The History of Meta-Physics, Part 1

This is my rough draft of an assignment for philosophy. I could have written about myself or connected the dots. I went for connecting the dots, because it helped me see things better. The central theme of this, philosophers from different ages sitting around fire talking about…well an answer to why.

Pretty sure I have a few things wrong, but that is the point of learning. More importantly, to me, I had fun writing this and wanted to share it with more than the professor.


History of the MetaPhysical World Part 1

Cue dawn. It is the dawn of enlightenment or at least the dawn of recorded enlightenment. Humankind looking for an explanation for…well everything, has a few heroes to thank for starting the process that will stretch on in today. I should know, I am in a class where we are still looking at their answers to their and our question, why?


In a clearing are two fires. Sitting around one are the pre-Socratics Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes or the Ionian Monists. Sitting between the two fires is the Dualist Heraclitus. Gathered around the second fire is Pythagoras and Democratus or the Phythagorians.

Thales holding a cup of ice water declares that water is the one essential thing. To demonstrate that water is the ONE, he points to the lake nearby, the water in his cup, the water in plants, and that when he takes his ice cube-frozen water-and places it next to the fire it changes to water and steam. See, he says, water describes the process of change, all things are full of water, and all things are full of the gods.

Anaximander holds up his hand and says to Thales, you are only experiencing what is in front of you. You have no idea about the totality of what is the universe. That finite amount of water that you see, was formed from the infinite; apeiron, literally the infinite universe.

Anaximenes roused by the discussion stands and gestures around him, air he says. Air is a god. Air is all around us. Air has different densities and properties that affect everything around us, thus air is the one element.

Fire, says Heraclitus from the edge of both fires, causing everyone to look at him. Everything is in flux and fire is a representation of that change. Even though you have a cup of water, you are not drinking the same water each time you take a sip. Just like stepping in a river, you are not stepping into the same river. See fire. Thales asks, “The physical fire?” Fire of the soul. There is a cosmic harmony through the tension of opposites; the physics and the logos. Material and idealistic fire creating harmony through the tension of change and opposition.

Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes shake their head, you could never get a straight answer out of Heraclitus. Air, Water, and even Apeiron these made sense. Over at the second fire Pythagoras drew triangles in the dirt with a stick. Numbers, he said. Numbers is the music of the universe. Numbers have answers and answers are where it is at. Looking around and pointing with his stick at each thing he could see, “shapes, geometric shapes is where truth lay. Not an element, but numbers.” Further, our souls are immortal.

Democratus looked up from the fire. That is true that the soul is immortal. The soul, like everything-waving around him-is constructed of tiny atoms. Atoms stay the same and everything is composed of them, from you to AIR and WATER he shouted over to the other fire, to the soul. I think that when we die that the atoms of our soul break apart, possibly to reform into another soul later.

Socratic Age

These men fade into history, but the fires do not go out, instead the two fires become one where we find Plato and Aristotle. This is the perfect fire, says Aristotle warming his hands. No, the form, the idea, of the fire is perfect, says Plato. This fire, Plato says pointing at the fire, is an imperfect copy of the Form of fire. The Form of fire is unchanging, perfect, and eternal. No matter how many fires you and I will ever sit around none of them will be as perfect as the Form of fire. That is the way of the universe, the Form of something will be perfect, ideal, and unchanging.

Platonic dualism is the answer; there are two “ingredients” to the universe, the immaterial or Forms and material. Aristotle knowing this will be a long speech settles back warming his feet by the imperfect fire. Of the two “ingredients,” the Forms are more important, this shall be called Platonic idealism. The ideal, the Form, is more important because as I have said before it is unchanging, perfect, and there can be no greater idea than the idea of something. This fire and every fire is a copy of the idea or Form of fire and the Form is more real. That log you are leaning against is not as perfect as the Form of tree.

Before you ask, methexis or participation is how the material and immaterial interact across the divided line. Aristotle shook his head. There is the Realm of Forms, Plato points over his head, and the Realm of the Material, pointing around him. The Realm of Forms causes the Realm of the Material and methexis is the process that a Form becomes material, crossing the divided line that separates Forms (ideas) from the Material (material).

Do you want to hear about the ladder of love, Plato asked Aristotle? Not really. There is a “ladder,” Aristotle began rather sarcastically, of beauty, which can be applied to all things, which starts at the bottom “rung” of imitations of real things such as that painting (why there was a painting on tree we will never know) of you. Then there is the next “rung,” you. You are real where the painting is a copy of you. Then there is the thought or concept of you, which is purer than the physical you, at least in a meta-physical way. Finally, there is the Form of you, the ultimate unchanging and perfect of version of you. Finished Aristotle sat up as Plato reclined.

Why do you have to have such a convoluted theory of the universe, Aristotle asked? Why can you not see that the Form is the thing and the thing is the Form or hylomorphism, they are connected. This fire is a fire and this log is a log.

