Introduction to Metaphysics

Introduction to Metaphysics: From Parmenides to Levinas

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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    Introduction to Metaphysics
    Book Description:

    Jean Grondin completes the first history of metaphysics and respects both the analytical and the Continental schools while transcending the theoretical limitations of each. He reviews seminal texts by Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Augustine. He follows the theological turn in the metaphysical thought of Avicenna, Anselm, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus, and he revisits Descartes and the cogito; Spinoza and Leibniz's rationalist approaches; Kant's reclaiming of the metaphysical tradition; and post-Kantian practice up to Hegel. He engages with twentieth century innovations that upended the discipline, particularly Heidegger's revival of the question of Being and the rediscovery of the metaphysics of existence by Sartre and the Existentialists, language by Gadamer and Derrida, and transcendence by Levinas. Metaphysics is often dismissed as a form or epoch of philosophy that must be overcome, yet by promoting a full understanding of its platform and processes, Grondin reveals its cogent approach to reality and foundational influence on modern philosophy and science. By restoring the value of metaphysics for contemporary audiences, Grondin showcases the rich currents and countercurrents of metaphysical thought and its future possibilities.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52723-1
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-xiv)
  3. PREFACE (pp. xv-xviii)
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. xix-xxviii)

    “Metaphysics” has today lost much of its former luster. The term is often only understood in a pejorative sense, of which there are two varieties. In the first instance, “metaphysical” is used to describe empty reflections having little to do with the concrete facts of life. Metaphysical here is synonymous with the abstract, nebulous, or abstruse. Although this is a quite common understanding of metaphysics, and of philosophy as well, it has no place in this book, which will never discuss abstruse, obscure, or useless things. On the contrary, it will deal with the best of our metaphysical heritage and...

  5. CHAPTER 1 PARMENIDES: The Evidence of Being (pp. 1-20)

    Just as we usually know very little about beginnings, we know very little about the beginning of the thought of Being. Since what we know about something is always based on its relation to something else, a point of departure or a previously known principle, what follows thereafter appears as its consequence. So how are we to understand the beginning itself ? It is with this perplexity, which need not be dispelled, that we encounter Parmenides’ Poem. Since it is easier to understand what follows from it, the beginning itself remains unprecedented and consequently unexplainable. As we shall see, Parmenides...

  6. CHAPTER 2 PLATO: The Hypothesis of the Idea (pp. 21-45)

    Having found our way through the Presocratic fragments and deconstructed the imperceptible layers of doxography under which they are buried, we are tempted to sigh with relief as we turn to Plato’s writings and say: finally real texts! And, moreover, what magnificent texts! Plato’s dialogues are indeed among the crowning achievements of philosophical thought and world literature.

    In fact, Plato is the first, and only, major philosopher of antiquity whose texts have been transmitted to us in their virtual entirety. We have all his most important texts, the Republic, the Phaedrus, the Phaedo, the Symposium, the Sophist, the Timaeus, to ...

  7. CHAPTER 3 ARISTOTLE The Horizons of First Philosophy (pp. 46-66)

    It is well known that Aristotle never used the word “metaphysics” as a title or a philosophical term. In fact, the term metaphysikè (and its derivatives) never appears in Greek literature, with Simplicius’s use of the term in the sixth century CE being the notable exception.¹ But as we have already seen, during the first century BCE, Andronicus of Rhodes used the expression meta ta phusika as a title for a collection of fourteen small works, which he inserted “after the writings on physics.” This has led some to say that the term “metaphysics,” or rather meta ta phusika, came...

  8. CHAPTEr 4 THE LAST SUMMIT OF CLASSICAL METAPHYSICS The Neoplatonic Eruption (pp. 67-79)

    Although they never practiced metaphysics in the modern sense of the term, Plato and Aristotle do nevertheless embody the summits of metaphysical thought. They were obviously oblivious to the term itself–it did not appear until the twelfth century–and when they spoke of the Ideas, of the Good, of Being as Being, and of the Prime Mover, their intention was not to inaugurate a new discipline. The idea that human thought must seek its ultimate principles and the foremost of all beings was simply a function of the natural way to wisdom. Nevertheless, Plato and Aristotle did invent the...


    According to common belief, the Middles Ages were the golden age of metaphysics. Medieval philosophers were united by a common and uncontested “theology” that posited God as the first principle from which all beings are derived. The entire medieval period would thus have been an incessant scholastic reiteration of the onto-theology of Metaphysics E, 1, which Augustine had supposedly consolidated. But this view overlooks the fact that Augustine owed much more to Neoplatonism, which was less readily accessible during the medieval period. Moreover, it also holds that Modernity overturned this metaphysics by showing that human reason can know nothing outside...

