What’s metaphysics? Well, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I knew any more than you. Before, that is, I did research for this article. I was fascinated by the name “metaphysics”: I asked myself, who, and why? So, I really went to great depths to find the answer to my question: “Why exactly is metaphysics named how it is?” And here are the top 10 reasons I found:
1. Because that’s the way one of Aristotle’s students (Andronicus) named it
Aristotle arguably made immense contributions to metaphysics. It was minimally a hundred years after his death that his students decided to compile his works. After compiling his works in the sciences in his Physics, they found a great many other works not really ‘science’. Andronicus put these works in another collection and called it ‘Ta meta ta phusika’ which translates to ‘the things after the Physics’. And so, considering Aristotle’s reputation, this name has stuck ever since.
2. It kind of makes sense
Though metaphysics does not exactly abide by the twentieth-century definitions calling it ‘things beyond physical’, they’re close.
‘Meta’ implies that something is beyond something else. One of Aristotle’s students who was trying to name his second collection (most likely Andronicus), was trying to give us a cheeky warning. His warning had to mark the books to be read only ‘after the ‘physicals’ (Aristotle’s Physics)’. So, Meta + Physics = Metaphysics; although, it’s not that simple.
3. ‘Meta-philosophy’ isn’t suitable
Metaphysics and Philosophy are two very different but related subjects. Though metaphysics is a part of philosophy, it’s not right to call it “meta-philosophy’.
To begin with, Philosophy is a theory or attitude that propels how we act. The main focus of philosophy is to solve by thinking. On the contrary, Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy. It deals with the first nature of things. Things that have no causation and are the fundamental truths of the universe. For example, God may be the subject matter of metaphysics whereas philosophy includes many other topics, too. So, metaphysics is not ‘meta-philosophy’ as it is included in philosophy.
4. Metaphysics is not a science. It is ‘after the Physical’.
Metaphysics is not Physics in the same way that the ‘after hours’ are not working hours. Simply put, it is ‘after Physics’. It’s something after the physical realm. Actually, it’s a part of philosophy. And specifically, it is the study first causes.
5. It’s not alone in its naming
Strawberries aren’t berries; neither are Jellyfish fish. So we should cut metaphysics some slack as it’s not alone in its terrible naming.
6. Metaphysical poetry is truly beyond the physical
The fact that there is such a thing called metaphysical poetry distinguishes metaphysics from science. Conceits are fundamental parts of metaphysical poetry. These are unusual comparisons between things, like life to a flowing river or a tree; they can be absurdly unintuitive, just like the name ‘metaphysics’.
7. Metaphysicians were often scholars
Aristotle, a famous physicist, was also famously a philosopher. His works founded the discipline of metaphysics. Besides, poets of the metaphysical tradition including John Donne (scholar) and Richard Crashaw (teacher). When great minds get a grasp of something – scientists and artists alike – the name should reflect it, shouldn’t it? I think it’s beautiful that ‘metaphysics’ does just that.
8. Grammar has no problem with it
Words defined in a similar way include: ‘hereafter’, defined as ‘life after death’; ‘the pre-Raphaelites’, referring to a group of 19th-century artists before the time of Raphael; and ‘metadata’, meaning ‘an informative label’.
9. It is actually appropriat
In my search for a better name, I found nothing except ‘meta-philosophy’, an entirely different thing.
Metaphysics is alive still, and things have been successfully rebranded before. So, there’s no reason the discipline couldn’t be. Here is the crux of the problem: what better name do we give something that asks such fundamental questions? If you can come up one, let me know.
10. Do you know what pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis means?
Neither do I. So, just enjoy the rest of your day. Be grateful that ‘metaphysics’ was not named ‘postphilosophy’ or ‘superintrinsiology’ and sleep peacefully tonight (‘Superphysics’ isn’t a bad name, though).
Okay, metaphysics is not the easiest of subjects, nor does it have the prettiest name. But it’s not rocket science. It can truly help us answer those questions beyond the mundane and be one step further in understanding ourselves.