It is my turn to speak my friend. I believe that there are Four Causes to everything. There is the material cause and the idea cause or the material of the thing and the idea of the thing. There is the efficient cause or that which causes the material and ideas to happen. The last cause is the final cause, the telos or purpose of the thing. This fire is a good example; the material is the wood and flames. The idea was the idea of creating a fire. The efficient cause was starting the fire with flint and steel and the final cause the telos of the fire, at this moment to warm us while we discuss the nature of the universe and to convert the wood to ash or charcoal. Later the telos of the fire will be to heat up my soup. Telos is important as everything and everyone has a telos, a purpose.

I have my Forms as the start, where the telos of the universe, asked Plato? The telos of the universe, began Aristotle, is thought. Pure thought thinking of itself. Further, the universe is made out of substances, and each substance has an essential essence. The essential essence of a thing is separate from another thing. Because of the essential essence, all substances are unique from other substances. Thus, this fire’s substance is different from another fire’s substance, but they share similar attributes-heat for example. To answer your question, where do all of these substances come from, the Prime Mover. The Prime Mover caused itself and causes all other substances. Think of the universe as a body and everything in it is a constituent part of that body.

Modern Meta

And with that Plato and Aristotle fade into history, but their ideas live on and are expanded upon or at least renamed. Huddled around the fire is Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz trying to answer the eternal question of why? However, they had the work of other philosophers to work with…

What do you think are the substances of the universe, Spinoza asked. Descartes cleared his throat, I believe there are two prime substances; mind and the body…well three prime substances when I include God, but God does not part of my dualistic theory. The mind and the body; res cognitans and res extensa. There are thinking things and extended things. Thinking separates us from everything else; I think, therefore I am. As a thinking being I can have doubts, I can affirm, I understand the world around me, I can deny, and I have imagination. Extended things are just things, such as this fire or that log. If, according to you, Spinoza started, there is the mind and the body, how do they interact, are they not separate?

Descartes thought for a moment and pointed to his head, the pineal gland is where the connection between mind and body occurs. The pineal gland bridges the metaphysical and the soul is like a driver sitting in the pineal gland. Does that make the soul a res extenia thing, asked Leibnitz? Epiphenomenism, Descartes responded, the mind is a by-product of the mind.

What about God, you did mention God? As you know, we are all born with innate ideas. God is one of those innate ideas. God, is also a substance. An infinite substance, as we are finite substances-we die-we could not be the creator of God, thus that is why God is a prime substance, but separate from the mind and the body.

Bah! Spinoza interrupted. There is no need to explain everything. I have no problem with infinite regress, that there is no definable beginning. I do not need to find a starting point; I am not looking for a final explanation for everything because I can see that there are innumerable explanations.

I agree there are substances and each substance has attributes or modes that give shape to the substance, an adjective to the noun if you will. Some substances are caused by other substances and some substances cause themselves. Further, God is a substance. I have a pantheistic view, God is nature; nature is the universe, thus God is everything. As for you mind and body, those are attributes of God. There is no free will. As free will is an attribute of God. The best you can hope for is a quiet appreciation of your lack of free will.

That is some dark thinking Spinoza, Leibnitz said. Monads are where it is at. Monads form the bulk of the universe; there is the Unmoved Monad, soul monads, and monads. A monad is a simple substance with no moving parts that make composite substances. Simple substance exist because there are composite substances, things that can be broken or divided into smaller substances.

Monads have attributes and they are no two monads are alike; there is no interaction between monads, eternal, immaterial, and alive. The Unmoved Monad, the first monad that created itself, created all monads. Each monad has an entelechy or that which is necessary for the monad to become. A monad is similar to Plato’s Forms in that monads are an idea or expression of an idea. Monads are alive like energy and have different degrees of perception. Some monads can only perceive the monad next to them and some can perceive farther away, but only the Unmoved Monad can perceive all of the monads.

If monads are simple substances that do not interact, how do they form composite substances, asked Descartes? They do not interact, responded Leibnitz, the Unmoved Monad gave each of the monads entelechy and through pre-established harmony have what they need to become what they will be. In other words, monads create composite monads because the Unmoved Monad gave that ability.

How do you explain the mind and body, Descartes asked? They walk together, responded Leibnitz, and they do not interact. What said both Descartes and Spinoza? You have monads of your body and you have soul monads, they walk together. Look at it like this, the Unmoved Monad or God made everything. The Unmoved Monad knows what you will do and what you could do. The Unmoved Monad gave you entelechy or the ability to become. Soul monads allow you to choose what you will do. However, the Unmoved Monad knew you would do this and allows this to happen in the best possible way.

A few moments of silence…

I doubt I exist, Descartes said aloud. What, Spinoza and Leibnitz asked? I am trying to prove that I do not exist, but in trying to prove that I do not exist, I have proven that I exist.

In the End Before the Exam…

Each of the philosophers had an idea of how the universe worked. Starting with the pre-Socratics each philosopher built upon another coming up with their own explanations or borrowing concepts to help explain how it all works.

It should noted that most of these philosophers never met each other, but I needed something fun to do, thus they all gather around fire and talk.


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