Metaphysics is the philosophical study whose object is to determine the real nature of thingsto determine the meaning, structure, and principles of whatever is insofar as it is. Although this study is popularly conceived as referring to anything excessively subtle and highly theoretical and although it has been subjected to many criticisms, it is presented by metaphysicians as the most fundamental and most comprehensive of inquiries, inasmuch as it is concerned with reality as a whole.
It is the heart of philosophy rooted in the ancient Greeks, especially Plato and Aristotle, whose insights made their way in to Catholic Church through men like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
The background to Aristotle’s divisions is to be found in the thought of Plato, with whom Aristotle had many disagreements but whose basic ideas provided a framework within which much of his own thinking was conducted. Plato, following the early Greek philosopher Parmenides, who is known as the father of metaphysics, had sought to distinguish opinion, or belief, from knowledge and to assign distinct objects to each. Opinion, for Plato, was a form of apprehension that was shifting and unclear, similar to seeing things in a dream or only through their shadows; its objects were correspondingly unstable. Knowledge, by contrast, was wholly lucid; it carried its own guarantee against error, and the objects with which it was concerned were eternally what they were, and so were exempt from change and the deceptive power to appear to be what they were not. Plato called the objects of opinion phenomena, or appearances; he referred to the objects of knowledge as noumena (objects of the intelligence) or quite simply as realities. Much of the burden of his
philosophical message was to call men’s attentions to these contrasts and to impress them with the necessity to turn away from concern with mere phenomena to the investigation of true reality. The education of the Platonic philosopher consisted precisely in effecting this transition: he was taught to recognize the contradictions involved in appearances and to fix his gaze on the realities that lay behind them, the realities that Plato himself called Forms, or Ideas. Philosophy for Plato was thus a
call to recognize the existence and overwhelming importance of a set of higher realities that ordinary men–even those, like the Sophists of the time, who professed to be enlightened–entirely ignored. That there were such realities, or at least that there was a serious case for thinking that there were, was a fundamental tenet in the discipline that later became known as metaphysics. Conversely, much of the subsequent controversy about the very possibility of metaphysics has turned on the
acceptability of this tenet and on whether, if it is rejected, some alternative foundation can be discovered on which the metaphysician can stand.
It was Thomas who was triumphant in giving the definitive form. For this was the foundation that was used by the church for many centuries since its establishment and shpaed to be an instrument of theological exploration. It is a living tradition of philosophical wisdom which we can become a part of today.
Based on the teachings of Dr. Vasco, I was given an insight at the very heart of Aquinass metaphysics. Thomass metaphysical principles are based on two central principles: essence and existence. And it is the realtionship between them that is the key to the thought of St. Thomas.
The nature around us posses the unseen life force which I understand to be essence. It is what the thing is, or I could say the identity as such. It is its Whatness.
The existence pertains to the life of the physical plain, refering also to the thatness of things in the sense of the very fact they exist, or isness of things. Both of which are grasp in our experience.
An essence, or a what, is a certain capacity for existence. Different essences or whats are partial reflections or refractions of what it mans to exist, to be, just like different colors of the rainbow are partial reflections of sunlight.
This is the heart of the metaphysics of St. Thomas in one simple lesson, but its simplicity comes from the depth, and we need to penetrate into that depth by meditating on the realtionship between essence and existence if we are to grasp what it truly means. With regards to existence, it is better to say that existence is the “isness” rather than “thatness” of beings.