Q.522 Metaphysics

Q: If metaphysical entities cannot be verified to exist, how can we say anything meaningful about them?

Martin: My position is that everything is metaphysical. (c.f. the question ‘Is everything metaphysical?’ on the Quora website: www.quora.com/search?q=everything+is+metaphysical).

So, everything that exists is metaphysical, including language and thought, sticks and stones, trees, all bodies, etc. In other words, there is nothing that is ‘material’ or ‘physical’ per se (which is a pure abstraction or a metaphysical theory).

Language divides ‘what is’ – the whole of existence – into parcels having particular meanings which, having specific referents, are not purely verbal or conceptual (i.e. language constructions), but are based on particular experiences. The experiences are either:

  1. sensorial, purely mental or intellectual (thought, emotions), or
  2. intuitive, transcendental or spiritual, that is, transcending the mind (these are properly called ‘metaphysical’. These would include pondering about or contemplating the nature of the universe, of matter, time, space, the nature of life, of origins or causality, ‘subject-and-object’, ‘value’, consciousness, mind, the meaning* of ‘soul’ or individuality (plurality).

Pondering about the nature of experience and what may be called non-duality is intellectual as well as metaphysical or spiritual. This is not a neat distinction; the scope is what counts here. Metaphysical theories, being the product of thought (and language), are metaphysical themselves, it goes without saying. Their import or thrust ‘in the scheme of things’ is something else.

* ‘Meaning’ – a word or concept – or question mark in the mind, merges here with its referent, ‘the thing itself’, by an act of intuition or comprehension.  

Dennis: The word ‘metaphysical’ is often taken to mean ‘supernatural’ or ‘fanciful’. Since this is a question on ‘Quora’, I guess it refers to the branch of Philosophy concerned with the abstract concepts of ontology and the like – those questions to which the answer is ‘42’.

The answer is simply that we can say ‘something meaningful’ about a topic that is not directly accessible to the senses, when we ‘know it to be true’. Such knowledge ‘arises’ from a combination of ‘report’, reason and personal experience. Being receptive to ‘report’ (whether from something read or from something spoken by another) requires a certain attitude of mind – stillness, attention, initial suspension of criticism etc. Refer elsewhere on this site for more information about such things!