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:
- Ultimately, what is there?
- What is it like?
A person who studies metaphysics is called a metaphysician. Among other things, 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.
Some include epistemology as another central focus of metaphysics, but others question this.
Another central branch of metaphysics is metaphysical cosmology, an area of philosophy that seeks to understand the origin of the universe and determine whether there is an ultimate meaning behind its existence. Metaphysical cosmology differs from physical cosmology, the study of the physical origins and evolution of the Universe.
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.
More... link to Wikipedia
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|An example of a metaphysical "philosophy"|
What does metaphysics mean in relation to Christianity?
by Bruce Charlton
July 10, 2013
Metaphysics is a very interesting subject - doubly so when it interacts with religion.
Interesting - and misunderstood.
Metaphysics describes the ultimate structure of reality - it is about the pre-suppositions or assumptions which underlie more detailed considerations such as specific philosophy (e.g. the philosophy of morals, beauty or specific religions) and science.
For a Christian, the most fundamental domain ought to be Christianity, which originates in revelation and revelation is in itself a complex product of tradition, scripture, authority, reason etc.
After this comes theology - but theology presupposes a particular metaphysics; for example monism or pluralism, serial time or eternal out-of-timeness, and some kind of point at which questions have to stop and the answer 'it just is' becomes accepted.
[For example,] the underlying difference between Mainstream Christianity and Mormonism relates to metaphysics - Joseph Smith's Restored gospel is based on a different set of metaphysical assumptions - e.g. pluralism, dynamism, serial time, and the stoppage of questions at the terminus of the existence of the stuff of the universe and laws of nature.
The big question is whether a different metaphysics means that Mormonism is not Christian. And the answer is: obviously not, because metaphysics is a matter of assumptions, and the Christian revelation did not refer to metaphysics. (Or, at least, the metaphysics of Christian revelation is ambiguous - and can be interpreted in contrasting ways.)
But even though metaphysics is an assumption and not a discovery nor amenable to empirical investigation - it does make a difference.
Indeed, it can (for some people, at some times and/ or places) make a profound difference.
Thus a Christianity based on Platonic, or Aristotelian, or Pluralistic metaphysics will have very different emphases, gaps, biases, strengths and weaknesses.
And these metaphysical systems are incommensurable,meaning that one cannot be mapped onto the other, because each works by a different language - a different lexicon and grammar of belief.
But, they are all potentially Christian - why would they not be?
Christianity is prior to metaphysics.
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IS THERE A CHRISTIAN METAPHYSIC?
by Christopher Benson
July 27, 2010
My friends and fellow bloggers are talking about metaphysics. So, I will jump in. Matt Milliner announces, “Attempts to overcome metaphysics [have] been shown to be themselves irrepressibly metaphysical.” Matt Anderson insists:
Either a natural order exists, or we impose it. Either the meaning is tied to the structure of things, or we make it up. And if the order exists, our options are conformity or rebellion. There is no middle ground here, despite the ambiguities and uncertainties that we experience in our confrontation with it. But if we reject metaphysics, our only resource for ethics is our will, and God’s.
His point reminds me of a former professor of philosophy, who asked his students: Is reality discovered or constructed? For nearly an hour, the classroom engaged in a spirited discussion, students falling into one camp or another. Once the thoughts were fielded, the professor asked a final question: What if reality is both discovered through creation, incarnation, resurrection, and revelation while also constructed through human understanding?
To reflect on this further, here is an excerpt from William Hasker’s Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Contours of a Christian Philosophy):
Is there a Christian metaphysic? According to [Alfred North] Whitehead, “Christianity has always been a religion seeking a metaphysic.” What he meant by this is that Christianity came into the world as a religion of salvation rather than a metaphysical system; since then Christian thinkers have adopted a number of different systems but have failed to establish one of them as definitive.
