Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy that concerns with the fundamental nature of being and reality of the world that encompasses it.
The word "metaphysics" derives from the Greek words μετά (metá, "beyond", "upon" or "after") and φυσικά (physiká, "physics"). It was first used as the title for several of Aristotle's works, because they were usually anthologized after the works on physics in complete editions. The prefix meta- ("after") indicates that these works come "after" the chapters on physics. However, Aristotle himself did not call the subject of these books "Metaphysics": he referred to it as "first philosophy." The editor of Aristotle's works, Andronicus of Rhodes, is thought to have placed the books on first philosophy right after another work, Physics, and called them τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικὰ βιβλία (ta meta ta physika biblia) or "the books that come after the [books on] physics". This was misread by Latin scholiasts, who thought it meant "the science of what is beyond the physical".
However, once the name was given, the commentators sought to find intrinsic reasons for its appropriateness. For instance, it was understood to mean "the science of the world beyond nature" (physis in Greek), that is, the science of the immaterial. Again, it was understood to refer to the chronological or pedagogical order among our philosophical studies, so that the "metaphysical sciences" would mean "those that we study after having mastered the sciences that deal with the physical world".
There is a widespread use of the term in current popular literature which replicates this understanding, i.e. that the metaphysical equates to the non-physical: thus, "metaphysical healing" means healing by means of remedies that are not physical.
We adhere here to the traditional sub-division of Metaphysics into Ontology, Cosmology, Rational Psychology and Rational Theology according to the system of Christian von Wolff, described in his Discursus Praeliminaris de Philosophia in Genere (1728) translated by R. J. Blackwell in ( Discourse on Philosophy in General (1903).
1.Ontology deals with the general question of Being or Reality, and what character is to be ascribed to the whole of Being as such.
The main problem is the relation of Being in general to experience, the sense in which Being may be said to be inseparable from, and yet to transcend, experience;
the problem of the existence of different kinds or degrees of Being;
the question whether Being is ultimately one or many;
the relation between Real Being and its appearances.
It is only when we have reached some definite conclusion on the most fundamental questions that we shall be in a position to deal with the more special problems suggested by the various departments of science and common life.
2.Rational Cosmology reflects on the contemporary sciences and speculates on the origin, fundamental structure, and space-time relationships of the physical universe, in its totality. Its problems are the nature of matter, the origin of the physical universe, the concept of uniformity of nature and the laws of physics, the concept of space and time, etc.
In cosmology, we discuss the questions connected with such categories as those of uniform spatial extension, uniform obedience to general law, and the constitution of a whole which is an aggregate of parts.
3. Rational Psychology studies the mind and its place in nature. It deals with the problem of soul and body, the nature of personal identity, the place of the “self” in reality, the problem of free will.
Note: Rational Cosmology and Rational Psychology would be useless if conceived of as a substitute for the experimental study of the physical, psychological, and social science. They are essentially departments of Metaphysics, and for that very reason are incapable of adding a single fact to the sum of our knowledge. However, Metaphysics has a real value, but a value of a different kind. It is concerned not with accumulation of facts, but with the interpretation of previously ascertained facts, looked at broadly and as a whole.
4. Rational theology studies the existence and attributes of God, so far as they can be deduced from general philosophical principles apart from the appeal to specific revelation.
Unlike revelatory theology and imaginative mythology, Rational theology deals with creation and ultimate problems of existence in a purely rational manner; and its method is not one of appeal to immediate intuition or feeling, but of the critical and systemic analysis of our conceptions.
Experimental sciences concerned with the description of facts, Metaphysics with the interpretation of facts .
Metaphysics does nothing to increase our knowledge of particular facts or events, but merely discusses the way in which facts or events are to be interpreted. Its object is intellectual satisfaction and what can be accomplished is a matter of no slight importance.
For example, without the affirmation of identifiable identity that belongs to the individual person and of free will, human beings could not be held morally responsible for their acts as they have obviously mutable existence and the justice of rewards and punishments depends on a person's having freedom of choice.
Metaphysics differs from experimental sciences by being reflective and speculative rather than experimental; it is non-quantitative in its methods.
Metaphysics sets itself, more systematically and universally than any other sciences, to ask what, after all, is meant by being real, and to what degree our various theories about the world are in harmony with the universal characteristics of real existence.
And, such an inquiry into the general character of reality, as opposed to more or less unreal appearance, is precisely what is meant by Metaphysics.
On the Lighter Side
C.S. Peirce: "Metaphysics is a subject the knowledge of which, like that of a sunken reef, serves chiefly to enable us to keep clear of it."
Immanuel Kant: “Metaphysics is without a doubt the most difficult of all human studies; only no metaphysics has yet been written.”
F.H. Bradley: “Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct – but the finding of these reasons is no less an instinct.”
Bertrand Russell: “In Tibet the second official in the state is called the ‘metaphysician in chief.’ Elsewhere, philosophy is no longer held in such high esteem.”
J.E. McTaggart: "The utility of metaphysics is to be found in the comfort it can give us … in the chance that it may answer this supreme question (whether good or evil predominates in the universe) in a cheerful manner, that it may provide some solution which shall be a consolation and an encouragement."
George Carlin: "Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them that the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."