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Notions of metaphysics

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Aspect, form or structure that makes visible, shows the reality of a thing, represents for the Platonic philosophers an intelligible form, subtracted from becoming. Aristotle, who questions his ontological status, opposes the separate character of the idea that Plato professed. Descartes will order the ideas and distinguish those which make him best know his mind and the world. He distinguishes:

  • those which are like images of the world;
  • those that pertain to the faculty of wanting and feeling without intrinsic cognitive value;
  • innate ideas;
  • the fictions.

The truth

The idea of ​​truth belongs, like the idea of ​​thing or freedom, to the group of innate ideas according to the innate doctrine. At the beginning of metaphysics and for a long period of its history, truth was defined as the adequation of thought to reality. It was not until the 20th century, and in particular Husserl and Martin Heidegger, that this approach was seriously questioned. Heidegger takes up the question from the Greek understanding of Truth as aletheia, that is, as the behavior of Dasein and not the veiling of beings, relegating the “adequation of the thing to the intellect” to a derivative instance.

Freedom, reason and reality

Freedom designates, in metaphysics, the absolute power to be the first cause of an act, as well as the experience of this power as it is constitutive of the subject. Philosophers have noted that this feeling of freedom could be the mask of an unnoticed subjection to the nature of things. Freedom is generally opposed (it is therefore not always the case) to determinism, to fatalism and to any doctrine which supports the thesis of the necessity of becoming. The concept of freedom divides philosophers very schematically into two camps: those who make it the foundation of human action and morality (Epicurus, Descartes, Kant), and those who deny any transcendence of the will in relation to determinisms such as sensitivity (Democritus, Spinoza, Nietzsche). Reason is introduced into philosophy from the Greek concept of Logos which, from simple discourse, will evolve into the art of “combining concepts or propositions” and will end up as the faculty of understanding. Power of truth in Spinoza, reason becomes principle or foundation in Leibniz.


Sometimes confused with “idea”, “concept” is a general representation of what is common to several objects. Metaphysics, as a universalist and abstract science, makes significant use of knowledge by concepts. The sciences, which deal only with the sensible and the phenomenal, presuppose that a traditional concept (space, time, truth, reality, etc.) has a resolute and indisputable meaning, said a priori, which avoids to question them again. Metaphysics is also based on operators that are specific to it, such as the notions of substance and accident, of power and act.

While some, like David Hume, locate in experience and the impression that it leaves us the unique origin of our concepts, the Kantian analysis of our faculties of knowledge supposes that these can be either empirical or pure ( see Critique of Pure Reason), that is to say completely independent of any experience.


The term category appears in Aristotle, it designates in accusatory form what comes from a logic that questions the meaning: What? How much? How? which will become in metaphysical vocabulary: substance, quantity, quality and the relative. Even if Aristotle varies on the number of categories, the category of substance remains the most important because it is in relation to it that all the others are declined.

“Substance”, the first of the “categories” of being for Aristotle, designates both the support and the solid ground of each “thing”. Accidents are the unnecessary modifications that affect it more or less temporarily.

Potency and Act are defined in relation to each other, thus potency is the possibility or capacity of acting out. The act corresponds to the realization by a being of its essence or form, as opposed to what is potentially. These notions will prove essential to the understanding of “Becoming” and “Movement”.


Synthetic judgment and analytical judgment

A judgment is analytical when it merely explains the content of a concept. “When I say all bodies are extended, that is an analytic judgment, for I need not go beyond the concept which I link to the word body to find extension united with it; I just have to break it down, that is, to become aware of the various elements that I always think of in it to find this predicate.” (Georges Pascal, Pour connaître la pensée de Kant)

Unlike analytical judgments which are necessarily a priori (in that no recourse to experience is necessary to formulate them, an explicit explanation of the implicit is the only operation they allow to accomplish), synthetic judgments link together two concepts that are not obviously linked (the cause with its effect, for example). The judgment in which the predicate adds something to the concept of subject will be synthetic.

Kant will assume that there is a third kind of judgments, the one that gives full scope to his “Copernican revolution”, synthetic a priori judgments. He believes that these are “universal and necessary, like mathematical formulas”, but moreover that they would allow us to extend our knowledge, whereas analytical judgments could only explain or clarify them. However, this type of judgment will be called into question by the Circle of Vienna and seems to be abandoned today by a large part of the philosophers.

Causality and movement

By “cause”, metaphysics means something broader than common sense, the total sum of all the principles from which the being of the intended being originates. With this in mind, Aristotle, followed by Thomas Aquinas, developed the theory of the four causes (material, formal, efficient and final).

Space and time

An equivocal reality, both a measurable physical magnitude and an interior dimension of our consciousness, the question of Time, of its origin, its nature and its definition runs through the entire history of metaphysics. For its part, is “space” an objective container, a receptacle, or, as Kant puts it, “a cognitive condition of the possibility of all representation”, an ideality, or again, like Descartes, a material “expanse” from which the existence of vacuum is ruled out?


One of the modes of being characterized by the fact of being in the world. This most obvious thing is precisely the most difficult to define. We talk about being real, but what is being real if not existing. For the scholastics, existence designated the act by which a subject accedes to being by virtue of his origin. Gilson speaks of a devaluation of the verb “to be” in favor of the verb “to exist”. In the classical perspective, it is a question of distinguishing the existing from the simple possible. With Heidegger, the term existence is reserved for the human being, the other things of the world will simply be there, “at hand” according to the literal translation of a German expression.

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

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