Philosophy 2020: Metaphysics | Why Metaphysics?

By Douglas Flippen, PhD


As Aristotle remarked long ago, human beings have a natural desire to know; not to know an endless number of facts about an endless number of things, but to make sense of things in the most general of ways.

Dr. Douglas Flippen

Natural philosophy, or physics, in an older sense of the word, studies beings as changeable. Metaphysics, which literally means “beyond physics,” studies beings, not just as changeable, but simply as beings. The most basic question we can ask on the metaphysical level which expresses our desire to make sense of things is simply: why is there something rather than nothing

This question has been asked in a variety of ways over the years, yet many persons never think to ask it. One reason many never question the existence of things is because we have been surrounded by a world of existing things since we were born. Being creatures of habit, it does not occur to us to question the very being of things. Yet the fact that change dominates reality, and the fact that things come into and go out of being constantly, should awaken us to the fact that everything we know of could just as easily not exist as exist.

If all the things we know just happen to have being, but could just as easily not have being, then there must be some explanation for the very existence of things. Something must exist of its very nature and be able to communicate being to things which merely have being. In this way, the metaphysical analysis of the common type of being, i.e., that which is a being because it has being, leads us to the existence of the first cause of beings regarded as beings, namely to God.

Besides providing an explanation for why beings in the common sense exist, Metaphysics also analyzes the different types of common being. The 10 categories of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are the 10 ways in which things can have being. The categories are: substance, quantity, quality, acting, being acted on, relation, where a thing is, position, when a thing exists, and condition.

While the 10 categories are the mutually exclusive ways in which things may have being, the transcendentals are aspects of being that belong to every way of having being. The transcendental aspects of being, which are mutually shared by all ways of having being, are: thing, one, something, true, good and beautiful.

In this way, by regarding things merely as beings, we can gain a unified, though very abstract, understanding of the whole of reality.