Chapter  4 : Metaphysics


Metaphysics deals with what is real.  What do all things that are real, in some way or in any way,  have in common that makes them real and not otherwise?

Have you ever heard or said any of the following: 

Are you for real?


No kidding! For real?

Is it really true?

Get real!

Are they real?

Well, just what is meant by "real"? If all things that are real constitute "reality" , then what is "reality"?  What does it mean to be real?  Is there a reality?  How would we know it?

This is the stuff of metaphysics.  When someone dies and a survivor wonders whether or not souls are real they are entering into metaphysical thinking as soon as they begin to think about what exactly it means to be real.

Physical objects are real. Or at least most people think that they are real.  Ideas are real.  Relationships (taller than, older than) are real.  They are all real but they are not real in the same way.  What do they have in common that makes them real?  You check out something to determine whether or not it is real.  A testing process is used.  The testing involves the use of the senses, physical objects and measuring devices.  But are all things that are real detectable by means of such physical devices?  This is a metaphysical question.

 Metaphysics is a branch of Philosophy that could be of significance to humans as they must deal with claims about things and state of affairs about which they wonder, "Are they real or not?"  At the beginning of the Twenty First Century Philosophers are exploring alternatives to the post modernist view that would restore some notion of there being a reality.  It is too soon to discern which traditions in Philosophy may reassert themselves and in what form to displace the discredited postmodern rejection of the idea of a single reality.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a movement in Philosophy called linguistic analysis that held that most, if not all, of the most basic problems confronting philosophers and humans were the result of language problems and once they were solved with a method of clarification the human problems would be solved as well.  This has not proven to be the case.  Some but not all of the problem with the idea that there are "multiple realities" may very well be a problem with language and the sloppiness with which people use it.

Let's consider the idea of "multiple realities".  At first glance many will agree that there are multiple realities.  But when asked exactly what is meant by that claim there are different ideas.  There is a need to clarify the meaning of the term "reality".  As with many words there is more than one meaning and to switch from one to another in a conversation or an argument is to invite problems.  In Philosophy this problem is known as equivocation.

VIEW: Multiple Realities and Multiple Meanings

Let’s start with what is perhaps the oldest and most important meaning of the word "reality."

Reality1= the sum total of all that is real.

By this is meant the total sum of all things that exist and are experienced no matter what or where they are.  These would be real things meaning as opposed to imaginary or illusory.

Now there is a universe and it is composed of galaxies and they are composed of solar systems and they have planets and moons and then there are asteroids and comets and throughout it all there is dark matter and energy and dark holes and the forces of the universe: gravity, electro-magnetic, strong and weak.   This universe occupies and constitutes space.  It has three dimensions of length, breadth and depth.  Add the dimension of time and the entire space-time continuum is reality1.  Thus reality1 is the total of all real things that are space-time continuum.

Now if there should be more dimensions than the four of the known space-time continuum, well then reality1 would consist of the sum of all those dimensions.  String theory holds for many more dimensions than the four of space-time.   If there should be other universes with their own galaxies and solar systems, etc... then reality1 would be the total of all those universes and dimensions.

Reality1 is singular.  There is only one reality1.  Whatever is real and exists makes for reality1.

The word reality is sometimes used not in the sense of meaning1 or reality1 but in another way.
Reality2= a person's experience of reality1
With this usage each person has a unique and individual experience of all that is real and those experiences constitute the reality2 of that person.  No two people, not even identical twins, have the self same set of experiences and so no two people have the same reality2.  Thus there are as many realities2 as there are conscious beings to experience what exists.  Thus there are multiple realities2.

It is obvious that the experiences of different people are different and the more different people are so are their experiences and so is their reality2.  So in the sense of reality2 there are multiple realities2.

Rich people have a different reality2 then poor people.  Tall people have a different reality2 than short people.  Males have a different reality2 than females and so on.


There is still another meaning for the word "reality" that is operative in discussions about reality.
Reality3 = a person's belief about reality1

As different people have different beliefs about what is real then they have a different reality3.
So each person holding a set of beliefs about reality1 has a reality3.  Different beliefs will produce different realities3.

