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Metaphysics

DOI
10.4324/9780415249126-N095-1
DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N095-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 16, 2017, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/overview/metaphysics/v-1

Article Summary

Metaphysics is a broad area of philosophy marked out by two types of inquiry. The first aims to be the most general investigation possible into the nature of reality: are there principles applying to everything that is real, to all that is? – if we abstract from the particular nature of existing things that which distinguishes them from each other, what can we know about them merely in virtue of the fact that they exist? The second type of inquiry seeks to uncover what is ultimately real, frequently offering answers in sharp contrast to our everyday experience of the world. Understood in terms of these two questions, metaphysics is very closely related to ontology, which is usually taken to involve both ‘what is existence (being)?’ and ‘what (fundamentally distinct) types of thing exist?’ (see Ontology).

The two questions are not the same, since someone quite unworried by the possibility that the world might really be otherwise than it appears (and therefore regarding the second investigation as a completely trivial one) might still be engaged by the question of whether there were any general truths applicable to all existing things. But although different, the questions are related: one might well expect a philosopher’s answer to the first to provide at least the underpinnings of their answer to the second. Aristotle proposed the first of these investigations. He called it ‘first philosophy’, sometimes also ‘the science of being’ (more-or-less what ‘ontology’ means); but at some point in antiquity his writings on the topic came to be known as the ‘metaphysics’ – from the Greek for ‘after natural things’, that is, what comes after the study of nature. This is as much as we know of the origin of the word (see Aristotle §11 and following). It would, however, be quite wrong to think of metaphysics as a uniquely ‘Western’ phenomenon. Classical Indian philosophy, and especially Buddhism, is also a very rich source (see Buddhist philosophy, Indian; Hindu philosophy; Jaina philosophy).

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Citing this article:
Craig, Edward. Metaphysics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N095-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/overview/metaphysics/v-1.
Copyright © 1998-2017 Routledge.

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