Metaphysics and epistemology relationship

Metaphysics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

metaphysics and epistemology relationship

The Difference Between Real and True in Philosophy . question as we explore two branches of philosophy: epistemology and metaphysics. There is a curious relationship between these branches of philosophy. aware of our epistemology and epistemological notions before our metaphysical ones. In many ways epistemology clears the way for metaphysical construction or hypothesis. By adhering to the principles of one branch of.

For a more thorough overview of the solutions to these puzzles and different theories of constitution in play, see Rea ed. Of course, discussion of causes go back to Ancient Philosophy, featuring prominently in Aristotle's Metaphysics and Physics.


Aristotle classifies four such explanatory conditions—an object's form, matter, efficient cause, and teleology. An object's efficient cause is the cause which explains change or motion in an object. With the rise of modern physics in the seventeenth century, interest in efficient causal relations became acute, and it remains so today. And when contemporary philosophers discuss problems of causation, they typically mean this sense.

One major issue in the metaphysics of causation concerns specifying the relata of causal relations. Consider a mundane claim: Does the causal relation hold between two events: Or does it hold between two sets of states of affairs? Or does it hold between two substances, the iceberg and the ship? Must causal relations be triadic or otherwise poly-adic?

For example, one might think that we are always required to qualify a causal claim: And can absences feature in causal relations? For example, does it make sense to claim that a lack of lifeboats was the cause of a third class passenger's death?

We might further ask whether causal relations are objective and irreducible features of reality. Hume famously doubted this, theorizing that that our observations of causation were nothing more than observations of constant conjunction. For example, perhaps we think icebergs cause ships to sink only because we always observe ship-sinking events occurring after iceberg-hitting events and not because there is a real causal relation that holds between icebergs and foundering ships.

Contemporary metaphysicians have been attracted to other kinds of reductive treatments of causation. Some—like Stalnaker and Lewis—have argued that causal relations should be understood in terms of counterfactual dependencies Stalnaker and Lewis For example, an iceberg's striking the ship caused its sinking at time t if and only if in the nearest possible worlds where the iceberg did not strike the ship at time t, the ship did not sink.

Others have argued that causal relations should be understood in terms of instantiations of laws of nature. Davidson and Armstrong each defend this view albeit in different ways. All of these theories expand on an idea from Hume's Treatise in attempting to reduce causation to different or more fundamental categories. For a more complete survey of recent theories of causation, see Paul and Hall Debates about causation and laws of nature further give rise to a related set of pressing philosophical questions—questions of freedom.

In the seventeenth century, celestial mechanics gave philosophers a certain picture of a way the world might be: The problem of free will can be stated as a dilemma. If determinism is true, there is only one physically possible future. But then how can anyone ever have acted otherwise? For, as Carl Ginet has said But if determinism does not hold, if there are alternative physically possible futures, then which one comes to pass must be a mere matter of chance.

Unless there is something wrong with one of these two arguments, the argument for the incompatibility of free will and determinism or the argument for the incompatibility of free will and the falsity of determinism, free will is impossible. The problem of free will may be identified with the problem of discovering whether free will is possible—and, if free will is possible, the problem of giving an account of free will that displays an error in one of or both these arguments. Van Inwagen defends the position that, although the modern problem of free will has its origin in philosophical reflections on the consequences of supposing the physical universe to be governed by deterministic laws, the problem cannot be evaded by embracing a metaphysic like dualism or idealism that supposes that agents are immaterial or non-physical.

The modern identity theory holds that all mental events or states are a special sort of physical event or state. The theory is parsimonious among its other virtues but we nevertheless exhibit a natural tendency to distinguish the mental and the physical.

Perhaps the reason for this is epistemological: That the inference is logically invalid is as is so often the case no barrier to its being made. Whatever the reason may be, philosophers have generally but not universally supposed that the world of concrete particulars can be divided into two very different realms, the mental and the material. If one takes this view of things, one faces philosophical problems that modern philosophy has assigned to metaphysics.

