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Book I Chapter 3 - § 1

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« on: January 07, 2023, 11:08:01 am »

The Sub-divisions of Metaphysics

§ 1. English philosophers, who have usually been imbued with a wholesome distrust of deliberate system-making, have commonly paid comparatively little attention to the question of the number and character of the sub-divisions of metaphysical philosophy. They have been content to raise the  questions which interested them in the order of their occurrence to their own minds, and have gladly left it to the systematic historians of Philosophy, who have rarely been Englishmen, to discuss the proper arrangement of the parts of the subject. Continental thinkers, who are naturally more prone to conscious systematisation, have bestowed more thought on the problem of method and order, with the result that each great independent philosopher has tended to make his own special arrangement of the parts of his subject. The different arrangements, however, seem all to agree in conforming to a general type, which was most clearly exhibited by the otherwise rather arid Wolffian dogmatism of the eighteenth century. All the constructive systems (those, e.g., of Hegel, Herbart, Lotze) feel the necessity of giving the first place to a general discussion of the most universal characteristics which we find ourselves constrained to ascribe in thought to any reality which is to be an intelligible and coherent system and not a mere chaos. This division of the subject is commonly known by the title it bears alike in the Wolffian Metaphysic and the systems of Herbart and Lotze, as Ontology[1] or the general doctrine of Being; with Hegel it constitutes, as a whole, the contents of the science of Logic, as distinguished from the other two great departments of speculative thought, the Philosophies of Nature and Mind; and its most formal and general parts, again, compose, within the Hegelian Logic itself, the special first section entitled "Doctrine of Being."

Further, every system of metaphysical philosophy is bound to deal with more special problems, which readily fall into two principal classes. It has to consider the meaning and validity of the most universal conceptions of which we seek to understand the nature of the individual objects which make up the experienced physical world, "extension," "succession," "space," "time," "number," "magnitude," "motion," "change," "quality," and the more complex categories of "matter," "force," "causality," "interaction," "thinghood," and so forth. Again, Metaphysics has to deal with the meaning and validity of the universal predicates by which we seek to interpret the nature of the experiencing mind itself, and its relation both to other minds and to the objects of the physical world, "the soul," "the self," "the subject," "self-consciousness," "ethical purpose," and so forth. Hence it has been customary to recognise a second and third part of Metaphysics, dealing respectively with the most general characteristics of external Nature and of conscious Mind. These sections of the subject are commonly  known as Cosmology and Rational Psychology. In Hegel's system they appear in a double form: in their most abstract generality they constitute the "Doctrine of Essence," and the "Doctrine of the Notion" in the Hegelian Logic; in their more concrete detail they form the second and third parts of his complete system or "Encyclopædia" of the philosophical sciences, the previously mentioned Philosophies of Nature and Mind.

In the pre-Kantian eighteenth century it was not unusual to add yet a fourth division to Metaphysics, Rational Theology, the doctrine of the existence and attributes of God, so far as they can be deduced from general philosophical principles apart from the appeal to specific revelation. Kant's onslaught on the whole Wolffian scheme in the "Dialectic of Pure Reason," while profoundly modifying for the future the view taken by metaphysicians of Cosmology and Rational Psychology, proved annihilating so far as eighteenth-century Deism and its philosophical offspring, Rational Theology,  were concerned, and that sub-division may fairly be said to have disappeared from subsequent philosophical systems.[2]

 [1] The name is ultimately derived from Aristotle's definition of "First Philosophy"—which along with Mathematics and Physics constitutes, according to his system, the whole of Theoretical Science—as the knowledge of 6vTa ^ ivra, i.e. of the general character of the real as real, as distinguished from the knowledge of the mathematician and the physicist, who deal with the real only in so far as it exhibits number and magnitude, and sensible change respectively.

[2] Less effective in immediate results, but no less thorough and acute than the Kantian "Critique of Speculative Theology," were Hume's posthumous Dialogues on Natural Religion, a work which has hardly received its full meed of consideration from the professional historians of Philosophy.

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