is and need be no better. In that sense it has its own perfection. It is the perfect yet improvable instrument.

The ground

The source of all things—the perfect, the pragmatic, content, and method—is our system of experience. This is the ground.

The pure and ultimate is obtained from the ground by abstraction.

The pragmatic and immediate is the ground in its concreteness. It is improvable but pure perfection is neither possible nor desirable.

The arrangement of the categories

An arrangement into the pure and the pragmatic is possible but not desirable.

Study and reflection have shown that an interspersed arrangement is best. There is no ultimate distinction between the pure and the pragmatic—it is a matter of how much to abstract.

Therefore we choose that organization that leads to optimum method, understanding, and action. It is possible to extract a ‘purer’ organization as suggested immediately below.

A natural division is into (1) Metaphysics that emphasizes the general and the abstract and (2) Cosmology that continues the metaphysics but includes an emphasis on the pragmatic and on detail.