Metaphysics is the most important course of study in any philosophical program because what it studies is the ground and foundation for everything else. It is, additionally, the most difficult course to study because it attempts to discover that which is essentially non–material—being itself. In this lesson, we explore metaphysics in a very understandable way.Preview This Lesson
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Let's take a look at some of the most fundamental concepts in Metaphysics.
The Problem of Change: Heraclitus and Parmenides
Parmenides, detail from “The School of Athens”
Earlier in the lesson when we were talking about change, we introduced the idea of “substantial change” versus “accidental change.” Change has been a problem ever since the beginning of philosophy because perceived objects display change while also seemingly retain continuity. For example, a man may experience a change in weight, age, build, and hair color, all while maintaining his identify as the same person. This paradox has given metaphysicians a difficult time in trying to articulate what an object is.
There were two primary answers given in the early stages (Pre–Socratic stage) of philosophy; this period was a few hundred years before Christ. The first was given by Heraclitus. Heraclitus was the philosopher of “change.” In his estimation, everything is change, and, therefore, permanence was nothing other than an illusion. “You can't step into the same river twice,” is a classic illustration of this philosophy. [As a side note, we would see this Philosophy again in the 20th century from Jean-Paul Sartre. He was an existential philosopher who saw the world as a chance stream of experiences in which reality is temporary and changing and life is a process of becoming.] Conversely, the philosopher Parmenides was the philosopher of “permanence.” For him, unchanging being alone is real, and therefore change is simply an illusion.
The middle ground, and a better explanation for change, comes by way of Aristotle.
Aristotelian metaphysics combines change and stability. He does this by distinguishing what is called the “10 categories of being.” In other words, there is a difference among the types of existence that some things have. The 10 categories of being consist of substance (1) and accidents (9). Although we already briefly looked at these concepts in our discussion on the Eucharist, let's define these terms to give us a better idea of what Aristotle is talking about.
Substance: a being that exists in itself rather than in another.
Accidents: mode of being that can exist only in another being, as a modification or attribute of a substance.
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