If Whitehead is right about this, then in at least two senses there is not and cannot be such a thing as a Christian metaphysic. In the first place, there is no one metaphysical system which is definitively Christian, but rather a number of systems, all of them more or less inconsistent with each other and all of them more or less adequate to the content of Christian faith. But the fact that Christianity is a religion of salvation also suggests that in a sense no philosophical system can be fully Christian, because no philosophical system can express the unique content of Christianity.
Philosophy is a discipline based on human reflection and human intellectual resources. But the message of salvation is not a discovery of human reflection. It comes to us by revelation, and Christians have consistently acknowledged that its central truths – the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, his atoning death for our sins, his resurrection from the dead, salvation by grace through faith – cannot be known by unassisted human thought. No metaphysical system can incorporate these truths without becoming something other than philosophy, and in this sense no metaphysical system can be fully and distinctly Christian.
But if Christianity is not a metaphysical system, it nevertheless implies metaphysical claims. And since very early times Christian thinkers have struggled to formulate these claims in philosophical terminology and to demonstrate their rational acceptability using philosophical methods. If by a Christian metaphysic we mean the result of such reflection, in which a Christian thinker seeks to develop a metaphysical system which is compatible with Christian faith and which is an adequate vehicle for the expression of Christian convictions, then not only is there a Christian metaphysic, but there are quire a few of them . . . .
First, a Christian metaphysic must speak of God. God is the ultimate and supreme reality; he takes first place in our answer to the metaphysical question, “What is there?” And an adequate account of God’s nature – at least, as adequate as possible – must be a high priority for Christian philosophy.... [Secondly,] a Christian metaphysic must also speak of creation . . . . And finally, a Christian metaphysic must speak of man as the image of God.
This then is metaphysics: a set of questions which press us to the very limits of human understanding, answers to those questions which are passionately held and yet deeply controversial, and in support of those answers seemingly endless arguments and counterarguments, rebuttals and counter-rebuttals. The task of seeking understanding is indeed endless. May we all continue in it, as we seek to love God with all our minds.
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Is Christianity a “Religion Searching for a Metaphysic?”
by Roger Olson
June 7, 2016
Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead famously declared that while Buddhism is a metaphysic searching for a religion, Christianity is a religion searching for a metaphysic.
In a forthcoming book from Zondervan (precise title yet to be decided) I argue that he was wrong; Christianity does have a metaphysic and it is not borrowed from an extra-Christian source. It is basically the same metaphysic as the Hebrews and it is implicit in the Bible, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Unfortunately, agreeing with Whitehead (before his time), many Christian thinkers have borrowed non-Hebrew, non-Christian metaphysics from elsewhere and imposed them on both Judaism (e.g., Philo) and Christianity (e.g., Augustine). Perhaps the worst example of such is modern Process Theology (e.g., John Cobb) which borrows a metaphysic from Whitehead and imposes it on Christianity.
I do not deny that extra-biblical, extra-Christian metaphysical ideas can be helpful speculatively in answering questions the Bible does not answer; what I argue is that this must be done ad hoc and not against biblical philosophy. An example is the church fathers’ borrowing from Greek philosophy (“despoiling the Egyptians”) to say that evil is the absence of the good (Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine). The Bible does not say that, but there is a “fit” between what it does say (and imply) and that specific Greek philosophical idea.
I do not argue that the Bible is a metaphysical or philosophical book; I affirm that the Bible is a narrative, a “theodrama,” containing many literary genres, including some that seem more philosophical than others. Overall, however, the Bible is a story that presupposes a metaphysic—not a complete one that answers every conceivable subject of metaphysics but one that, once discerned, answers the basic questions metaphysics has always been concerned with (e.g., “the one and the man”).
Christians generally used to know this even though: 1) They did not always acknowledge it as such, and, 2) They disagreed much about its details, and 3) They often replaced parts of biblical metaphysics with metaphysics drawn from other sources distorting Christian thought into a form almost unrecognizable (e.g., so-called “negative” or “apophatic” theology [Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite] and Process Theology).
