1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Metaphysics/1 The Science of Being

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1.—The Science of Being

Side by side with psychology, the science of mind, and with logic, the science of reasoning, metaphysics is tending gradually to reassert its ancient Aristotelian position as the science of being in general. Not long ago, in England at all events, metaphysics was merged in psychology. But with the decline of dogmatic belief and the spread of religious doubt—as the special sciences also grow more general, and the natural sciences become more speculative about matter and force, evolution and teleology—men begin to wonder again about the nature and origin of things, just as it was the decay of polytheism in Greek religion and his own discoveries in natural science which impelled Aristotle to metaphysical questions. There is, however, a certain difference in the way of approaching things. Aristotle emphasized being as being, without always sufficiently asking whether the things whose existence he asserted are really knowable. We, on the contrary, mainly through the influence of Descartes, rather ask what are the things we know, and therefore, some more and some less, come to connect ontology with epistemology, and in consequence come to treat metaphysics in relation to psychology and logic, from which epistemology is an offshoot.

To this pressing question then—What is the world as we know it?—three kinds of definite answers are returned: those of materialism, idealism and realism, according to the emphasis laid by metaphysicians on body, on mind, or on both. Metaphysical materialism is the view that everything known is body or matter; but while according to ancient materialists soul is only another body, according to modern materialists mind without soul is only an attribute or function of body. Metaphysical idealism is the view that everything known is mind, or some mental state or other, which some idealists suppose to require a substantial soul, others not; while all agree that body has no different being apart from mind. Metaphysical realism is the intermediate view that everything known is either body or soul, neither of which alone exhausts the universe of being. Aristotle, the founder of metaphysics as a distinct science, was also the founder of metaphysical realism, and still remains its main authority. His view was that all things are substances, in the sense of distinct individuals, each of which has a being of its own different from any other, whereas an attribute has only the being of its substance (Met. Z 1-3; Post. An. i. 4); that bodies in nature are obviously natural substances, and as obviously not the only kind of substance; and that there is supernatural substance, e.g. God, who is an eternal, perfect, living being, thinking, but without matter, and therefore not a body.

At the present day realism is despised on the ground that its differentiation of body and soul, natural and supernatural, ignores the unity of being. Indeed, in order to oppose this unity of being to the realistic duality, both materialists and idealists describe themselves as monists, and call realists dualists by way of disparagement. But we cannot classify metaphysics by the antithesis of monism and dualism without making confusion worse confounded. Not to mention that it has led to another variety, calling itself pluralism, it confuses materialism and idealism. Extremes meet; and those who believe only in body and those who believe only in mind, have an equal right to the equivocal term “monist.” Moreover, there is no real opposition between monism and dualism, for there can very well be one kind of being, without being all body or all soul; and as a matter of fact, Aristotelian realism is both a monism of substance and a dualism of body and soul.

It is in any case unfair to decide questions by disparaging terms, and to argue as if the whole choice were between materialistic or idealistic monism, leaving realism out of court. In this case it would also hide the truth of things, which requires two different kinds of substance, body and soul. The strength of materialism consists in recognizing nature without explaining it away, its weakness in its utter inability to explain consciousness either in its nature or in its origin. On the other hand, it is the virtue of idealism to emphasize the fact of consciousness, but its vice to exaggerate it, with the consequence of resorting to every kind of paradox to deny the obvious and get rid of bodies. There are in reality two species of substances, or entirely distinct things, those which are impenetrably resisting, and those which are conscious substances; and it is impossible to reduce bodies and souls to one another, because resistance is incompatible with the attributes of spirit, and consciousness inexplicable by the attributes of body. So far true metaphysics is a dualism of body and soul. But this very dualism is also monism: both bodies and souls are substances, as Aristotle said; and we can go farther than Aristotle. Men are apt to dwell too much on the co-existence and too little on the inclusiveness of substances. The fact is that many substances are often in one; e.g. many bodies in the one body, and both body and soul in the one substance, of man. So far true metaphysics is a monism of substance, in the sense that all things are substances and that all substances, however different, are members of one substance, the whole universe of body and spirit. In this case metaphysics generally will have to recognize three monisms, a materialistic monism of body, an idealistic monism of soul, and a realistic monism of substance, which is also a dualism of substances. But a term so equivocal, leading to an antithesis so misleading as that between monism and dualism, can never represent the real difference between metaphysical schools. We shall return, then, to the clearer and more authoritative division, and proceed to discuss materialism, idealism and realism in their order.