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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Metaphysics

A branch of philosophy which includes cosmology and ontology. The term is derived from an untitled work by Aristotle called merely meta ta physica, i.e. “The book after the Physics.” In it Aristotle claimed to discuss Being in an abstract sense. Since his time, the term has been extended to cover cosmology, or “the furniture of the universe” (to use Susan Stebbings’ felicitous term), as well as what types of things may be reliably said to exist, i.e. ontology. Ontology usually discusses non-physical things, such as minds, angels, and God. Cosmology usually involves theories of creation as well as the nature of the created universe and the evolution of life forms on Earth. Obviously, cosmological theories rely on astronomy and physics for information about the universe, but usually go beyond them and include arguments for the existence of non-physical things, such as minds and God. Because our knowledge of the physical universe has changed considerably since early Greek and medieval times, theories propounded by those early philosophers are now studied in the history of Western philosophy, but are no longer accepted uncritically as true. However, one of the on-going philosophical debates in ontology is whether one can defend the existence of a non-physical mind separate from the body and, therefore, likely to survive the body’s death. Textbooks in philosophy also usually include arguments for the existence of God, such as Saint Thomas’ “Five Ways.” Theosophical metaphysics, unlike some philosophical metaphysics, affirms the idea of the survival of the human personality after bodily death — as well as the existence of such non-physical entities as nature spirits (sometimes called “fairies”), angels, and gods (conceived as a hierarchy of superior beings rather than a single Being). The justification of that claim is usually based on paranormal perception (e.g., clairvoyance). However, the term “metaphysics” is also sometimes used in certain so-called “new age” literature in a quite different sense to include such things as astrology which philosophical metaphysicians and even some theosophists deny.

R.W.B.

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