Themes of Metaphysics
We're going to take a break now from Epistemology, and go into Metaphysics a little. Some of the issues in Epistemology are so dependent on Metaphysics, it's important to get some of the background information. In this thread, I just want to talk about Metaphysics in general. What are the key issues? What kind of answers are we looking for?
One initial question you could ask is whether anything actually exists or not? Is the world around us real, or is it just in our heads? And do we even have heads?
Before you can really discuss that, you have to know what it means to "exist" or not. What is the nature of existence? What does it mean to exist? What does saying something exist mean? What does something exist as? This is one of the most fundamental ideas in Metaphysics. This is theme number one. We're concerned with the nature of existence itself. Remember that we're not trying to prove that reality exists. Proof requires some standard of judgment, and without reality, it would be impossible. Instead, we're trying to identify and explain reality, in the widest sense.
Another important theme is the relationship between our minds and reality. What is consciousness? How does it relate to reality? One view is that reality exists independent of our consciousness, and we're merely aware of it. The other view is that reality is a product of our minds. In other words, there's nothing out there, we just imagine there is.
This is not an epistemological issue, even though it deals with our minds and the connection to reality. There is an epistemological believe that we are not connected to reality, or we are through a broken medium (our senses are flawed). But that still accepts reality as being something that exists external to our minds. Those who believe otherwise reject the very existence of that reality. So the question isn't how we gain knowledge of reality. Instead we ask the more basic question of whether there's a reality to gain knowledge of.
Related to these first two themes is the question of what way does consciousness exist? Even if you say the external world doesn't exist, or is a figment of your imagination, does that mean your imagination exists? Does your consciousness exist? And in what way?
There are some other metaphysical questions. For instance, what's the nature of change. We see things change all of the time. How is it possible? What kind of existence allows change? Does change itself follow rules? And if so, what rules? Is it related to causality?
These are the basic issues of Metaphysics. We're concerned not with how we gain knowledge, or what we do with the knowledge, but with the very basic question of "what is?". We also have to be wary of going beyond the scope of philosophy. Some philosophers tried deducing the shape of the solar system, the atomic structure of the elements, and more from the comfort of their arm chair. We're dealing with the most basic issues. The fundamental premises by which everything else is built. The premises that give us the ability to analyze further information.
More specifics to come.