Metaphysics is the study of reality and the nature or character of it. This branch of philosophy deals primarily with what is real. This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. However, different people answer this question in different ways based on what they believe about the nature of reality and how we come to know it.
There are at least four sub-branches of metaphysics that attempt to address the question of the nature of reality. These four branches are…
We will look at each of these and then try to examine how metaphysics manifest itself in education.
Cosmology deals with the origins of the universe. The main views of the origins of the universe can be seen as a continuum from the universe was created or design by God or the other extreme that everything about the universe has happened by accident as is commonly viewed by evolution. A middle ground along this continuum would be theistic evolution, which states that a divine being used evolution to create the world.
The beliefs an individual has about cosmology affects other aspects of their life, education, and how they interpret what they experience. For example, an atheist scientist see nature and is awed by the random movement of natural selection to create such beauty. However, a theist would see the same evidence in nature and be led to the conclusion that God has created a beautiful climate. When these two sides meet they cannot agree because they have different assumptions or beliefs about origins and interpret what they see based on these beliefs.
Ontology is the study of existence. This is probably one of the harder positions to understand. However, ontology deals with such ideas as whether reality is physical or spiritual, or a combination of the two. In addition, Ontology addresses whether reality is orderly and stable.
People’s beliefs about being can impact how the approach life. If there is nothing there is no reason to care or do anything. However, if there is something beyond this life and life was created with purpose this will alter a person’s behavior as they consider how they may be held accountable for their actions.
Anthropology is the study of man. Some questions that anthropology focuses on in particular is the relationship between the mind and the body. Is it the mind or the body the primary agent of behavior. Other questions include examining whether people or good or evil or morally neutral. Lastly, anthropology addresses the question of the freedom people have. Do people have choice or is their behavior determined by their environment?
The nature vs nurture argument is an old argument about the condition of man. The ultimate question is who is responsible for the actions that people take. The answer to this question evolves around views of the will.
Theology is the study of the nature of God and plays a profound role at least indirectly in all philosophy. Atheist strongly believe there is no God. As such, the support primarily science as a way of understanding reality. Theists believe there is a God or gods and this natural affects how they view realty.
Even among theists there is disagreement over how many gods there are. Polytheists believe in many gods while monotheists believe in one God. Pantheists believe god(s) is in everything and that they are gods. The position a person has on God can change how they view the world. Monotheists often believe in having a relationship with one God in order to prepare for the reality of death in this life and the promise of living forever. Polytheists tend to have a contractual quid pro quo relationship with many different gods in order to do better in this world now and smooth the transition to living another life via some form of reincarnation.
Metaphysics and Education
Metaphysics manifest itself in many ways in education. In terms of cosmology and theology, most schools support the idea that the world came about by chance and that life evolved from almost nothing billions of years ago. This is related to theology in that most schools doubt the existence of God being openly atheistic in nature or may at most be agnostic in nature. In a non-Western context, gods or polytheism is acknowledged and accepted in everyday life but traditional science and atheistic origins of the universe are generally taught in school. This can lead to a dual world view at times.
In terms of ontology and anthropology, the views on ontology vary by culture in education. In the West, the spiritual aspect of man is not acknowledged in education due in part to the focus on science. However, this is beginning to change with the emphasis on mindfulness and meditation in public education. In the East, there is a more open view towards the spiritual nature of man.
In terms of education, students are generally taught that man is inherently good but may be corrupted by his environment and culture. In the East, education teaches that man is good by nature but may make mistakes. Culture is rarely criticized in eastern education.
Metaphysics is a difficult concept to try to address and understand. The important thing to remember is that metaphysics deals with the question of what is reality and that different people answer this question i different ways. How people answer these questions depends in part on their beliefs about cosmology, ontology, anthropology, and theology.