Metaphysics Meaning in Philosophy


Metaphysics Meaning in Philosophy

Metaphysics can be defined as a branch of philosophy that explains the fundamental nature of being and the world. A being is that which exists. In simple terms, therefore, metaphysics attempts to answer two critical issues, what really exists in the world and what it looks like. In his book, Metaphysics, third edition, Westview Press, Inwagen introduces readers to this subject of metaphysics in what is very exciting and engaging prose. The writer explores three key issues: the general features of the world, reasons for the existence of the world and human being’s place in the world. The book also exposes an entirely view discussion on entomology, presenting theory on nature of being and the problems of ontology.


The book introduces readers to the notion of metaphysics. It moves ahead to explore the perception of this subject both currently and historically. Inwagen as a metaphysician attempts to clarify the perceptions of people about the world. Issues of the existence of objects, their properties, time and space are greatly explored.

The origin of metaphysics can be traced to the time of Aristotle. Aristotle acknowledged the earlier philosophers on how they dealt with the metaphysical questions before his time. According to him, the first known philosopher was Thales of Miletus who held the view that things had a single first cause.

The branch of metaphysics that attempts to investigate the various categories of being is referred to an ontology. This too is well explored by the third edition of this renowned author.  Ontology also investigates how the different categories of being related to each other. Another very central branch of metaphysics is cosmology which studies the totality of all the phenomena in the universe. Epistemology, a newer branch of metaphysics developed to fill out metaphysics.

Aristotle divided metaphysics into three parts: ontology which explored the study of the existence of being including the category of entities, both physically and mentally, nature of the properties and change. The other part was the natural theology which according to him involved the study of Gods. The nature of the universe and religion was a significant part of his view, issues concerning the presence of the divide also featured. Natural theology also answers questions about creation, and spiritual issues thereby featuring the general nature of mankind regarding these critical issues. Moreover, universal science was also seen as part of this view. This involved the study of the initial laws including the law of noncontradiction which was the basis of all inquiries.

Inwagen reviews the history of metaphysics exploring these thoughts of other philosophers. These works of Aristotle are well looked at by his work. However, for him, things are either particles or composite living organisms.

View of Being according to Peter

Peter argues that all material things in the universe fall into two categories: they are either elementary particles or living organisms. Every composite object contains elementary particles and the only particles that are composite are living organisms.

According to this view, the everyday objects people come into contact with such as chairs, motor vehicles, tables, buildings, and other objects are seen on a daily basis do not exist. These things only appear to exist due to the arrangement of elementary particles in a specific manner. For example, what appears to be a chair is just an arrangement of particles in a way that makes them look like a chair. Similarly, what appears as a cloud is just an arrangement of particles in specific ways that make them look like clouds. The particles do not comprise an object just like a swarm of bees. Like the swarm, the particles maintain a stable arrangement. But on the contrary, a single bee has full unified parts while the particles of the other objects are only in parts. As such they do not qualify as beings.

The issue of Reality

According to Peter, realities strongly contrast with appearance. The ultimate reality is defined as that which is at the bottom of the chain of appearances. According to him, the ultimate truth is what is real. And the ultimate truth consists of three main issues. These issues are what the world is like, that is its components and features. The ultimate truth also answers the question about why the world does exist. Moreover, it addresses the relationship between human beings and the world. In other words, the place and roles played by mankind on the universe are examined.

Objects that have parts are considered not real. They, therefore, do not exist.  The foundation of this argument claims that our senses only give us a rough idea about reality. The senses can therefore not be trusted with what they consider as reality. A building is made of smaller particles. The senses will recognize it as a whole and complete thing. This is not the case. As such whatever may appear to us as real may in most cases be just illusions.



Van Inwagen is credited with his significant contribution to the issue of compatibilism. His idea of free will is compatible with strict causal determinism has earned him a significant reputation. He is known to have fundamentally rehabilitated the idea of incompatibilism. His explanation was that the ancient problem of whether free will exists or whether determinism should be considered true is no longer a subject of debate. He agreed that it was very difficult to have a formulation of the ideas of free will and determinism. At the time the argument would be that liberty and necessity was the major impediment to discovering whether the human will was free or guided by strict causal necessity.  That has since changed.

Van Inwagen replaced the traditionally viewed problems of liberty and necessity to find out the truth or falsity indeterminism. He also explored whether humans really have free will or not. This is what he called the compatibility problem. His new framing has proven to be increasingly popular over decades. Determinism according to him is simply defined as the thesis that the past determines the future. He concluded that this assertion is false. This is because if the past had the potential of determining the future then humans would not be responsible for their own actions. Clearly, this is not the case.

The general features of the world and humans as put forward by van Inwagen

Generally, Van Inwagen explores the general features of the world and the existence of humans. Their relationships with the world, in general, are also focused. The world is viewed to be composed of objects some of which are real while others only appear to be real just according to deceitful senses which should not be trusted. The ideas of most of the things human senses see in the world are just vague. Generally, most of the things seen in the world do not exist. Interestingly, things either exist or they don’t, there are usually no intermediary grounds. Therefore even the world either exists or it doesn’t exist.

Van Inwagen says that every object in the world is either a mere logical atom or a living thing. For him, only living things do exist in the world.  The rest of the objects are just particles combined together to form objects that in essence are nothing sort of illusions. A world without living things can only be described as gunk.

The place of humans in the world is very critical in Inwagen’s views. As opposed to the other material things which according to him do not really exist, human beings being living organisms exist. He explores their existence and issues related to human are free will and determinism.


Van Inwagen truly brings about a very profoundly engaging view of metaphysics and related issues. His views have been adopted by other philosophers. He clearly brings out the features of the world; his view of reality is controversial at some point. Some have argued that his views contradict common sense. All these notwithstanding, he has made major contributions to the field of philosophy particularly with regards to the topic of metaphysics.




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