Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Metaphysics refers to philosophical speculation about the meaning and nature of the universe.

explanatory context

Metaphysics, in its Greek original, literally means that which comes after physics and its lexical derivation is supposedly due to Aristotle who developed an untitled thesis in his manuscripts which was located after his thesis on physics.


However, there is also a philosophical sense in which metaphysics 'comes after' physics as metaphysical speculation comes after the resolution of physical problems. That is, metaphysics is concerned with what lies beyond (or after) the physical world of sensory perception.


A development of this general meaning of metaphysics is the particular reference to any holistic thesis about knowledge (such as idealism, materialism, monism, etc.) as metaphysical systems as opposed to the idealised procedures of natural science, which are concerned with specific aspects of 'reality'.


Metaphysical analysis has, since Kant, been more concerned not with the nature of reality as such, but rather about the way people conceive of reality, i.e. metaphysics tends to be directed at the fundamental nature and structure of our thought about nature.


Metaphysics, in ordinary usage, is a term sometimes applied to any theory or system which appears complex, incomprehensible or fanciful.

analytical review

New World Encyclopedia contributors (2014): the branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the nature of the most fundamental aspects of the world. It addresses questions such as: What is the nature of reality? Does the world exist outside the mind? What is the nature of objects, events, places? Is free will possible in a world governed by causal laws?

A central part of metaphysics is ontology, which is the study of being. Ontology is, one might say, an attempt to determine what the most basic building blocks are, out of which the rest of reality is constructed. Philosophers of different times have shown different levels of optimism with respect to how much ontology can accomplish. It appears that Plato, for instance, thought that ontology is capable of showing the existence of entities that are outside of the sensible world, but play some key role in determining the nature of that world. Many philosophers in the twentieth century, however, saw ontology as, at best, an attempt to understand the relations within a certain set of concepts used, such as that of substance, property, and relation.

It is important to distinguish the sense of "metaphysics" employed by philosophers from its recent association with spirituality and world-transcending thought, though the latter does stem from developments in the former. Because metaphysics concerns itself with fundamental questions, nearly every major philosopher has devoted a certain amount of thought to metaphysics. This means, however, that a history of metaphysics would be little less than a history of all of philosophy. This article will, therefore, survey the issues that have most concerned metaphysicians throughout history. A list of historical figures especially worth considering is provided at the end.

associated issues


related areas

See also





New World Encyclopedia contributors, 2014, 'Metaphysics', New World Encyclopedia, last updated 21 October 2014, available at:, accessed 21 May 2017, still available 10 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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