• Metaphysics asks the question – ‘What is Reality?’
  • It examines the nature of existence; god; and whether we have free will
  • The meaning of life
  • What is the definition of a mind, a person, a soul
  • What is the nature/relationship of substance – the physical form  essence – the fundamental nature of the thing

Rationalism and Empiricism

  • Rationalism – the idea that the senses were not a valid means of gaining knowledge and that reason was the only way
  • Empiricism – the notion that sensory perception was the way to gain knowledge and only then could reason be applied to it to help develop ideas

The Pre-Socratics

  • The first Philosophers were eccentric Ancient Greeks from Miletus
  • They questioned the world around them because they did not accept the religious answers given to them.
  • Many believed that there must be a basic substance that everything comes from
  • Thales is said to be the first philosopher.  He deduced that everything was made of water – or that water was the basic substance of life

Parmenides of Elea (515 –450BCE)

  • He said that people can only rely on reason to discover permanent truths
  • Believed that the knowledge we get from our senses is “observer-relative” and therefore not worth believing in
  • Said -‘Nothing can come out of nothing’ and that everything that exists has always existed and nothing can no longer exist
  • He said that only the present time exists because when you talk about the past and future it is not real.  It’s only talk.
  • He believed that there is no such thing as change

Heraclitus (540 – 480 BCE)

  • He believed that everything was always in a state of change/ in constant flux
  • Said: “You can never step into the same river twice.”
  • The world is characterized by opposites.  He felt that ‘god’ was a ‘universal reason’ that characterized the opposite forces in the world – which would be similar to the Taoist religion in the far east
  • Although he was a rationalist, he did use his senses to show that things were in a state of change.
Aristotle: Biography & Works

Empedocles (490-430BCE)

  • He lived in the Greek colony of Sicily
  • He tried to reconcile the disagreements of Parmenides and Heraclitus
  • He disagreed with the idea of one element being the nature of all things
  • He speculated that everything is made up of all four elements and is ruled by the forces of love and strife (attraction and repulsion)
  • It is thought that he believed in the idea of the cycle of destruction and constructive reincarnation.

Socrates (470 – 399BCE)

  • Socrates was a charismatic guru in ancient Athens
  • He taught people to question the world around them
  • He always said that he knew nothing, which is why the Oracle at Delphi called him the “wisest man in Greece.”
  • He taught his students to argue about ideas using the dialectic method (The Socratic Method) whereby one would ask questions to test the validity of statements or ideas.
  • However, Socrates made enemies and was condemned to death for his beliefs.
  • Socrates changed the focus of philosophy to human morality and the soul and politics rather than the nature of the world

Plato (427 – 347BCE)

  • Was a student of Socrates
  • His philosophy was greatly affected by the death of Socrates, who was condemned to death by the democratic government of Athens.
  • He believed that democracy was flawed and people should be ruled by knowledgeable people who had the best interests of the state at heart.
  • He called his perfect rulers, Philosopher Kings
  • Believed in 2 worlds: the visible, imperfect world of senses (material world) and the invisible, perfect world of forms (innate ideas)
  • The world of forms is the truest reality and can be known because it is innate (it is already in the human mind at birth).  No one can see these forms but they claim to ‘know’ them (ie: the perfect rock concert, or slice of pizza).
  • These forms are used to judge all things in the material world (ie: chairs, trees, justice, beauty)
Analysis of The Allegory of the Cave by Plato
World of Senses World of Forms
Visible Invisible
Material Immaterial
Changing Unchanging
Particular Universal
Accessible through the Senses Accessible through reason
  • Saw that the material world changes constantly – therefore the material world can never be known and is less ‘real’ than the world of forms
  • Plato believed people go on an intellectual journey from dreaming and imagining, to believing, to thinking and finally to true knowing (Allegory of the Cave)
  • Dreams are only images and cannot be known, believing involves patterns and objects that are perceived but senses can be deceived.
  • Thinking allows people to move beyond the senses and make assumptions and thinking upward to make assumptions about the world allows a path to true knowledge.


  • Believed that things are made up of matter, which can be sensed, and the immaterial essence that cannot be sensed and that these things are bound together in the thing. (ex: body and soul)
  • He felt that the form of a thing is a natural part of it and that it was the job of the scientist (using their senses) to explore the form and its properties.
  • He believed that the essence of the thing had particular qualities that made the thing what it was.
  • Each thing has potentiality to be a certain thing but there are limitations – an egg can be a chicken but not a cow.  – Aristotle called this the Formal Cause – ‘a stone falls because it has falling properties – it is in its nature to fall’
  • Final Cause – All things have a purpose in nature – rains for plants to grow, plants grow to be eaten by animals an plants (which is a general religious connection)

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