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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Metaphysics: the Science of Being

Metaphysics: the Science of Being

By Jim J. McCrea

The sciences which most people are familiar with, study being under one aspect or another. Physics, for example, examines being under the aspect of physical phenomena. Mathematics studies being in light of the principle of quantity. Logic studies being under the aspect of propositional truth. And Psychology looks at the thinking and emotive processes of human beings. What most people are not aware of, is that there is a science which studies being precisely as being. This science is called metaphysics.

The ultimate first principle on which reality rests, is the law of identity which states that a thing is what it is. This is not a mere tautology, such as the truth A=A in logic. It is much more. It superabounds in meaning.

The law of identity is manifest or differentiated into a number of aspects known as the transcendentals. The transcendentals are the universal modes of being. They are as extensive as being itself. They can be considered convertible terms for being - that is, although there is a distinction between the transcendentals as concepts, they are really different names for being. Being is so rich and deep, that even though it is one, several concepts are required to more thoroughly grasp it (so says Jacques Maritain in his "Preface to Metaphysics").

The first transcendental is unity. This means that as far as a thing has being, it is one thing. Much of today's reductionist science attempts to understand nature more clearly by reducing things to their most fundamental components. If, however, you divide something to look at what it is made of, you depart from that thing. A thing is not simply its parts. The parts must be arranged into a unifying form to make that thing what it is. From this, it can be said that the best description of a thing is itself - that is, a thing cannot be better described in terms of something other than that thing.

The second transcendental is truth. This states that being has the capability of "speaking to" or being understood by an intellect - that is, being is intelligible. An intellect is not limited to grasping a thing piece by piece, but can apprehend it as a whole. As the eastern mystics say, when a tree is observed, its "treeness" is grasped by the mind immediately, without any mediating analysis. This property of "graspableness" of a being by an intellect is its truth.

The third transcendental is goodness. This means that being precisely as being confronts a desire or affective response. In this manner it is related to the will and the affective center of the soul.

An important part of metaphysics concerns an analysis of evil. If goodness is a transcendental - that is, an intrinsic attribute of being - how is evil possible, since we can plainly see that evil has a real presence in the world? Evil is not the opposite of good, as many people believe, but its absence. It is not the absence of just any good, but a good which should be present in a thing, according to its nature. Evil, therefore, does not have existence in itself, but is only a parasite in good. It is a "hole" of non-being in the midst of some existing thing. (An objector may say that a tumor has being, yet it is in no manner good or desirable. The answer to this is that a tumor is not, properly speaking, a real being. It is an aggregate of beings [individual cells] which does not have true unity. Its essence consists of a lack of order in the cellular growth of the tissues of the tumor).

A fourth transcendental is beauty. Beauty is a property which indicates that being has integrity. It is an attribute of being to have a certain symmetry and order to its form. When this is present , there should be a response of delight and pleasure in the sensitive and intellectual faculties of the one who perceives it. When ugliness is validly perceived as an objective aspect of something, it always indicates that a certain element of non-being is mingled with it. Something is missing within it - something it should have by its nature.

It must be realized, that in the study of being, that to be is not necessarily to be a physical object. All physical objects are surrounded by an enclosure of three dimensional space, with their parts distributed in that region of three dimensional space. Entities which we call spirits are not like that. A spirit is a concrete (particular existing) being which is not bound by the limitations of matter. It is not confined by an enclosure of space, and does not consist of parts.

The first to be mentioned are angels. They are not, as often depicted, effeminate creatures with wings. They are pure essences. All material beings are composed of matter and form. Matter is the total collection of parts which make up the thing, and form is the total arrangement and interconnectivity of the parts which gives it its essence as a being (form as defined here, is something deeper than mere shape). Essence is the determining attribute of a thing which makes it that particular type of thing and not another. The component parts of a car, lying in a jumble, is the car's matter. Even though all the parts of a car are present, there is no actual car. When the parts are properly assembled, a real car emerges, because form is added to the matter. When this happens, essence arises. We can therefore say that with matter and form there is "carness" (its essence), in which the intellect can make a true judgment that that thing is an actual car. In an angel, essence and existence alone are present. It has neither matter nor form.

Angels are far simpler than any material thing is, therefore they have a higher degree of unity (In their simplicity, they are not poorer in meaning than material things, but paradoxically richer). Since angels do not have parts or composition they cannot be divided or decomposed. They are, therefore, immortal.

Two material objects of the same essence (say two watches of the same kind), are distinct beings because they are enclosed in different regions of three dimensional space. Angels, which are free from the limitations of space, cannot be distinguished in this way. They are differentiated on the basis of essence alone. From this, it can be concluded that each angel is the sole member of its species.

At the summit of being is God. To have a finite essence is to be limited to one particular aspect of being. One finite essence expresses one aspect of being, and another finite essence expresses another aspect (i.e. a rose does not have the attributes of a sunset and vice versa). God is not a finite essence, and is therefore, not limited to a given aspect. All finite entities participate in being to a lesser or greater extent, but God is Pure Being. Even though angels are simple, in that they have no physical composition, they still have metaphysical composition. A real distinction exists between the love and knowledge an angel might have, and his being. Angels *have* knowledge and love. Because there is a real distinction between an angel and its attributes, it is logically possible for it to be without them. The fallen angels, for example, lack supernatural charity and knowledge. The love and knowledge that God possesses is, on the other hand, identical with himself. He is the very love and knowledge he has. Also, his essence is his own existence. In this, God has neither physical nor metaphysical composition. God is not only simple, but infinite. The transcendentals are, therefore, perfectly realized in him. He is perfect and infinite unity, truth, goodness, and beauty.

The question: "how is metaphysics possible?" can be answered by studying the nature of the intellect. Every faculty has a proper object to which it is oriented. The proper object of the ear is sound and the proper object of the eye is light. The proper object of the intellect is being or that which is. Metaphysics, as the science of being-as-such, is possible because certain truths about being-as-such are necessarily and automatically acquired by the intellect when it comes into contact with being. The law of identity, as mentioned above, is one. It states that if a thing is what it is, it is not necessarily what one believes it to be or would like it to be. This contradicts any form of relativism or subjectivism. The law of non-contradiction is another. This states that nothing can both be and not be under the same aspect at the same time. This law is essential if any form of intellectual reasoning is to proceed. The principle of sufficient reason says that if anything exists, occurs, or is true, it must have adequate grounds for existing, occurring, or being true. Nothing can have these, simply for no reason. The human mind's ability to understand the fact of God's existence is based on the principle of sufficient reason (i.e. this universe can possibly not exist - that is, it is not self existent - therefore, it requires a being who is self existent - that cannot possibly not exist - to explain it, which we call God).

These truths are self evident in themselves. It may be asked, therefore, that if this is so, why do not all philosophers accept them? This is because there is a distinction between their explicit and implicit understanding. Anyone who has a properly functioning intellect has an implicit understanding of them. All effective acts of knowing and acting require their use. In people who have only an implicit understanding of these truths, they are drawn upon automatically without a conscious understanding of them. A certain judgment of the intellect may be held with certitude, without a genuine knowledge of the laws of thought which enable that judgment to occur (i.e. the inference of the fact of God's existence from the contingency of this universe) The metaphysician, on the other hand, is able to reflect on his own mind as it understands reality. Metaphysics does not involve the discovery of any new knowledge, but brings to conscious understanding, that which may be unconscious in most people.