Prominent among these is the problem of accounting for mental causation. If thoughts and sensations belong to an immaterial or non-physical portion of reality—if, for example, they are changes in immaterial or non-physical substances—how can they have effects in the physical world? How, for example, can a decision or act of will cause a movement of a human body?

How, for that matter, can changes in the physical world have effects in the non-physical part of reality?

If one's feeling pain is a non-physical event, how can a physical injury to one's body cause one to feel pain? But the former has troubled them more, since modern physics is founded on principles that assert the conservation of various physical quantities. If a non-physical event causes a change in the physical world—dualists are repeatedly asked—does that not imply that physical quantities like energy or momentum fail to be conserved in any physically closed causal system in which that change occurs?

And does that not imply that every voluntary movement of a human body involves a violation of the laws of physics—that is to say, a miracle? A wide range of metaphysical theories have been generated by the attempts of dualists to answer these questions. Some have been less than successful for reasons that are not of much intrinsic philosophical interest.

Broad, for example, proposed And this, he supposed, would not imply a violation of the principle of the conservation of energy. But it seems impossible to suppose that an agent could change the electrical resistance of a physical system without expending energy in the process, for to do this would necessitate changing the physical structure of the system, and that implies changing the positions of bits of matter on which forces are acting think of turning the knob on a rheostat or variable resistor: If this example has any philosophical interest it is this: The various dualistic theories of the mind treat the interaction problem in different ways.

Like occasionalism, it presupposes theism, and, unlike occasionalism, it entails either that free will does not exist or that free will is compatible with determinism. In addition to these dualistic theories, there are monistic theories, theories that dissolve the interaction problem by denying the existence of either the physical or the non-physical: Such a theory must, of course, find a place for the mental in a wholly physical world, and such a place exists only if mental events and states are certain special physical events and states.

There are at least three important metaphysical questions raised by these theories. Secondly, does physicalism imply that mental events and states cannot really be causes does physicalism imply a kind of epiphenomenalism?

The Methodology of Metaphysics As is obvious from the discussion in Section 3the scope of metaphysics has expanded beyond the tidy boundaries Aristotle drew. So how should we answer our original question? Is contemporary metaphysics just a compendium of philosophical problems that cannot be assigned to epistemology or logic or ethics or aesthetics or to any of the parts of philosophy that have relatively clear definitions? Or is there a common theme that unites work on these disparate problems and distinguishes contemporary metaphysics from other areas of inquiry?

These issues concerning the nature of metaphysics are further connected with issues about the epistemic status of various metaphysical theories. But many post-Medieval metaphysicians have refused to take this for granted. Some of them, in fact, have been willing to defend the thesis that the world is very different from, perhaps radically different from, the way people thought it was before they began to reason philosophically. For example, in response to the puzzles of coincidence considered in Section 3.

This entails that composite objects—tables, chairs, cats, and so on—do not exist, a somewhat startling view.

metaphysics and epistemology relationship

And as we saw in Section 3. But no matter how we classify it, the surprising nature of many contemporary metaphysical claims puts additional pressure on practioners to explain just what they are up to. They raise questions of the methodology of metaphysics. One attractive strategy for answering these questions emphasizes the continuity of metaphysics with science.

On this conception, metaphysics is primarily or exclusively concerned with developing generalizations from our best-confirmed scientific theories. These objects may not be universals in the classical sense. They may, for example, be sets. A typical recasting of this theory in the canonical notation of quantification is: It would seem, therefore, that a nominalist cannot consistently affirm that theory.

Quine's work on nominalism inspired a much broader program for approaching ontological questions. Still, many questions of the new and old metaphysics are not questions of ontology.

metaphysics and epistemology relationship

For example, many participants in the debate over causation are not particularly worried about whether causes and effects exist. Few involved in the debate over the mental and physical are interested in the question whether there are mental properties in some sense or other. Is there a unified methodology for metaphysics more broadly understood?

Some think the task of the metaphysician is to identify and argue for explanatory relations of various kinds. For example, a philosopher might hold that tables and other composite objects exist, but think that facts about tables are completely grounded in facts about the arrangements of point particles or facts about the state of a wave function. Schaffer proposes a similar view, but holds that metaphysical grounding relations hold not between facts but between entities.

