Metaphysics is a theoretical discipline that deals with questions such as ‘the meaning of life’, ‘where do we come from’ ‘what makes us human’ and ‘what is the purpose of the universe’. It studies the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality.
These questions have been of interest ever since modern humans started to spread around the globe. However, the Ancient Greeks were among the first thinkers who started to inquire these philosophical issues more than 2500 years ago. These topics were as passionately discussed at that time as it is today.
Metaphysics is perhaps the oldest branch of western philosophy It is not about ethics; it does not look for value statements regarding good and evil. It also does not cover what we now call science. Everything that we have learned through science started off in philosophy, in rational thinking and exploring wisdom. As Bertrand Russell jokingly remarked: “Science is what we know, philosophy is what we don’t know”. Until the 18th century all what we now call science was part of philosophy.
The Catholic Church put a stop to critical thinking and inquiry as it proclaimed that all truth and wisdom was contained within the bible and in its dogmas.
It was not until Francis Bacon arrived on the scene around 1600 before experimentation was re-introduced, until that time the learned man of the world relied on observations. From now on a shift occurred from looking for empirical rather than metaphysical explanations and if possible, in the simplest way (Ockham’s razor).
While science has enormously improved our material life, it is not something that brings people happiness. It is our insights in how to command those forces that are in the end far more important. What governance do we want, how do we mange capitalism and social issues? These are all issues that cannot be solved by science they require wisdom, the use of knowledge all elements that belong to the realm of philosophy and many to its critical branch of metaphysics. Fulfilment, happiness, well-being, and contentment are having their roots in wisdom. Political philosophy with people such as David Hume, John Locke and Karl Marx played a key role in this.
During this 2500 year journey many questions were answered and were ticked off the list of metaphysics and arrived on the lists of science. However, the fundamental questions – as listed above – are still on the metaphysics lists. Nevertheless, the theoretical method to address these questions remain rigorous, following rational and logic approaches and while answers do evolve, they so far have not been definitive. Humanity is inescapable metaphysical; it always has and will question what there is beyond human knowledge.
The fact that after 2500 years we still ask many of these same questions might also indicate that indeed ‘total’ knowledge could be beyond our current capacity. There are opponents and supporters among the philosophers. Perhaps we need to develop to a next stage of human evolution; we might first need to move to the next phase of evolution before we can tap into that knowledge. This is a metaphysical question. We discuss this in the chapter and transhumanism.