Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:
- What is ultimately there?
- What is it like?
A person who studies metaphysics is called a metaphysicist or a metaphysician. The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility. A central branch of metaphysics is ontology, the investigation into the basic categories of being and how they relate to each other. Another central branch of metaphysics is cosmology, the study of the origin, fundamental structure, nature, and dynamics of the universe. Some include Epistemology as another central focus of metaphysics, but this can be questioned.
Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as natural philosophy. Originally, the term “science” (Latin scientia) simply meant “knowledge”. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy. By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called “science” to distinguish it from philosophy. Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence. Some philosophers of science, such as the neo-positivists, say that natural science rejects the study of metaphysics, while other philosophers of science strongly disagree.
The word “metaphysics” derives from the Greek words Î¼ÎµÏ�Î¬ (metÃ¡, “beyond”, “upon” or “after”) and (physikÃ¡, “physics”). It was first used as the title for several of Aristotle’s works, because they were usually anthologized after the works on physics in complete editions. The prefix meta- (“beyond”) indicates that these works come “after” the chapters on physics. However, Aristotle himself did not call the subject of these books “Metaphysics”: he referred to it as “first philosophy.” The editor of Aristotle’s works, Andronicus of Rhodes, is thought to have placed the books on first philosophy right after another work, Physics, and called them (ta meta ta physika biblia) or “the books that come after the [books on] physics”. This was misread by Latin scholiasts, who thought it meant “the science of what is beyond the physical”.
However, once the name was given, the commentators sought to find intrinsic reasons for its appropriateness. For instance, it was understood to mean “the science of the world beyond nature” (physis in Greek), that is, the science of the immaterial. Again, it was understood to refer to the chronological or pedagogical order among our philosophical studies, so that the “metaphysical sciences” would mean “those that we study after having mastered the sciences that deal with the physical world” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Expositio in librum Boethii De hebdomadibus, V, 1).
There is a widespread use of the term in current popular literature which replicates this error, i.e. that metaphysical means spiritual non-physical: thus, “metaphysical healing” means healing by means of remedies that are not physical.
Although the word “metaphysics” goes back to Aristotelean philosophy, Aristotle himself credited earlier philosophers with dealing with metaphysical questions. The first known philosopher, according to Aristotle, is Thales of Miletus, who taught that all things derive from a single first cause or Arche.
Metaphysics as a discipline was a central part of academic inquiry and scholarly education even before the age of Aristotle, who considered it “the Queen of Sciences.” Its issues were considered[by whom?] no less important than the other main formal subjects of physical science, medicine, mathematics, poetics and music. Since the beginning of modern philosophy during the seventeenth century, problems that were not originally considered within the bounds of metaphysics have been added to its purview, while other problems considered metaphysical for centuries are now typically subjects of their own separate regions in philosophy, such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, philosophy of perception, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science.
“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.” – Nikola Tesla