I agree with 20th century Swiss theologian Emil Brunner who argued in his Dogmatics (as well as in his much earlier Philosophy of Religion) that there is a philosophia Christiana rooted in biblical revelation and that two tasks of a Christian scholar is to discern it and to integrate it with other knowledge.
Unfortunately, even many Protestant Christians, including evangelicals, have fallen under the sway of a Kantian reduction of religion, including Christianity, to ethics, as if ethics could be supported without a metaphysical vision. Some years ago I read a book (long lost) by a Baptist theologian arguing, in a popular fashion for use in churches, that Christianity is not a “worldview” but a “lifestyle.” As is often the case, he was wrong about what he denied while being right about what he affirmed. But that sentiment is extremely common in modern and postmodern Christianity—including among evangelical Protestants.
Much of my life as an evangelical Christian scholar, teaching now for thirty-five years in three Christian universities, writing articles and books, editing a Christian scholarly journal (Christian Scholar’s Review), has been devoted to attempting to explain to other Christians, especially in the academy (scholars, students, teachers), what “integration of faith and learning” means. In my opinion, it is rarely rightly understood. I have heard others attempt to explain it (e.g., in “new faculty orientations” and in faculty workshops) and have usually felt frustrated because the way “integration of faith and learning” was explained was bound to raise wholly unnecessary objections if not outright hostility.
The “faith” part of “integration of faith and learning” (which is one of the main purposes of Christian higher education) is, in my opinion, the implicit biblical metaphysical vision of reality. It is often referred to as “the Christian worldview.” Of course, a problem that immediately arises is that “worldview” now has several meanings and so claiming there is a Christian worldview arouses consternation—especially among social scientists (e.g., anthropologists) who tend to refer to “worldview” as inseparable from culture. Even Christian social scientists prefer to refer to Christian worldviews (plural) rather than the Christian worldview (singular).
What I argue, with Brunner and others (e.g., Claude Tresmontant and Edmond Cherbonnier) is that there is one biblical-Christian metaphysical vision of reality tha ttakes many different forms and expressions when enculturated. However, to avoid sheer cultural relativism, I also argue that in whatever culture the biblical-Christian worldview appears there are limits to that culture’s alterations of it. It is not endlessly flexible. A major task of every Christian thinker in every culture where Christianity appears is to integrate the implicit biblical-Christian metaphysic, embedded within the biblical theodrama, with that culture’s form of life without distorting either one—to the extent that is possible. It is always a risky project and there can be no pre-set limits or conditions to it except the Bible itself.
However, another reason I believe “integration of faith and learning” in Christian higher education has fallen on hard times is a lack of clear explication of the biblical metaphysical vision, Brunner’s philosophia Christiania, including alternative metaphysical visions, worldviews, philosophies of life with which it is incompatible. Administrators of Christian colleges and universities need to understand it themselves and make clear to their faculties, especially new hires, that studying it and then working to integrate it—take it into account—in their research and teaching is expected. This is especially true in those disciplines where there is likely to be some conflict between alternative, non-biblical, non-Christian worldviews and belief systems and the biblical-Christian one. According to Brunner, and I believe he is right, these are primarily (but not only) the “human sciences.”
The biblical-Christian metaphysic, philosophia Christiana, can be enriched and informed by secular research because all truth is God’s truth, but Christian scholars teaching in Christian schools need to be careful not to corrupt their teaching with beliefs that conflict with the biblical-Christian worldview. This happens all too often when administrators and department heads are not watchful and when even well-meaning, sincere Christian faculty members indulge in syncretism of popular (or even not popular) theories about realities with biblical-Christian truths.
This is the purpose of my forthcoming (2017) Zondervan book: To explain that there is a metaphysic implied in the biblical narrative, to explicate what it is and is not, and to encourage Christian students and scholars to go deeper than just confessional doctrine into understanding this Christian philosophy “hidden” within the Bible itself. This is especially important in the increasingly pluralistic society of America in which no one, anywhere, can take even the most basic of biblical ideas for granted.