Introduction to Metaphysics

Taken from Martin O. Vaske, S.J.

A philosopher, according to the etymology of the term, is a lover of wisdom. The study of philosophy springs from man's natural love for knowledge.[1] It is an intellectual endeavor through the natural light of unaided reason[2] to attain an ever-deeper understanding of reality.

One does not learn philosophy once and for all as one learns the multiplication table. Rather, philosophy is the kind of knowledge in which one's progress is marked by a more and more profound grasp of the real. One does not encompass the intelligible splendors of being in a single gaze. There are always greater riches to be discovered by the sincere seeker after wisdom in the realities that confront him on all sides. And, we may add, these riches are the riches of the mind, apart from any practical use to which this knowledge may be ordered.

Throughout our study of philosophy, it is important to remember that the philosophical enterprise differs from other approaches to reality. Philosophy is not a science in the narrow, modern sense of the term; it is not a mathematicized expression of the sensible, measurable aspects of material being. Nor, on the other hand, is it poetry or art. Rather, it is a distinct kind of knowledge and as such has its distinctive method. Moreover, it is learned in a distinctive way. One cannot memorize philosophy. It can only be understood; and understanding, or insight, ordinarily comes only after prolonged pondering, extensive reading, and lively discussion.

Although philosophy is usually divided into various "courses" for pedagogical reasons, nevertheless it is a whole, a unified knowledge, and its various parts are interdependent. In this particular course, we shall be concerned with philosophy in the basic sense of the term, that is, with the philosophy of being, or metaphysics, as it is more commonly called. Of the edifice of philosophical knowledge which we are about to erect, metaphysics is the foundation on which everything else rests. This foundation, moreover, is not laid once and for all. Rather, it must be strengthened and deepened as the edifice grows taller.

Progress in philosophy however is organic rather than structural. If growth in philosophical knowledge is compared to the growth of a tree, then metaphysics is the root system and trunk. As various branches grow, the trunk must become stronger and the root system deeper. One simply cannot make progress in philosophical wisdom without an ever-deeper understanding of metaphysics.

Many things are learned simply by doing. Little boys, for example, are sometimes taught to swim by throwing them into the water and letting them thrash about a bit. We shall do something similar to the student beginning the study of metaphysics. We shall … hurl the student at once into the metaphysical swim.

- taken from the Preface of An Introduction to Metaphysics, Martin O. Vaske, S.J.

1) "All men by nature desire to know" (Aristotle, Metaphylsics, I, I, 980*)
2) Sacred doctrine, or "theology," makes use of the supernatural light of Revelation as well as the natural light of reason.