Metaphysics and Natural Philosophy

Metaphysics has nothing to do with metaphysical phenomena. Aristotle calls it “first philosophy.” Physics and all other sciences dealing with nature are called “second philosophy” by him. The term “metaphysics” was introduced at a later time, but is factually valid. The subject matter of metaphysics is the question on the immaterial nature of things: what exactly is the nature of things and how can it be discovered? The specific way of being of living things and, above all, man’s self-awareness generate the differentiation between essential and non-essential qualities (substance/ accidental qualities) as well as to the following question of how the identity of a particular nature must be conceptualized in the light of its possibilities of being actualized. The necessity of having to differentiate between active forms (nature/soul) and potential matter (nature/body) in all materially actualized things finally becomes an argument for God’s existence (pure reality). Without his being absolute reality it would not be possible for things of limited reality to exist. The necessity of the concluding idea of God brings about the “setting in life,” which also justifies Plato’s and Aristotle’s existential interest in questions on metaphysics.


Metaphysics as the “first philosophy” inquires after the causes of real things without being restricted from the outset, while physics as the “second science” is restricted to the explanation of material processes and its qualities. However, if neither the nature nor the non-material principles of being existed, physics would be the “first philosophy.” From the point of view of ancient and modern physicalism, the basic facts of living things and of human self-awareness (growth—perception—insight—will or, to be precise, body—soul—spirit) are a mere subjective appearance (epiphenomena) on the basis of objective material processes. This assumption is further supported by a material conception of evolution trying to explain that which comes second (life—awareness—spirit) through the qualities of that which comes first (matter).


This illustrates why metaphysics must not avoid dealing with the premisses of and the claim for an explanation of a reductive-materialistic natural philosophy. Criticism of science as criticism of metaphysics (in Kant’s tradition) cannot dispose of the conflict by restricting the claim for knowledge to how things appear. Similarly, philosophical hermeneutics (in the tradition of Hans Georg Gadamer) is not capable of avoiding the conflict on the true nature of things by claiming the impossibility of getting beyond a world interpreted as language.

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About Pieper:

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Münster/Germany; he was a member of several academies and received numerous awards and distinctions, among them the International Balzan Prize for outstanding achievements in the field of humanities. [more...]


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Philosophical studies are among the main institutional focuses of the Faculty of Theology in Paderborn in cooperation with the University of Paderborn. [more...]