So with MEANING2 and MEANING 3 there are multiple "realities"

If in metaphysics the issue is "What is real?" then they meaning of the word “real” and the resulting “reality“  would be the sense of the word using the meaning of reality1.

Now with post-modernism there came the notion that since humans do not know with objective knowledge and with absolute certainty what reality1 is then all thinking about reality1 is merely about reality3.  Thus, different groups of people have different beliefs about reality1 and thus there being no set of beliefs that are certain to be true and complete knowledge of reality1 then there is no reality1 that humans know and all talking about reality1 is merely talking about reality3 and thus there can be and are multiple realities3 and that is all that humans can do. 

Post modernism presents the claims:  

There is no absolute certainty about reality1.

There can be no certain knowledge of reality1.

There can be no objective knowledge of reality1.

All thinking about reality1 is done within groups by individuals and amounts to no more than reality3.

So, there are only multiple realities3.

Is this actually the case that there is no reality1 and there are only realites3?
Is there no way to get beyond the relativity of thinking about reality?

Some think that there is.
Let us consider as an example of something that is real and would be a part of reality1,  the planet earth.  More precisely, let's consider the shape of the planet earth.

To begin with we start out with there being only one such planet on which we who are writing and reading or listening to these words are living.

If each of us has his or her own planet earth then there is no explanation as to why we are each on the other's planets.

So we agree that there is ONE PLANET EARTH.
The planet earth is physical and occupies space-time. 
As there is only one planet earth it has only one shape.
The shape of the planet earth is of a multi dimensional object.  It could be something like a cube, or a saucer, or a cylinder, or a spherical shape, or some other three dimensional shape. However, the main point here is that, whatever is its shape, it has ONLY ONE SHAPE.
If it has only one shape and there are people who think it is a cube and others who think it is a saucer and others who think it is a spherical shape, then they can not all be correct at the same time.  No matter what the shape of the earth is some of those people must be WRONG about the shape because the planet earth can not have more than one shape at the same time.

So in reality1 the planet earth has one and only one shape.
Different people have different experiences of the planet earth and thus different realites2.
People also have different beliefs about the shape of the planet and thus different realites3.
Some people think that the shape is flat (Flat Earth society members).  Some think that the shape is an oblate spheroid.  So they have different realities3.

Are they equally correct?  No, they could both be wrong.  This could happen if the one and only planet earth turned out to have a pyramid shape or some other shape beside a spheroid or flat saucer like entity.  But the people who think it is flat and those who think it is an oblate spheroid can not both be correct at the same time.
So what is the reality1 about the planet earth?  We think that it is an oblate spheroid given the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports that and the evidence that refutes the claim that the planet earth has a flat shape to it.

It would be foolish (defying logic and basic reason) to claim that there are multiple realties using reality1 meaning.  It would be obvious to claim that there are multiple realities about the shape of the earth using reality3 meaning.

So where are we with all this talk about reality and multiple realities?  Well the American Pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce wished to distinguish himself from the other pragmatists because of a few points of fundamental difference with them.  Most held that there was no reality1 and Peirce held that there was such a reality1 and that humans would develop better and better understandings of just what reality1 is but never capture it totally and completely.  He wished that his own form of pragmatism that held out for such a thing to be known as "pragmaticism" but that did not catch on.  So we have the post modernism of Peirce and then the post modern relativism of the others including pragmatists who want to claim that there is no reality1.

It seems that Peirce was more accurate than those others who would go on to promulgate many ideas about the lack of certainty and the impossibility of objective knowledge and truth.

The shape of the planet earth is something that humans come to know.  Their thinking about is checked against they way that things are.  There is a method for checking on the empirical claims of human beings and that method is self correcting.  Science develops over time a better and better understanding of the nature of things and of reality1.

We should not accept that there are multiple realities1 but only that there are multiple realities in the sense of meaning 2 (reality2) and meaning 3 (reality3).  We would do better to stop using those meanings and to speak more clearly and when we want to claim that there are multiple realities in the sense of meaning 2 (reality2) and meaning 3 (reality3) we should make these claims:

b) There are different experiences of what is real.
c)  There are different beliefs about what is real.

and not say that there are different realities when all we mean by that is either b) or c).


