Metaphysics is not a dirty word. Neither does it consist of arbitrary choices that have no meaning or repercussions in the real world. Rather, getting your metaphysics right – and you do have them – is the key to understanding anything and living well.
The dictionary says:
the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.
Which is OK, as far as it goes. More interesting is the philosopher John C Wright’s definition:
Metaphysics, as the name implies, is a study of the foundational beliefs that must NECESSARILY be true before any theory of physics can be proved true.
I tend toward the simplest functional definition:
Metaphysics is what must be true if anything is true.
Metaphysics requires the tacit acknowledgement of the goodness and desirability of Truth. If you don’t care about truth, as in: “Truth? What is that?” then perhaps you could truly claim to have no metaphysics – although simple physics, such as is evident in sitting, standing and emitting sound orally is pretty difficult without metaphysics, if indeed the impossible can be called difficult.
Here I will state, in completely nontechnical terms, what any metaphysics that is at all useful for a seeker of truth must hold:
- An objective world exists;
- I am not the only person in that world;
- It is possible to learn about that world and the other people in it through perceptions;
- Meaning and truth can be conveyed by words
Notice a certain non-hierarchy here. In order to seek truth, it is not required that one make any metaphysical assumptions about the physical or mental world being in some sense primary truth – there is no mind-body problem. Aristotle’s standard approach was to proceed from what is most knowable to us – immediate particulars – to what is most knowable in itself – more general ideas. But this does not mean the particulars are any less real or true than the general ideas, or visa versa.
Mike Flynn had a neat definition, too (surprise, surprise!) which 15 minutes of searching didn’t turn up. Something about the studying of being as being, as opposed to physics, which studies particular beings, but that’s not quite it. Must cut and past right when I see cool stuff.
Just Thomism points out that it’s wrong to think that modern philosopher mean the same thing by metaphysics (and other core terms) as the perennial philosophers do. I’d add that, in the case of Hegel’s use of ‘logic’, the meaning is opposite the traditional meaning.