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Passions in Poetry

What is metaphysics?

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Member Elite
since 06-01-2000
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0 posted 11-27-2000 01:53 AM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Just what the heck is metaphysics?  My english lit teacher tells me that it's the study of what makes us tick(as in stuff like John Donne's poetry).  Philosophers tell me that it's the branch of scientific and philosophical investigation which deals with the very nature of reality itself.  

Who's right?  Who's wrong?
Junior Member
since 11-23-2000
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Los Angeles, CA

1 posted 11-27-2000 07:10 PM       View Profile for Greg_s   Email Greg_s   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Greg_s

Just as a preliminary answer to your question, neither your English teacher or the philosophers are wrong.  For example, John Donne's poetry is full of metaphysical imagaes.  In his poem called "A Valediction:  Forbidding Mourning," Donne describes the souls of two lovers as follows:  "If they be two, they are two so/ As stiff twin compasses are two:/ Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show/ To move, but doth, if th' other do."  The literary term that I heard this called was metaphysical conceit.  This is like a very intellectualized comparisson on many levels.  At first, it would seem that two legs of a comapss can never be one, although close, they are always separated by the nature of the instrument.  In addition, when one moves away from the other, they only grow farther apart.  Yet, it seems that Donne would be getting at what is created by the interaction of the two legs of the compass, and hence, by the two souls.  Together, they create a circle, which is something perfect and without end.  It is the end result that I beleive would justify Donne's use of the metaphysical image.

In the same respect, the Philosophical use of metaphysics is to collectively group ontology and epistemology.  Ontology is concerned with the nature of reality, and epistemology is concerned with the study of knowledge and its existence.  Together, I think (but I'm not sure), under metaphysics, these principles try to explain how we know what we know, and how that affects our perception of reality.  It seeks to explain what is real by explaining what we know, and how we know it.

Tied in to Donne, metaphysics of philosophy is somewhat distinct from the metaphysical conceit.  However, I think that in a way, perhaps, Donne is attempting to use ontology to explain the nature of love.  He wants to show how he knows love is real by showing his perception of love in his reality.

All in all, I'm not to sure if I'm correct about the Philosophical part of metaphysics, but I'm pretty confident about the concept of metaphysical deceit.  This was a great qsuestion for you to ask.
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2 posted 11-28-2000 01:04 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Thankyou very much for your reply, Creg.  Although you did say that you were unsure of your reply, it still did clear up some logical dillemmas.  Especially when you used ontology to tie Donne's metaphysical conceits in with the more philosophical side of metaphysics.  

I had been confused about this issue because I had attempted to use the word 'metaphysical' in talking about a certain story we were working on for english class.  My english teacher asked me what the word meant, and I replied, saying that it was the study of the nature of reality and existance.  She said that that was wrong.

However, I am also aware of several internet websites and newsgroups, which encompass the study of such philosophical branches as existentialism, and label it all metaphysics.

But, anyway, thankyou for your explaination of all this.
Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea

3 posted 11-28-2000 11:41 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Great question.

I thought Greg's answer was quite good (nice trick on the deceit/conceit by the way   )

I wasn't sure if the dictionary was going to be comprehensive enough but I thought it yielded some nice things:

met¡¤a¡¤phys¡¤ics (mt-fzks)
n. Abbr. met., metaph.

(used with a sing. verb)Philosophy. The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.
(used with a pl. verb)The theoretical or first principles of a particular discipline: the metaphysics of law.
(used with a sing. verb)A priori speculation upon questions that are unanswerable to scientific observation, analysis, or experiment.
(used with a sing. verb)Excessively subtle or recondite reasoning.

[Pl. of Middle English methaphisik, from Medieval Latin metaphysica, from Medieval Greek (ta) metaphusika, Greek (Ta) meta (ta) phusika, (the things) after the physics, the title of Aristotle's treatise on first principles (so called because it followed his work on physics): meta, after; see meta- + phusika, physics; see physics.]


\Met`a*phys"ics\, n. [Gr. ? ? ? after those things which relate to external nature, after physics, fr. ? beyond, after + ? relating to external nature, natural, physical, fr. ? nature: cf. F. m['e]taphysique. See Physics. The term was first used by the followers of Aristotle as a name for that part of his writings which came after, or followed, the part which treated of physics.] 1. The science of real as distinguished from phenomenal being; ontology; also, the science of being, with reference to its abstract and universal conditions, as distinguished from the science of determined or concrete being; the science of the conceptions and relations which are necessarily implied as true of every kind of being; phylosophy in general; first principles, or the science of first principles.

Note: Metaphysics is distinguished as general and special. General metaphysics is the science of all being as being. Special metaphysics is the science of one kind of being; as, the metaphysics of chemistry, of morals, or of politics. According to Kant, a systematic exposition of those notions and truths, the knowledge of which is altogether independent of experience, would constitute the science of metaphysics.

Commonly, in the schools, called metaphysics, as being part of the philosophy of Aristotle, which hath that for title; but it is in another sense: for there it signifieth as much as ``books written or placed after his natural philosophy.'' But the schools take them for ``books of supernatural philosophy;'' for the word metaphysic will bear both these senses. --Hobbes.

Now the science conversant about all such inferences of unknown being from its known manifestations, is called ontology, or metaphysics proper. --Sir W. Hamilton.

Metaphysics are [is] the science which determines what can and what can not be known of being, and the laws of being, a priori. --Coleridge.

2. Hence: The scientific knowledge of mental phenomena; mental philosophy; psychology.

Metaphysics, in whatever latitude the term be taken, is a science or complement of sciences exclusively occupied with mind. --Sir W. Hamilton.

I'll try to get back to this later. It does use some terms that are somewhat misleading.

Hope this helps,
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