The term metaphysics originally referred to the writings of Aristotle that came after his writings on physics, in the arrangement made by Andronicus of Rhodes about three centuries after Aristotle's death.

 Traditionally, metaphysics refers to the branch of philosophy that attempts to understand the fundamental nature of all reality, whether visible or invisible. It seeks a description so basic, so essentially simple, so all-inclusive that it applies to everything, whether divine or human or anything else. It attempts to tell what anything must be like in order to be at all.

To call one a metaphysician in this traditional, philosophical sense indicates nothing more than his or her interest in attempting to discover what underlies everything. Old materialists, who said that there is nothing but matter in motion, and current naturalists, who say that everything is made of lifeless, non-experiencing energy, are just as much to be classified as metaphysicians as are idealists, who maintain that there is nothing but ideas, or mind, or spirit.

Perhaps the best definition of materialism is that of Charles Hartshorne (Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, p. 17): "the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking." Idealists assert what materialists here deny. Dualists say that mind and matter are equally real, while neutral monists claim that there is a neutral reality that can appear as either mind or matter. Philosophers generally are content to divide reality into two halves, mind and matter (extended and unextended reality) and do not emphasize such distinctions within the mind half as spirit and soul. 


 A commonly employed, secondary, popular, usage of metaphysics includes a wide range of controversial phenomena believed by many people to exist beyond the physical.

Popular metaphysics relates to two traditionally contrasted, if not completely separable, areas, (1) mysticism, referring to experiences of unity with the ultimate, commonly interpreted as the God who is love, and (2) occultism, referring to the extension of knowing (extrasensory perception, including telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, retrocognition, and mediumship) and doing (psychokinesis) beyond the usually recognized fields of human activity. The academic study of the occult (literally hidden) has been known as psychical research and, more recently, parapsychology. Both New Age and New Thought emphasize mysticism and its practical, pragmatic application in daily living, but New Thought discourages involvement in occultism.

The terms metaphysics and metaphysical in a popular sense have been used in connection with New Thought, Christian Science, Theosophy, and Spiritualism, as in J. Stillson Judah, The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America (The Westminster Press, 1967), as well the New Age movement, and in the name of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion (see below). Some of the varying understandings of metaphysics held by some founders of New Thought and Christian Science are given in the opening pages of Contrasting Strains of Metaphysical Idealism Contributing to New Thought.


Cutting across the division of the academic and the popular, there is another way of dividing metaphysics: theoretical and applied. This distinction is like the division between science and technology; one describes; the other applies the description to practical problems, putting knowledge to work. Gathering knowledge (or alleged knowledge, critics of metaphysics would say) in metaphysics traditionally is by rational thought; in a more popular understanding, knowledge gathering may be either mystical or occult; in either case the pure (?) knowledge is to be distinguished from the practical application of it.


 Another Definition of Metaphysics 

 These are these three sub divisions of Metaphysics:

  • ONTOLOGY    What is Being?  What exists?  What is real?

    •  Metaphysical Questions:

    •  Does God exist?  Soul? Mind ? Body ? Space?  Time?  Eternity?

    •  Potential?  Future?  Past? 

  • COSMOLOGY  What is the origin of reality? matter? space? time?

  • AXIOLOGY    What are Values?  Do they exist? Are they ordered?


SELECTED TOPICS in Metaphysics:







  • GOD: being, causation, nature, eternal, nature, existence of evil

  • IDEAS or  CATEGORIES  Relations Properties: Are these real?

 One of the earliest and elaborate scheme of Metaphysics was established by Aristotle:

The following Schools of thought or traditions of thought in Metaphysics will be examined in the following sections.





Linguistic Analysis

NO ONE REALITY -Multiple Realities                                                          



racist   realities (critical race theory )

sexist   realities (feminism)

These views will be described in the following sections of this chapter..

Proceed to the next section.

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Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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