  10. CHAPTER 6 DESCARTES First Philosophy According to the Cogito (pp. 107-121)

    Did René Descartes (1596–1650) ever address the classical problems of metaphysics? Did he ever inquire into metaphysics’ subjectum or ponder the Aristotelian, Avicennian, Scotistic question of Being as Being? The short answer is no. There are no systematic reflections from him on the object of metaphysics or on the problem of Being that had preoccupied Antiquity and the Aristotelian Middle Ages. Nor does Descartes use the term “ontology” even though it had appeared in Goclenius’s Lexicon philosophicum in 1613,¹ and was used by some of his students—notably by Clauberg in 1647—thus during Descartes lifetime.² Neither metaphysics nor...

  11. CHAPTER 7 SPINOZA AND LEIBNIZ The Metaphysics of Simplicity and Integral Rationality (pp. 122-130)

    Cartesian metaphysics spread with unprecedented speed throughout Europe. Although it did contribute to the extraordinary growth of metaphysical thought, “modern rationalism,” as it is often albeit somewhat imprecisely called, is today justly considered an affront to School metaphysics. One of its first and most brilliant commentators was the philosophical outsider par excellence, Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677), who wrote some ten years after Descartes’s death. A Jew of Portuguese descent living in Amsterdam, Spinoza was excommunicated by his synagogue in 1656 for criticizing the superstition he discerned in his religion. As is testified to by his iconoclast Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, he...

  12. CHAPTER 8 KANT: Metaphysics Turned Critical (pp. 131-152)

    The question whether metaphysics is possible looms over the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). Although he is reputed to be the gravedigger of metaphysics—and he did certainly bury traditional metaphysics, which he identified with Wolff and Baumgarten’s School metaphysics in which he was trained–nobody spoke so much about metaphysics nor pondered its failings, its promise, and its future as did Kant. In fact, from the beginning to the end of his career, Kant is probably the author who used the term “metaphysics” the most in the titles of his works. Beginning with his habilitation thesis of 1755,...


    Kant began by asking whether metaphysics was possible as science. By lowering reason to the level of experience, Kant’s contemporaries saw him as the annihilator of metaphysics. Moses Mendelssohn exemplifies the period’s sentiment when he spoke in 1785 of the alleszermalmenden Kant, the philosopher who destroys everything. Heinrich Heine later said that Kant was metaphysics’ Robespierre! In fact, the Critique of Pure Reason was published the same year as Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro and eight years before the French Revolution. His iconoclast attitude towards the metaphysical tradition was obviously in keeping with the spirit of the times. Indeed, Kant...

  14. CHAPTER 10 HEIDEGGER The Resurrection of the Question of Being in the Name of Overcoming Metaphysics (pp. 201-224)

    Contemporary reflections on the revival, current importance and, paradoxically, the end of metaphysics owe much, if not everything, to the thought of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger is responsible for promoting the cause of metaphysics in the twentieth century because his essential project, begun in Sein und Zeit and carried on in the rest of his massive oeuvre, worked to revive the fundamental question of metaphysics: the question of Being. “This question had today been forgotten,” proclaims the first line of Being and Time. But in order to revive the question, Heidegger says one must first perform a destruction of the history...


    We asked ourselves earlier whether metaphysics had survived Kant and his critique. As far as Heidegger is concerned, the question need not be asked: His work unmistakably contributed to reopening the question of metaphysics. Whereas Kant essentially claimed that metaphysics belonged to the past and only the critical path remained open, Heidegger stated that although metaphysics is indeed part of our past, it also continues to influence the present in an important way.¹ Even the essence of modern utilitarianism and the essence of modern technology have metaphysical roots.

    Like Kant, Heidegger sought to open the way for “another” way of...

  16. CONCLUSION (pp. 247-256)

    The critics of metaphysics are certainly right on one thing: It has constituted, albeit discretely, the guiding thread of the entire Western tradition. The question is whether it really has to be jettisoned and why that would need to be the case. As this book has argued, there are, to begin with, many forms of metaphysics. The metaphysics one rejects is more often than not just one possibility amongst many and is always taken to task in the name of some other type of metaphysics. Plato is held to be the founder of metaphysics, with very good reasons, yet his...

  17. ABBREVIATIONS (pp. 257-258)
  18. NOTES (pp. 259-316)
  19. FURTHER READING (pp. 317-324)


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