On Schaffer's conception we can meaningfully ask whether a table is grounded in its parts or vice versa. We can even theorize as Schaffer does that the world as a whole is the ultimate ground for everything. For Sider, what unites good metaphysics as a discipline is that its theories are all framed in terms that pick out the fundamental structure of the world.

It should be emphasized that these ways of delimiting metaphysics do not presuppose that all of the topics we've considered as examples of metaphysics are substantive or important to the subject. Consider the debate about modality. Quine and Sider both argue from their respective theories about the nature of metaphysics that aspects of the debate over the correct metaphysical theory of modality are misguided.

Others are skeptical of the debates about composition or persistence through time. So theories about the nature of metaphysics might give us new resources for criticizing particular first-order debates that have historically been considered metaphysical, and it is common practice for metaphysicians to regard some debates as substantive while adopting a deflationist attitude about others.

It may also be that there is no internal unity to metaphysics. More strongly, perhaps there is no such thing as metaphysics—or at least nothing that deserves to be called a science or a study or a discipline. Perhaps, as some philosophers have proposed, no metaphysical statement or theory is either true or false.

Or perhaps, as others have proposed, metaphysical theories have truth-values, but it is impossible to find out what they are. The remainder of this entry will be a discussion of some recent arguments for the impossibility of metaphysics. We need not suppose that this ability is grounded in some non-trivial definition or account of metaphysics. At one time, an enemy of metaphysics might have been content to say that all metaphysical statements were false.

Let us briefly examine an example of the strong form of the thesis that metaphysics is impossible. The logical positivists maintained that the meaning of a non-analytic statement consisted entirely in the predictions it made about possible experience. They maintained, further, that metaphysical statements which were obviously not put forward as analytic truths made no predictions about experience.

But many philosophers asked how does the logical positivist's central thesis The meaning of a statement consists entirely in the predictions it makes about possible experience fare by its own standards? Does this thesis make any predictions about possible experiences?

Could some observation show that it was true? Could some experiment show that it was false? It would seem not. It would seem that everything in the world would look the same—like this—whether this thesis was true or false. Will the positivist reply that the offset sentence is analytic? And, therefore, if the statement is true it is meaningless; or, what is the same thing, if it is meaningful, it is false. Insofar as it is possible to find a coherent line of argument in the writings of any anti-realist, it is hard to see why they, like the logical positivists, are not open to a charge of self-referential incoherency.

Indeed, there is much to be said for the conclusion that all forms of the strong thesis fall prey to self-referential incoherency.

Put very abstractly, the case against proponents of the strong thesis may be put like this. But it invariably turns out that various sentences that are essential components of McZed's case against metaphysics themselves fail to pass her test. A test-case for this very schematic and abstract refutation of all refutations of metaphysics is the very sophisticated and subtle critique of metaphysics it purports to apply only to the kind of metaphysics exemplified by the seventeenth-century rationalists and current analytical metaphysics presented in van Fraassen It is a defensible position that van Fraassen's case against metaphysics depends essentially on certain theses that, although they are not themselves metaphysical theses, are nevertheless open to many of the criticisms he brings against metaphysical theses.

The weak form of the thesis that metaphysics is impossible is this: This idea is at least as old as Kant, but a version of it that is much more modest than Kant's and much easier to understand has been carefully presented in McGinn For a different defense of the weak thesis, see Thomasson Armstrong, David,Universals: Baker, Lynne Rudder,Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View, Cambridge: It is a strange philosophical symbiosis from which a magnificent and new organism emerges.

We know that the goal of metaphysics is to somehow develop an all-encompassing hypothesis as to what the ultimate nature of the universe is and reality itself. The human mind being the way it is, will not accept any of the possibilities unearthed by metaphysical questioning unless it is in part rationalized by epistemic inquiry.


For example, the old question about the tree falling in the woods, would it still make sound if no one was there to hear it? Well science and its epistemic thirst for knowledge has solved that question by revealing the existence of sound waves, which would be there regardless of the emptiness of the woods.

