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Metaphysics and its function

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A contested science

Immanuel Kant asserts, in the introduction to his Prolegomena: “since the origin of metaphysics, however far its history goes back, nothing has happened that could have been more decisive for the destinies of this science than the attack what she had to endure at the part of David Hume”, this same David Hume whom he says later that he woke him from his dogmatic sleep. Hume relied on the impossibility for reason to think a priori and by means of concepts, among other principles “the relation of cause and effect”, that this relation was only the daughter of the imagination fertilized by experience who thinks he is authorized to pass off a habit as an objective necessity. It is to contest this position that Kant will devote himself in particular in his major work, the Critique of Pure Reason.

A necessary science

While we recognize that other disciplines such as logic, mathematics or physics have the right to go beyond the limits of experience, how is it, wonders Kant, that with metaphysics we do not never reaches the same degree of certainty, while dealing with the objects most important to our curiosity, God, the soul, eternal life?

The understanding of being that we naturally have is not, in itself, a “knowledge”, it is the task of metaphysics to help us move from the pre-ontological understanding to the explicit knowledge of being.

At a higher level, metaphysics, in its exploration of fundamental concepts, validates the first principles from which each positive science can carry out its investigations (principle of contradiction, causality, reality). It plays moreover, by systematizing and coordinating our knowledge, a “normative role” and, by discovering the ultimate reason for things, an “explanatory role”. It is metaphysics that fixes the common notions that link the various systems of knowledge, as it is metaphysics that goes, wrote V. Ermoni, even into the invisible to seek the raison d’être of the visible.

Thus, Heidegger concludes: “metaphysics is so essential that one cannot discard it as one discards an opinion. You can in no way make it pass behind you, like a doctrine in which you no longer believe and which you no longer defend.”

Structure of metaphysics


Ontotheology and analogy as the internal law of the constitution of metaphysics. Historically “ontotheology is constituted […] at the same time as the problematic of analogy is elaborated as “Analogia entis“”. “Metaphysics is constructed historically by adding new elements to a system that aims to be harmonious and coherent”. André Hayen goes so far as to write “to the moving waves of the history of thought, to the varied philosophical systems, is immanent a unity superior to history, the unity of supra-historical truth”. (André Hayen, Analogia entis. La méthode et l’épistémologie du P. Przywara)


In metaphysics, in Aristotle as later in Descartes, the role of ground is played by “substance”. But more generally, to seek the foundation or principle is to wonder what things are ultimately based on and therefore, step by step, go back to the first cause or first uncaused principle. In the order of knowledge, the search for the foundation consists in discovering what (the solid element) one can lean on to begin to think, thus Descartes who bases all his reasoning on the “cogito“, or Heidegger who momentarily based Being and Time on a “metaphysics of Dasein”.


In 1957 Heidegger gave a lecture entitled Onto-theological constitution of metaphysics in which “he brings out the fact that all metaphysics inquires into the totality of beings (in their being) and under that hierarchical of the order which determines their reason” (God, first cause), even if it turns its back on theology. Heidegger speaks of this onto-theological structure as a “destinal” feature of all metaphysical thought.


Is it the same reality when I say “the table is”, “I am”, “God is”? It seems impossible to attribute the same meaning to the contingent “being” that we are, to the “being” of a table, and to that of the “uncaused and absolute being” on which all others depend. Likewise on a strictly metaphysical level, quantity which is not quality, which is also not action or relation “are they of the same title”? For scholasticism, it was essential, in order to offer the possibility of a rational discourse, on the “supreme being”, to establish metaphysics as the “science of being as being” to where the development of a science which will be neither univocal nor equivocal, namely “an analogical science, or “analogy of attribution” conceived as the hierarchical mode of a gradual participation of beings in being according to their dignity” .

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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