Metaphysics

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If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics. ~ Pierre Duhem

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world of experience, and thus is never easily or precisely defined in contingent terms; it is the study of fundamental principles intended to describe or explain all that is, and which are not themselves explained by anything more fundamental; the study of first principles. Scientific questions were once addressed as a portion of metaphysics known as natural philosophy. The term science itself meant "knowledge" originating from epistemology. Focus upon the use of the scientific method, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity with emphasis on physical experimentation unlike the rest of philosophy. By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called "science" to distinguish it from philosophy. Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

Quotes[edit]

Alphabetized by author
The basic drive behind real philosophy is curiosity about the world, not interest in the writings of philosophers. ~ Bryan Magee
  • I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.
  • There are metaphysical problems, which cannot be disposed of by declaring them meaningless. For, as I have repeatedly said, they are "beyond physics" indeed and demand an act of faith. We have to accept this fact to be honest. There are two objectionable types of believers: those who believe the incredible and those who believe that "belief" must be discarded and replaced by "the scientific method."
    • Max Born, in Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1964), p. 209.
  • Now these two questions — Does there exist a material reality distinct from sensible appearances? and What is the nature of reality? — do not have their source in experimental method, which is acquainted only with sensible appearances and can discover nothing beyond them. The resolution of these questions transcends the methods used by physics; it is the object of metaphysics. Therefore, if the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.
    • Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, tr. Philip P. Wiener, 1991, Princeton University Press, p. 10, ISBN 069102524X
  • To all appearance, the phenomena exhibited by the pendulum are not to be accounted for by impact: in fact, it is usually assumed that corresponding phenomena would take place if the earth and the pendulum were situated in an absolute vacuum, and at any conceivable distance from one another. If this be so, it follows that there must be two totally different kinds of causes of motion: the one impact—a vera causa [true cause], of which, to all appearance, we have constant experience; the other, attractive or repulsive 'force'—a metaphysical entity which is physically inconceivable.
  • The basic drive behind real philosophy is curiosity about the world, not interest in the writings of philosophers. Each of us emerges from the preconsciousness of babyhood and simply finds himself here, in it, in the world. That experience alone astonishes some people. What is all this — what is the world? And what are we? From the beginning of humanity some have been under a compulsion to ask these questions, and have felt a craving for the answers. This is what is really meant by any such phrase as "mankind's need for metaphysics."
    • Bryan Magee, in [[Confessions of a Philosopher : A Journey Through Western Philosophy (1997), p. 232.

External links[edit]

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