Metaphysics – the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: representing medieval Latin metaphysica, based on Greek ta meta ta phusika ‘the things after the Physics,’ referring to the sequence of Aristotle’s works [crazy!]: the title came to denote the branch of study treated in the books, later interpreted as meaning the science of things transcending what is physical or natural.
Theophanic – of a visible manifestation to humankind of God or a god. ORIGIN Old English, via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek theophaneia, from theos ‘god’ + phainein ‘to show.’
Exophanic – of revelation of the fact of beyondness. ORIGIN Greek, from exo ‘outside’ + phainein ‘to show.’
Cataphatic – of knowledge of God obtained through affirmation. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Greek kataphatikos ‘affirmative,’ from kataphasis ‘affirmation,’ from kata– (as an intensifier) + phanai ‘speak.’
Apophatic – of knowledge of God obtained through negation. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Greek apophatikos ‘negative,’ from apophasis ‘denial,’ from apo– ‘other than’ + phanai ‘speak.’
Transcendent – beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience. ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French transcendre or Latin transcendere, from trans– ‘across’ + scandere ‘climb.’
My definition of metaphysics: The philosophy of that which is beyond direct experience.
Obviously, this is tricky territory. How does one think about that which is, by definition, unthinkable? Not only is the “object” of metaphysics beyond the reach of thought (and therefore as nonsensical as sight without seeing). The possibility is raised of intellectual entities that thought cannot wrap its fingers around even the entity is sitting in the palm of its hand. The latter idea might seem complete nonsense to many… but not to the soul who has even once come to understand something initially unintelligible and subsequently discovered that not only this particular thing was illuminated with intelligibility, but the entire world has now opened out in a way inconceivable prior to the epiphany.
Until a person has undergone the epiphany of what I call practical transcendence – having an actual before and after experience of intelligibility – the tendency is to treat metaphysics strictly as thinking about objects that are beyond our knowledge. Every single metaphysical conception a thinker has is marked either with this awareness or its conspicuous absence. For all I know there are many other similar marks. This is the one I know.
Those who don’t know don’t know that they don’t know unless they actively work to discover it. Otherwise, everything you can think of is self-evidently knowable, and nothing if left over. “Give me one intelligible example of something that’s unintelligible. Just what I thought: you babble nonsense and cannot provide a single example. Why should I take this seriously?” That’s a good question!
Things would be very different if blindness and darkness were the same thing. Light-and-knowledge analogies break down at this point. Sight sees objects in presence of light and notices darkness in the absence of light. Blindness lacks sight. It is wrong to say blindness sees nothing. Blindness does not even see nothing. For a concrete demonstration of the difference try a blind spot experiment. Really try it. Don’t just read about it.
A cataphatic metaphysic (which posits specific knowledge of what is beyond the limits of our knowledge) and an apophatic metaphysic (which posits limits to our knowledge) is total. It separates religious dogmatism from other religious forms. Religious dogmatism is only bad when it becomes severed from a religious tradition rooted in something inconceivably deeper. A dogmatist excommunicated from a sustaining community with all its spiritual organs intact is in serious spiritual trouble. He is at risk of loving his dogma as a thing that he knows and possesses that closes him to the radical beyondness and protects him from dread.
An exophanic apophatic metaphysic and a transcendental apophatic metaphysic is also different. An expohanic metaphysic tries to acknowledge and relate all experiences that indicate beyondness, which means all perceptions, feelings, intuitions, explicit thoughts are given legitimacy as entities they are and are interrelated. An exophanic metaphysic is an ontology that sees the terminus of ontology as beyond the grasp of ontology itself.
What I am calling a transcendental metaphysic employs hermeneutic practice to find ways to expand the scope of ontology (what is often called “horizon”, not in order to demystify the beyond, but to intensify and deepen the mystery of the infinite beyond that always remains despite our human efforts. Pursuit of the infinite is divine futility.
Metaphysics is the philosophy of the Other.
We love only what is Other; what cannot be possessed. We can possess a dogma or an apple. We cannot possess the infinite which surrounds us.
Whether you are aware of it or not, belief in the future is metaphysical, and so is belief in the past. Belief in matter is metaphysical, and so is belief in the space that extends around you. Belief in who you may someday become is metaphysical, and so are your beliefs of who you were as a child. Most of all, however, each of us is to the other is metaphysical when we accept one another as soul, as Thou, as one who lives and thinks and feels and sees, to whom we make the gassho or say “Shalom” or “Namaste“. Every soul is the whole world – vast, unique and interlapping with our own world.
Each metaphysical belief is only a symbol of Other. The Other is not reducible to any symbol nor to every symbol, for that matter.
Thomas Kuhn, coiner that well-drained term “paradigm shift“:
When reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them. When you find an answer, …when these passages make sense, then you may find that more central passages, ones you previously thought you understood, have changed their meaning.