On the surface epistemology seems to have solved the question but the fact is metaphysically speaking it has not been solved at all because the question was about the nature of reality itself, and whether or not the reality of the tree falling would even exist if there was no one to experience it.

Would the universe simply withdraw the portion itself that was not being experienced by anyone? Man begins uninformed and becomes ever more knowledgeable about the world. Although he espouses the notion that man has free will, he displays what might be regarded as deterministic overtones in his belief in the existence in human nature of fundamental common influences of, or motives for, human behavior including: Menger observed that the impulse for one's economic self-interest was man's primary and most common trait.

He said that man is ingrained with a drive for self-interest in a healthy sense, rather than in an Hobbesian one. According to Menger, the individual, although desiring to satisfy his needs, is not directly driven or determined by them.

Menger's rational egoism recognized that value was grounded in human needs and their satisfaction. Man's physical and intellectual needs derive from genuine needs of the species. Equating self-interested behavior with economic behavior, Menger says that men do, and should, rationally seek to attain economic advantages or gains for themselves. He is finding a basis for economics in biology. Man's metaphysical and biological needs are not arbitrary and must be met if he is to survive and prosper.

Rational self-interested behavior is thus viewed as good behavior. Rationality does not imply omniscience. Menger explains that men are born into ignorance and that their primary enterprise is to learn the causal connections between objects and the satisfaction of their needs in order to make rational decisions regarding their well-being.

Economic life is constructed around the acquiring of knowledge. Menger portrays rational economic man as an uncertain being who gradually gains the knowledge and resources necessary to attain his ends.

metaphysics and epistemology relationship

He also explains that economic progress is caused by the growth in knowledge. Menger sought to develop a categorical ontology of economic reality in an Aristotelian sense. His causal-genetic method is rooted in Aristotelian metaphysics and epistemology. Menger thereby destroyed the existing structures of economic thought and established economics' legitimacy as a theoretical science. Menger advanced an ontology of economic objects by providing a description of the exact laws of economic phenomena.

In the absence of exact laws, there could not be a science of economics and without empirical realism, economics could not be termed a social science. In his methodology, Menger stressed that economics is a science by demonstrating that there are economic regularities and that the phenomena of economic life are ordered strictly in accordance with definite laws.

Insisting on the exactness of economic theory, he used the language of the pure logician when he analyzed relationships between variables. It is the knowledge of exact laws i. Exact theory is developed by searching for the simplest strictly typical elements of everything real.

Menger looked for the essence of economic relationships. He delved for those features which must be present by the nature of the relationship under study. He held that there are simple economic categories which are universal and capable of being understood as such. Exact laws are propositions expressing the relationships among such categories. There are certain elements, natures, or essences in the world as well as connections, structures, and laws regulating them, all of which are precisely universal.

Menger's term, exact laws, refers to propositions expressing universal connections among essences. A scientific theory consists of exact laws. For Menger, the goal of research in theoretical economics is the discovery of the essences and connections of economic phenomena.

The aim of the theoretical economist is to recognize general recurring structures in reality. According to Menger, the universals of economic reality are not imposed or created, but rather are discovered through theoretical efforts. Economics, as an exact science, is the theoretical study of universals apprehended in an immanent realist manner.

Theoretical economics understands economic universals as real objects that the mind has abstracted from particulars and isolated from other universals with which they co-exist.

If a person has an idea of the essence of something, he can explain its behavior as a manifestation of its essence. In other words, the manner in which objects act depends upon what those objects are. Menger's theoretical framework deals with the intensive study of individual economic units and the observation of how they behave.

Menger distinguished between the empirical-realistic orientation to theory and the exact orientation to theory. Whereas the realistic-empirical branch of economics studies the regularities in the succession and coexistence of real phenomena, the exact orientation studies the laws governing ideal economic phenomena.

He explains that realistic-empirical theory is concerned with regularities in the coexistence and succession of phenomena discovered by observing actual types and typical relationships of phenomena.

Realistic-empirical theory is subject to exceptions and to change over time. Theoretical economics in its realistic orientation derives empirical laws that are valid only for the spatial and temporal relationships from which they were observed.

