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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





Metaphysics. The work of Aristotle which treats of the matters belonging to this science, taking its name in the strictest sense has for its title τῶν ματὰ τὰ φυσικάOf the things after the physics.


Different opinions exist as to when and by whom this title was first used for the book. It would be of more consequence to decide if we could what was meant by it. Did it mean that the work was to be placed after that on the physics? or to be read after it? Or did it refer to the subject, so that the things after or beyond such as are merely physical are to be treated therein? Anyhow, this title of the work in question is undoubtedly the origin of the word metaphysics.

By Aristotle his subject is called "the first Philosophy" as being the ground of all especial sciences. It treats of Being as such, independently of all particular determinations and accidents, and of its necessary conditions. It is thus nearly identical with what we now call Ontology, and includes pure Theology.

In recent times the meaning of the word metaphysics has been much extended, and it has been made to include nearly if not quite every branch of mental science. And as at the close of last century and throughout the earlier part of this, psychology was the one most studied, he was called a metaphysician who inquired into the origin of our thoughts and beliefs, the laws of association, and kindred matters. Stewart, though aware of the other sphere of science to which the name had formerly been appropriated, yet announced his determination not merely to include psychology under the name metaphysics, but mainly to denote it thereby, and it is as a psychologist far more than as an authority in other branches of philosophy that he has won his fame. He tells us in the preface to his Dissertations that "by metaphysics he understands the inductive philosophy of the human mind." D'Alembert says that "the aim of metaphysics is to examine the generation of our ideas, and to show that they all come from sensations." (1)

 If the title metaphysics is to be bestowed on psychology at all, it can only be as denoting the genus of which that is to be considered a species, the said genus being mental science in general. In this case metaphysics in the old sense of the word must be called as in the present day it very frequently is, ontology. There is, however, a risk of error and confusion in setting aside the nomenclature of ages, and I think it better to call all speculations about the origin of our thoughts, the laws of association, the phenomena of memory, and the like, psychological, and to use the words metaphysics and metaphysical in their old sense, as denoting the first philosophy of Aristotle, which is occupied with the subject of Being as such, irrespective of all particular determinations or phenomena.

Few I apprehend are found to speak sneeringly of this science, who have not an incapacity greater than ordinary of following its investigations. Without entering into a general defence and maintenance of their importance, I must remark that they are in close connection with the fundamental truths of the Gospel. And therefore, though no man would say that those truths are not savingly embraced by multitudes of whom we should not dream of demanding metaphysical knowledge or speculation, it must needs be that when the Christian theology is to be set forth and vindicated, an aptitude for and an intimacy with these are imperatively required.



The adjective metaphysical, as is known to his readers, is used by Shakespeare in the sense of supernatural.

       "Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
        To have thee crowned withal."
                        Macbeth, act I, scene 8.

This use was not confined to Shakespeare,(2) and seems to have obtained not only in English, but in later Greek and Latin as well. Though it gives a different meaning from that with which we are engaged, it is one in like accordance with the formation of the word.

To return to our subject, the young student may perhaps ask whether he should say metaphysics or metaphysic. The latter form has been recently imported to us from abroad. We are not very consistent in this matter of singular or plural in our names of sciences formed in the same way as metaphysic or metaphysics. Thus we say rhetoric and logic,(3) but not often mathematic, and never, so far as I know, politic, mechanic, dynamic, or optic. The case stands thus. These names in Greek are all adjectives with substantives understood, and are therefore in the singular or plural according as would be those substantives were they expressed. If we suppose them singular, such as τέχνη or ἐπιστήμη, then the adjective will be singular; and if plural, such as πράγματα, it will of course be plural. Now we cannot preserve the sense of the names in question, as adjectives, and if we did our adjectives take no plural form. We have been guided by no fixed rule, and such being the case, it is more sensible to follow custom than to aim at consistency which we shall not succeed in reaching, and which would be but a trifling gain, supposing that we could. Custom I apprehend still dictates saying metaphysics.


(1) FLEMING, Vocabulary of Philosophy, sub voce.

(2) See JOHNSON'S Dictionary, sub voce.

(3) The University of Dublin, aiming I suppose at consistency, speaks of Logics, or did so some time ago.



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