Philosophy For Kids: What Is Metaphysics?

What is Metaphysics? Oxford Languages defines it this way:

  • 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. (eg., “They would regard the question of the initial conditions for the universe as belonging to the realm of metaphysics or religion”)

This definition and those like it are both common and incorrect. The initial conditions of the universe would be physics, not metaphysics, which as the word suggests is what makes physics possible: The famous philosopher Immanuel Kant thought about metaphysics in this way, and for instance did a metaphysics of morals, asking what made moral experiences and judgments possible, which means what must the mind’s eye always already have in view that makes moral experiences and judgements possible?

The philosopher Leibniz said the basic question of metaphysics is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” If we look at the words of this question, we see that it is saying “TO BE means to have a Why.” This is the basic starting point of metaphysical questioning. But what does it mean for an entity to have a why?

So, how does it work? The philosopher Martin Heidegger gives this example:

  • we could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case; a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc.

But, more basically, what does it mean to say “TO BE means to have a WHY?” This comes from Plato’s Sophist where Plato criticizes Antisthenes and says the idea of a non-metaphysical philosophy is “the most laughable (kategolastotata)” because we could not even encounter an entity unless we did so with the mind’s eye having Being in front of it: experiencing the entity in the light of Being. What does this mean. Plato gives the example in the Sophist that the dog is not just a “this here,” but is already being made intelligible by an understanding of Einai, Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself.  I encounter the dog as a “not me,” for example, and “a unity,” and “not the house,” etc. 

So, can you do a metaphysics of Friendship, asking what makes the experience of Friendship possible?