Metaphysics: A guided tour for beginners
Bigaj (Tomasz)
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
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    Acknowledgments – i
    Introduction – 1
  1. Existence and identity – 5
  2. Universals and particulars – 20
  3. Possibility and necessity – 45
  4. Time and temporal objects – 60
  5. Causation – 94
  6. Determinism and free will – 118
    Further reading – 134
    Index – 141

  1. The term “metaphysics” elicits mixed responses. For some metaphysics is the ultimate science of reality, surpassing all other branches of knowledge in depth and beauty. But for others metaphysics has a checkered past and a somewhat tarnished reputation. To begin with, even the term itself is a result of a historical accident. When one of the greatest philosophers of all time Aristotle died in the fourth century BC, he left reams of written notes on virtually all scientific topics imaginable – from logic, politics, and ethics, to astronomy and botany. His pupils and followers took up the colossal task of organizing those manuscripts into separate works, known today collectively as the Corpus Aristotelicum. However, they had a considerable difficulty with categorizing a group of particularly abstract and hard to comprehend writings dealing with such issues as the notion of being and substance, the first causes (or principles) of things, the notions of one and many, the problem of change, the existence of mathematical objects and of one God. Rather than subsume these writings under any extant category, the decision was made to place them in order following the treatises on physics, and therefore the provisional title “Metaphysics” was coined, which literally means “what comes after physics”. But the name stuck, and to this day is associated with the most general and abstract philosophical considerations regarding what exists. Much later another term – “ontology” – became popular as an alternative to “metaphysics”. “Ontology” is a blend of two Greek words: on which means “being”, and logos, interpreted in this context as “science”. Some philosophers treat the terms “ontology” and “metaphysics” as synonyms, but it is also common to use the former in a narrower sense to refer to the part of metaphysics which analyses the most general categories of objects (known as ontic categories) constituting reality.
  2. Throughout its long history metaphysics has undergone numerous transformations, both in subject and method. There were times when metaphysics had the reputation of a highly speculative branch of philosophy, disconnected from experience and common sense. Some philosophers in the 17th century attempted to build comprehensive and rather abstract metaphysical systems purported to reveal the ultimate nature of reality. For instance the Jewish-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza argued in a very convoluted way that everything is made of one substance which is identical with God, whereas the German polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz insisted that the ultimate elements of the universe are independent and isolated souls called monads. But such unbridled speculations drew a lot of criticism and even contempt from a broad spectrum of philosophers. Among the most prominent critics of metaphysics were the Scottish thinker David Hume and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Hume believed that the only way to acquire knowledge about the external world is through the senses, and therefore it is impossible to have direct access to reality not mediated by our experience. Kant agreed with this claim and consequently with Hume’s critical approach to speculative metaphysics. However, Kant vowed to restore the good name of metaphysics (in a new form referred to by him as “critical”) by focusing his investigations on the fundamental concepts such as time and causality which are necessary to form any knowledge whatsoever. Such a new metaphysics should subsequently become the foundation of all scientific knowledge.
  3. Hume’s radical anti-metaphysical stance echoes in many later philosophical schools, in particular the influential 20th-century school of logical positivism. Philosophers associated with this movement argued that metaphysical claims are not only fundamentally unknowable, but even meaningless. For them any meaningful statement must meet the stringent requirement of verifiability; that is it must be possible to prove conclusively that it is true (in later versions of verificationism this condition was replaced by a slightly less strict requirement that for all meaningful statements it should be possible either to prove that they are true, or to prove that they are false). Logical positivists believed that science passes the verificationist test of meaningfulness with ease while metaphysics definitively fails it. Thus the only meaningful general statements about the world can be found in the fundamental scientific theories, such as physics or astronomy. However, as it turns out even legitimate scientific claims can have difficulties with satisfying the verificationist criterion if they are sufficiently universal. Nowadays the verificationist principle is considered to be thoroughly discredited, and metaphysical statements are back in favor.
  4. The tide began to turn in favor of metaphysics in the second half of the last century. Even scientifically oriented philosophers came to the realization that scientific theories by themselves cannot offer us a unified and clear picture of reality. Different theories in science are based on different, sometimes even incompatible fundamental assumptions regarding the nature of the world, and to make matters worse some theories do not uniquely determine their proper “metaphysical” interpretations. Thus one important problem that the metaphysician can take up is trying to answer in most general terms the question of what the world should be like for a given scientific theory to be true. Another possible area of fruitful metaphysical investigations is a reconstruction of the metaphysics of common sense. What objects should be assumed to exist, and what structure should the world possess, for our basic, pre-philosophical and pre-scientific intuitive beliefs to be vindicated? If this task is accomplished, the next step may be to compare the reconstructed metaphysics of the person in the street with the metaphysics arising from accepted scientific theories. What intuitive beliefs regarding the world should we abandon as a result of scientific progress, and what beliefs can we retain? All these questions require of course a developed conceptual framework of basic metaphysical notions, such as the notions of object, existence, identity, property, temporality, persistence, causality, and many more. Thus it should not come as a surprise that modern metaphysics occupies itself extensively with the task of defining these fundamental concepts in various ways and selecting the best characterizations available.
  5. This short book gives a brief and elementary overview of a selection of central problems discussed in contemporary analytic metaphysics. Although most of these problems are deeply rooted in classical philosophical schools and doctrines, I will present them in a modern philosophical guise, as it is commonly done on the pages of current philosophical journals and books. One conspicuous feature of this modern approach to metaphysics, which will show in this book, is its heavy reliance on other branches of knowledge, including logic, semantics, mathematics, and all areas of natural sciences with physics at the forefront. To begin with, the classical metaphysical question of the existence and identity of objects cannot be properly approached without a strong support from modern logic and semantics. The same applies to yet another traditional metaphysical debate on the nature of so-called universals. Discussions on the existence and nature of abstract entities are part and parcel of modern philosophy of mathematics, hence the connections between metaphysics and mathematics are strong in this field. Logic gives us a new insight into another famous metaphysical debate on the meaning of necessity and possibility. But it has to be admitted that the presently dominating logical analysis of these notions gives rise to a number of new, previously unknown metaphysical questions, such as the problem of the status of possible worlds. Further on we will see how modern physics influences and shapes the age-old philosophical topic of time and temporality. One particularly exciting question is whether physics implies that the experience of the passage of time which we all have is just some sort of an illusion with no deeper ontological meaning. Physics has a say in current discussions on the notion of causality as well. It turns out that the metaphysics of causation can also benefit from the logical analysis of modality, and in particular the logical semantics of counterfactual conditional statements. Finally, we will consider the fascinating question of the relation between the doctrine of determinism and the apparent existence of freely acting agents, that is us. We will witness yet again how this metaphysical question can be approached using a mixture of physics, psychology, and logic.

  • Philosophy of Being, Cognition and Value at the University of Warsaw, 2012.
  • Downloaded from, 19th January 2020

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