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  Metaphysics (Greek, ‘about what is’), in philosophy, attempts to characterize all of reality—to say what reality contains and to analyse the concepts we use to think about it. So a metaphysician may both claim that events enter into causal relations and analyse our concept of causation.

So metaphysics attempts to provide a catalogue of the sorts of things reality contains. So, for example, one might hold that reality contains: mental and physical things, entities which have mental properties and entities which have physical properties; events or changes in the properties of things which are and have causes and effects; space, in which things exist, and time, in which changes occur.

Such a catalogue of the sorts of things reality contains does not settle all the questions metaphysicians attempt to answer. Consider the claim that there are both mental and physical things. This claim does not settle the issue of whether everything is of the same fundamental kind or not. Dualists claim that mental things are not physical and that physical things are not mental: there are two fundamental kinds of things. Monists hold that everything, is of the same fundamental kind or not. Idealists hold that the physical world is mental, that everything, including physical objects such as mountains, is mental. Materialists hold that everything including any mental entities is physical. One principle metaphysicians often appeal which seems to support monism is Ockham\'s razor, which states that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

We said that metaphysics attempts to say what reality contains and to analyse the concepts we use to think about it. Note that the task of saying what reality contains, such as causally related events, is different from the task of analysing the concepts we use to think about reality, such as the concept of causation. For a metaphysician may provide an analysis of the concept of causation and then claim that no events satisfy it: they may examine our concept of causation and yet hold that no events are causally related.

P.F. Strawson distinguished two sorts of metaphysics. Descriptive metaphysics describes the way we actually think about reality. It explores our actual views about reality and the concepts we actually use to think about it. Revisionary metaphysics revises and attempts to improve our views about reality and may also revise and hopefully improve the concepts we use to think about it.

Eliminativists are revisionary metaphysicians. They hold that we should abandon certain ontological claims, that we should eliminate certain claims from our account of what exists. Eliminative materialism, for example, is the view that since everything is physical and the mental could not be physical, there are no mental things. We should revise our common-sense view that there are minds which have pains and intentions, and eliminate the claim that mental things exist from our theory of what reality contains.

Epiphenomenalism is another revisionary view of the relation between the mental and the physical. Epiphenomenalists hold that the mental is not physical and that physical events only have physical causes. So the mental, being non-physical, is causally impotent with respect to the physical. Pains and intentions do not have physical effects, such as reaching for aspirin. Our common-sense view that mental events have physical effects is mistaken, and should be revised. AJ

See also causation; dualism; eliminativism; epiphenomenalism; essence; essentialism; event; existence; idealism; law of nature; materialism; monism; mental; mind-body problem; Ockham\'s razor; physical; primary and secondary qualities; reductionism; self; space and time; substance; universals and particulars.Further reading P.F. Strawson, Individuals.



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