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(Beginning of Book Z of Metaphysics: Ens dicitur multipliciter (“The word being is said in several senses”) Latin manuscript (translated from the Greek) of the 14th century.)

In philosophy, metaphysics refers to the knowledge of the world, of things or processes as they exist “beyond” and independently of the sensory experience we have of them, but it takes different meanings according to the times and according to authors. Far away from normative sciences like ethics, metaphysics is a philosophical science that first questions the existence of things or events as they appear to us, and then attempts to describe and explain what really exists.

Aristotle defines for the first time this “science” which has not yet a name by qualifying it as “first philosophy”, first in importance and in dignity. Its object is general and abstract notions such as the substance of things and their predicates (quality, quantity, relation). For Kant “Metaphysics is the science that contains the first foundations of what human knowledge grasps. It is the science of the principles of being and not the principles of knowledge. It aims to rise to the knowledge of the “suprasensible” in which it cuts across the field of “theology”.

Nowadays, metaphysics is an equivocal notion that covers both the science of realities that escape the senses and the knowledge of what things are in themselves, independently of our representations. Defined as the science of what exists outside sensible experience, metaphysics is opposed to physics and concerns entities or processes considered immaterial and invisible (the soul, God, the “life force”, etc.). ). Defined as knowledge of what things are in themselves, metaphysics is opposed to the empirical knowledge of phenomena as they appear to us and may cover a part of the field of science. It is in this case associated with a so-called “realistic” conception of knowledge and qualifies the ontological scope of theories (philosophical or scientific).

We usually distinguish these two versions of metaphysics. The first developed from Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the second from the modern period.


Etymologically, the word consists of μετα and φυσικά (metaphusikè), “nature” and its study, “physics”; and a Greek preposition μετά metá in the sense as imprecise since it can mean: “in the middle, among, with, between, beyond, after”. It is this latter meaning that explains the appearance of the word.

The collection of writings of Aristotle (-384, -322) elaborated by Andronicos of Rhodes around 60 BC separated the books phusikè achroasis (Lessons of Physics), on the nature, and those who came after, meta ta phusika, Metaphysics. The word meta-physics thus had a merely editorial meaning: the books of Aristotle that come after those he devoted to physics (meta ta Phusika). But the Platonists wanted to see the discipline that deals with realities beyond physics. Thus, Simplicius, around 535:

“The discipline which considers the realities entirely separated from matter and the pure activity of the intellect in action and of the intellect in power, that which is elevated to it by reason of activity, all this they call theology first philosophy and metaphysics, since this is beyond physical realities “(Commentary on Aristotle’s “Physics”, I, 21).

Medieval scholasticism has forged the term through usage, giving the meaning of “beyond physics” under which we now recognize metaphysics. If metaphysics owes its structure to “overrun” of being in the direction of being Heidegger tells us, she immediately covers this root by transposing into being and becomes the first search of them, that is to say, God.

Usual questions rightly or wrongly addressed to metaphysics

The soul

It is as “unifying principle” in all faculties, that the notion of “soul” was introduced in philosophy accompanied by problems of its own, on its functions, its location (heart or head), his nature (bodily or not), the beings who possess it (all living plants and animals or only the man).

Away from the controversy over corporeal nature or to the question of its location, having mobilized the first thinkers of the soul as Thales, Heraclitus and Plato, Aristotle was the first to integrate it rationally in his metaphysical system. In understanding the soul as a substantial form of the body, “it makes of it the form of a natural body possessing life in power, thus extending the concept of soul to the whole of the living.” Incidentally thus conceived as a form of the body, the question of its survival after death is negatively decided, the soul does not survive it and is not immortal. Thomas Aquinas, all Aristotelian he was, will fight this conclusion by making the rational soul a substance in its own right that Saint Bonaventure will call “spiritual matter”.

Later, the Cartesian revolution will provoke a new rupture between the soul and the body obliging to rethink the problem of their union. By accentuating the distinction between the material sphere of extension and the intellectual sphere of thought, “Descartes renders unimaginable any intermediate form”. Now it remains to explain how movements in the material order affect us directly and the possibility of a free and voluntary act. Each of the philosophers of the seventeenth century advance its own solution: the “parallelism” in Spinoza, the “occasionalism” for Malebranche, the “preestablished harmony” to Leibniz.


In principle, the personal and creative God of monotheistic belief does not concern metaphysics; it is the natural god of theology, the one defined by Aristotle as causa sui, ultimate cause, first motor and first principle of all things. A medieval interpretation of the text of the “Exodus”, where God says to Moses “I am he who is”, transforms this personal God into a subject of metaphysics and confuses him with the “Being” itself.

Descartes, in his Metaphysical Meditations, can therefore affirm the existence of a personal God, ultimate guarantor of the conformity of thought with things. For this purpose, he implements a methodical argumentation (order of reasons) in which he exposes the following idea: a God, who is creator of all things, even essences, beings and existents, whose knowledge, learning, are unlimited, is inconceivable for human reason which is limited, but exists because it has brought us confirmation in the simple fact that the idea of ​​its existence could have sprouted in my mind. Moreover, as there exists in Descartes a hierarchy of ideas, where the cause of something must be more perfect than it originates, our idea of ​​God, still imperfect and limited, shows that he himself is the possessor of infinite perfection. Finally, the Cartesian theory of eternal truths is based on the fact that God is the creator of all things, including the truths of nature, the physical and material causes of the world, the essences of animate or inanimate beings, the universal order.

Becoming the god of philosophers, the god of natural theology and metaphysics loses its fundamental qualities by becoming theoretical and abstract.


It is, of course, the immortality of the soul which, from a strictly metaphysical point of view, depends on knowing, as seen above, whether or not one grants substantiality to the soul. This problematic is currently theology.

Translation from Wikipedia

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