The term “meta” is en vogue now. Meta means beyond. Metaphysics means philosophy today, but at the time it was just a term to describe what Aristotle did beyond physics. We now use it for anything self-referential: a met-analysis is an study of studies and a meta sandwich would be a sandwich made of sandwiches. Maybe I should change the name of this blog to Metathinking.
Metaphysics is really the science of that which isn’t immediately tangible. It isn’t knowable. David Hume destroyed it. He basically said that if it cannot be experienced, it doesn’t exist. For example, causality cannot be experienced – or verified. Hence, philosophy is largely left with nothing to say as it is not empirical. Arthur Schopenhauer believed metaphysics was there, but said it wasn’t knowable. Immanuel Kant restored it. Kant analysed epistemology. He argued that it is impossible to know, or experience, anything without certain made up a priori concepts – that he called synthetic (as distinct from analytical concepts, but just like empirical). These synthetic concepts are more abstract and general rather than purely random and logical like empiric observations. For example, he argued that time and space aren’t part of our experience, but a condition that makes our experience possible. Concepts like quality and quantity are in this same category. However, this still mean that metaphysics couldn’t hold – as it is entirely outside of experience. As such, his problem with concepts like god was that they are full of non-falsifiable statements. If it cannot be verified, it doesn’t make sense.
Kant came up with his own metaphysics. To him, the mental apparatus required to experience things were metaphysical: time, space, necessity and being vs not being. So he came up with something else instead – that which wasn’t metaphysical, which isn’t empirical, but necessarily precedes the empirical. His categorical imperative was that one has to act in a way that one would wish the rest of the world acted. This is how he said it:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”.
Sounds a lot like,
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
However, unlike Jesus (and others to whom this was attributed in different religious texts), Kant didn’t tell people what to do, he just opened that up for discussion. There isn’t a moral charge in this. Another interesting thing is that Kant’s imperative inherently presumes that we should assume that others are motivated by the exact same things we are motivated by, being rational beings. Big assumption.
Kant’s philosophy is attractive because it provides a context for real events rather than going off into the ridiculously theoretical. At the same time, because it lies in that grey are between the empirical and the theoretical, to me it still feels like metaphysics.