Empirical laws can only be alleged to be true within a particular spatiotemporal domain. The realistic orientation can only lead to real types and to the particular.

The study of individual or concrete phenomena in time and space is the realm of the historical sciences. According to Menger, it is the aim of the practical or historical sciences to discover the principles, policies, and procedures that are needed in order to shape the phenomena according to predetermined goals. Menger's view implies that economic reality manifests certain simple and intelligible structures.

Economic reality is constituted in intelligible ways out of structures depending upon human thought and action. The individual and his behavior are the most basic elements by means of which Menger explains economic phenomena and derives universal laws. Mengerian economics is built on the basis of the idea that there are, in the realm of economic phenomena, indispensable structures to every economic action that are manifested in every economy.

Economic universals involve economizing action on the part of individuals. These universals of economic reality are discovered through theoretical efforts and are not arbitrary creations of the economist. Menger's understanding of economic theory is essentialist and grounded in Aristotelian metaphysics. His causal-realistic economic method is a search for laws about actual, observable events.

It follows that Menger's economics is actually a theory of reality. Menger is concerned with essences and laws manifested in this world. For Menger, as well as Aristotle, what is general does not exist in isolation from what is particular. Menger's theoretical economics studies the universal aspects of particular phenomena. These economic universals are said to exist only as instantiated in specific economic actions and institutions.

For Menger, the goal of theoretical research is to discover the simplest elements of all things real which must be apprehended as strictly typical merely because they are the simplest. Of course, it is not an easy matter to discover those structures and to construct workable theories about them. There may be huge difficulties in gaining knowledge of essential structures and in converting such knowledge into the organized system of a strict theory.

Menger finds it necessary to justify inductively the basic causal categories that are arrived at by the analytic part of scientific method. The scientist needs to learn to recognize the general recurring structures in constantly changing reality.

He says that theoretical knowledge is gained only by apprehending the phenomenon in question as a special case of a particular regularity in the succession or in the co-existence of phenomena. Economic reality manifests specific simple intelligible structures which the economic theorist is capable of grasping.

In explaining the transition from particulars i. In order to derive exact laws it was first necessary to identify the essential defining quality or essence in individual phenomena that underpins their recognition as representations of that type. Menger thus sought the simplest elements of everything real i.

To find the simplest elements, a person must abstract from all particular spatiotemporal circumstances. Aristotelian philosophy was the root of Menger's framework. His biologistic language goes well with his Aristotelian foundations in his philosophy of science and economics.

Menger demonstrated how Aristotelian induction could be used in economics. In addition, he based his epistemology on Aristotelian induction. Menger's Aristotelian inclinations can be observed in his desire to uncover the essence of economic phenomena.

He viewed the constituent elements of economic phenomena as immanently ordered and emphasized the primacy of exactitude and universality as preferable epistemological characteristics of theory.

Like Aristotle, Menger thought that the laws governing phenomena of thought processes and the natural and social world were all related as parts of the natural order. In other words, the knowability of the world is a natural condition common to the various aspects of the external world and the human mind. Mises' Neo-Kantianism Menger had contended that the purpose of economic theory is the elucidate genetic-causal explanations of market phenomena.

The Relationship Between Metaphysics and Epistemology

Mises was dissatisfied with Menger's Aristotelian methodology which for him was too closely related to reality. Mises argued that concepts can never be found in reality. He wanted to study and develop pure theory and maintained that "theory alone" could provide firm guidance. Mises wanted to construct a purely deductive system and was searching for a foundation upon which to build it. Mises was searching for a theoretical foundation that could not be questioned or doubted.

He wanted to find knowledge of logical necessity. He also wanted to escape from the concrete-based empiricism of historicism.

His mission became to look inward in order to deduce a system that was logically unobjectionable. He wanted to find laws that could only be verified or refuted by means of discursive reasoning.

Mises' axiom of action, the universal introspectively-known fact that men act, was the foundation upon which Mises built his deductive system.

