Derived from the Greek meta ta physika
("after the things of nature"); referring to an idea, doctrine, or
posited reality outside of human sense perception. In modern philosophical
terminology, metaphysics refers to the studies of what cannot be reached through
objective studies of material reality. Areas of metaphysical studies include
ontology, cosmology, and often, epistemology.
Metaphysics is a type of philosophy or study that uses broad concepts
to help define reality and our understanding of it. Metaphysical studies
generally seek to explain inherent or universal elements of reality which are
not easily discovered or experienced in our everyday life. As such, it is
concerned with explaining the features of reality that exist beyond the physical
world and our immediate senses. Metaphysics, therefore, uses logic based on the
meaning of human terms, rather than on a logic tied to human sense perception of
the objective world. Metaphysics might include the study of the nature of the
human mind, the definition and meaning of existence, or the nature of space,
time, and/or causality.
The origin of philosophy, beginning with the Pre-Socratics, was metaphysical
in nature. For example, the philosopher Plotinus held that the reason in the
world and in the rational human mind is only a reflection of a more universal
and perfect reality beyond our limited human reason. He termed this ordering
power in the universe "God."
Metaphysical ideas, because they are not based on direct experience with
material reality, are often in conflict with the modern sciences. Beginning with
the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, experiments with, and
observations of, the world became the yardsticks for measuring truth and
reality. Therefore, our contemporary valuation of scientific knowledge over
other forms of knowledge helps explain the controversy and skepticism concerning
metaphysical claims, which are considered unverifiable by modern science.
In matters of religion, the problem of validating metaphysical claims is most
readily seen in all of the "proofs" for the existence of God. Like
trying to prove the existence of a "soul" or "spirit" in the
human, attempts to scientifically prove the existence of God and other
nonobjective, nonhuman realities is seemingly impossible. The difficulty arises
out of the attempt to scientifically study and objectify something which, by its
very nature, cannot become an object of our scientific studies. This reigning
belief that everything can be explained scientifically in terms of natural
causes - referred to as naturalism - compels many to think that only what is
seen or sensed, only what can be hypothesized and tested can be true, and
therefore, meaningful to us as humans.
Recently, however, even as metaphysics has come under attack for its apparent
lack of access to real knowledge, so has science begun to have its own
difficulties in claiming absolute knowledge. Continual developments in our
understanding of the human thought process reveals that science cannot solely be
relied upon to explain reality, for the human mind cannot be seen as simply a
mirror of the natural world. For example, since the act of scientific
observation itself tends to produce the reality it hopes to explain, the
so-called "truths" of science cannot be considered as final or
objective. This fact manifests itself over and over again, as scientific truths
and laws continue to break down or yield to new and better explanations of
reality. What becomes apparent, therefore, is that the process of human
interpretation in the sciences, as elsewhere, is both variable and relative to
the observer's viewpoint.
Under the skeptical analyses of the philosophical movements known as
postmodernism and deconstructionism, all of these facts have resulted in a
modern repudiation of both metaphysics and science. Their criticisms are based
on the cultural and historical relativity of all knowledge. These two
philosophical "schools" deny any existence at all of an objective or
universal knowledge. Thus, metaphysical claims stand today between the
absolutist claims of science (scientism) and the complete relativism of
postmodernism and deconstructionism.
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