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Metaphysics begins as an inquiry into existence. For those who discover, o believe, that existence has a "nature," that is, some general characteristics, metaphysics becomes an inquiry into the n ature of existence. As inquiry proceeds and attention is focused more and more on these general characteristics, then the question arises, "Which of these seemingly general chracteristics are actually universal? Then metaphysics tends to become an inquiry into the universal characteristics of existence. Just as each science tends to adopt terms to serve its needs more conveniently, so in metaphysics as field of inquiry the term category has come to be adopted. Any characteristics that is completely universal is called "a category". One may also use the term "category" in specialized aread. For example, if a zoologist studies robins concludes that all robins have reddish solored feathers on their breasts, he may properly assert that such a universal cjharacteristic is a category of robinhood. But in order to be a metaphysical category, a characteristic must be such that it is present in everything that exists. Given this technical language, metaphysics becomes an inquiry into existence and its categories.

Is metaphysics a science? For those who believe that a science is something with a fixed and final stock of certainties, the answer will be no. But for those who regard a science as a field of inquiry where research is concluded with certain attitudes and methods, metaphysics is, or certainly can be, a science. Fully conceived a science involves six characteristics: problems, attitude, method, activity, solutions, and effects. Without a problem there can be no science; and the more difficult the problems, the more unlikelythat satisfactory solutions will be reached easily. The scientific attitude involves curiosity, willingness to investigate, open mindedness about what will be found, willingness to suspend conviction until all the evidence is acquired, and persistence in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles. Although each type of problem usually will call for a method somewhat peculiarly suited to it, philosophers of science have discovered that understanding the problem, observing relevant data, formulating hypotheses, and testing in these various ways are common methodological elements in all sciences.

The activity of researching scientists is fundamental to what constitutes science; and the advancement of scientific knowledge depends on the ability, skills, efforts, and moral conscientiousness prevailing in such research. Conclusions, in the form of hypotheses or theories, started as general principles or laws of behavior, are desired. When they are not immediately forthcoming, "working hypotheses," or tentative solutions, are portulated and experimented with. When hypotheses repeatedly pass the tests put to them, they tend to be regarded as reliable. Whereas pupular impatience leads to regarding them as "facts@ and treating them as dogmas, a true scientis maintains an open mind about the possibility of new and counter evidence. Since tentativity regarding conclusions is esstial to the scientific attitude, one who has become so sure of his conclusions that he has abondones this attitude is no longer properly called a scientist. Finally a part of what a science is consists of the effects it has on the lives of people; if "a thing is what a thing does," and if people behave differently became they believe and act on conclusions proposed by scientists, such differences are practical consequences of such science. Given the foregoing conception of science, then, metaphysics is that science which inquires into the nature of existence and its categories.

What has happened to our person who asks himself the question, “What am I?” He is our metaphysician. That is, everyone who inquires into the nature of himself and the universe, seeking answers of a most general sort, already is a metaphysician, provided his query is not merely an idle curiosity but is a vital challenge that he pursues earnestly and with an open mind. Persons who feel incapable, or who are too busily occupied with other affairs, may not pursue their questions very far. They do not remain metaphysical very long. But hose gripped by the challenge of wanting to know what they are cannot avoid becoming more and more metaphysical. Whether they quest by themselves or seek other help, such as teachers or books, each person’s quest is his own. Some complain that metaphysical problems never achieve commonly accepted solutions because such problems, like eating, loving, and reproducing, are problems each person wants to solve for himself. No matter how many other people have agreed that a certain food tastes good, each person wants to judge for himself by tasting before he consents to agreement. So also, no matter how many people have agreed that they are sons of God, manifestations of Brahman, matter in motion, or libido frustrated, each person who deeply wonders about himself wants to think his own thoughts before he assents to the opinions of others. Every metaphysical quest is personal. All such personal quests are parts of metaphysics.


There is no way to predict what characteristic will first suggest itself to a person beginning his inquiry into the nature of existence. He may hit upon something trivial. Most likely it will turn out not to be something actually universal. Each person suggests answers in terms of his own experience. Primitive man pictured his universe in terms of ideas that we have come to call “myths.” Many moderns favour stating universals in terms of mathematical formulae. In any case, those characteristics firs proposed by what are properly called scientific as long as one proposes them with an open mind and persists in his quest for evidence to test their adequacy.

If a person is educated in some group, he tends to be indoctrinated by the ideas already acceptable to that group. Its categories become his, unless doubts arise in him. And even when they do, his own ideas tend to be conditioned by the very ideas he doubts. When one is influenced by a wider society, he usually finds many other schools of thought with their own proposals about categories. If one systematically studies the histories of Western and Asian philosophy, he finds a plethora of suggestions, some of which conflict with others. Those who are impatient with their inherited traditions often hope to find greater wisdom in some inherited traditions often hope to find greater wisdom in some foreign culture and may do so. Some merely exchange the doctrines of one cult for another, sometimes becoming happier, even if in fact no wiser.

But many persistent searchers discover that the farther they search the more convinced they become that they cannot find satisfactory ready-made solutions anywhere; they must make up their minds for themselves. For such people, the search for satisfactory answers may become a lifelong quest. Such people appreciate the following answer to the question, “What is man?” Man is a being that asks the question, “What is a man?” and spends his lifetime searching for an answer.

When on discovers a trait that seems to him to be universal he is likely to try out his proposal on others. One feels more secure in hi9s own beliefs when he finds others who share his assurance. He thereby tends to become a sectarian indoctrinator, even if quite unwittingly. But one should seek such assurance, if he can. Indeed, a widely held criterion of scientific method is that a hypothesis cannot be regarded as scientific unless it can be communicated and tests about it can be repeated by others.

In selecting some proposed categories for examination in this volume, I am faced with the problem of choosing, not just for myself, but for others. Knowing how much people disagree about so many things, I find the task risky. I have picked, for many more that have been put forth, a limited number of terms, all but two of which occur commonly in ordinary language and receive almost daily usage by active minds. Even if the reader himself disagrees with my selection, he may recognize it as an example of metaphysical endeavour. I expect disagreement from many who have already made up their minds in other ways. But I also believe that each beginner will find both the traits proposed and the treatment of them illustrative of the kinds of answer which he may expect of metaphysician or of himself as he pursues how own metaphysical quest.

Change, time, cause wholes process, purpose, action, space, substance, relations, universals, and intelligence – all are common terms that I propose to explore as categories of existence. To these I add one more, dialectic, to entice the beginner into some of the more intricate problems which sooner or later every persistent metaphysician tends to encounter. One may accept all these terms as representing characteristics of some of the things which he experiences without regarding them as categories of existence. The proposal that they are present as characteristics of every existent extends beyond what many will be willing to accept.

Furthermore, another feature of my own way of understanding existence, which some will find most natural and other very peculiar, is that these characteristics tend to occur as pairs. That is, each proposed characteristics tends to have an opposite, which also may be a category of existence. By proposing that categories occur in pairs, I am able to show, and to sharpen, issues that have been debated for centuries. This method also helps me to portray another, more complex characteristic of existence, namely, “polarity”; as my conclusion begin to take shape, polarity itself, as a kind of relation between other characteristics, now appears to me to be a category of existence. Hence as discussion proceeds, the problems will become those of change versus permanence, events versus durations, wholes versus parts, aims versus goal, agency versus patiency, and particulars versus universals.


Archie J. Bahm, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, University of New Mexico

The Ponente Justice 08:04, April 17, 2012 (UTC)