Action, for Mises, is the real thing. Mises said that action was a category of the mind, in a Kantian sense, that was required in order to experience phenomenal reality i. The unity found in Mises' theorems of economics is rooted in the concept of human action. Mises' economic science is deductive and based on laws of human action that he contends are as real as the laws of nature.

His praxeological laws have no spatial, temporal, or cultural constraints. They are universal and pertain to people everywhere, at every time, and in all cultures. Not a strict Kantian, Mises modifies and extends Kant's epistemology.

However, he does make use of Kant's main terminological and conceptual distinctions and basic insights into the nature of human knowledge. Kant's philosophy constitutes an all-out attack on the mind's ability to know reality. Man is denied access to the noumenal world. The mind is trapped in its own logical way of thinking.

Kant's impositionist view is that the content of man's knowledge reflects certain structures or forms that have been subscribed or imposed on the world by the mind of the knowing subject. This knowledge is never directly of reality itself, but instead reflects the logical structures of the mind and reflects reality only as shaped, formed, or filtered by the human mind.

Like Kant, Mises believed that the human mind understood the world only through its own categories. However, Mises is not a pure Kantian. Unlike Kant, Mises does not attempt to make a transcendental argument to derive the categories.

He merely says that there is a group of common categories lodged in men's minds through which they grasp that which exists. What Mises considered as critical in Kant was his conviction that reason could supply universal and necessary knowledge.

Mises also disagreed with Kant regarding freedom of the individual. Kant conceived of the noumenal or real self as possessing free will and of the phenomenal self as being determined by the rational desire for happiness. Mises views freedom as the use of reason to attain one's goals. Assuming as little as possible, Mises says that we should assume people to be free and rational actors in the world as we perceive it since we have no certain knowledge of any determinants of human action, Mises was a metaphysical and cosmological agnostic regarding materialist or spiritual explanations of mental events.

Mises extends Kant by adding an important insight. Kantianism has been viewed as a type of idealism due to its failure to connect the mind's categories to the world.


Mises further develops Kantian epistemology when he explains that the laws of logic affect both thought and action. He says that we must acknowledge that the human mind is a mind of acting persons and that our mental categories have to be accepted as fundamentally grounded in the category of action.

Mises states that when this is realized, the notion of the existence of true synthetic a priori categories and propositions can be accepted as a realistic, rather than as an idealistic, philosophy of knowledge. The mind and physical reality make contact via action.

Mises believes that this insight fills in the gap between the mental world and the outside physical world. Mises thus contends that epistemology depends on our reflective knowledge of action. Mises considers the law of human action to be a law of thought and as a categorical truth prior to all experience.

Thinking is a mental action. For Mises, a priori means independent of any particular time or place. Denying the possibility of arriving at laws via induction, Mises argues that evidence for the a priori is based on reflective universal inner experience.

Unlike Menger, the father of Austrian economics, Mises did not believe the essential defining qualities or essences existed in individual phenomena that made possible their recognition as representatives of that type. If he had held to the notion that there are certain ontological, a priori, and intelligible structures in the world, then he may have considered the law of human action to be a law of reality rather than a law of thought.

An a priori in reality would not be the result of any forming or shaping of reality on the part of the experiencing subject. Rather, essences or universals would then be said to be discerned through a person's theoretical efforts.

It is hard to see how Mises could contend that a priori knowledge is gained exclusively through non-inductive means. Perhaps it would have been better if he had said that economic theory is based in part on introspection.

He could have argued that sense data alone could not reveal to a person the essential purposefulness of human action. The action axiom could then be depicted as derived form a combination of both external observation and introspection. Mises states that his action axiom, the proposition that men act, meets the requirements for a true synthetic a priori proposition. This proposition cannot be denied because the denial itself would necessarily be categorized as an action.

Mises defines action as purposeful behavior. He explains that it cannot be denied that humans act in a purposeful manner because the denial itself would be a purposeful act. All conscious human action is directed toward goals because it is impossible to conceive of an individual consciously acting without having a goal. Reason and action are congeneric. For Mises, knowledge is a tool of action and action is reason applied to purpose. When people look within, they see that all conscious actions are purposeful and willful pursuits of selected ends or objectives.

Reason enables people to choose.