Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of reality, being, and existence. It often involves abstract concepts and principles that transcend the empirical and observable world.

However, does metaphysics presuppose that there is a universal or objective reality that is independent of our subjective perceptions and interpretations ? Does metaphysics presuppose universality?

  • Since, "Is everything objective?" is already a metaphysical question, one might say that metaphysics presupposes the general possibility of universal objectivity, but whether it goes on to undermine this presupposition is then a matter of developing its apprehension of its own possibilities. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 5:28
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    Knowledge presupposes an universality. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 6:53
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Why is that? Isn't, e.g., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wigner%27s_friend, where "... the resulting statements of the two observers contradict each other", sort of (if maybe not exactly) a counterexample? Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 8:40
  • @JohnForkosh - maybe QM is not the "true" theory of reality... And if there is not a "reality" out there, what is QM about? Only about "consciousness" ? If so, consciousness is the "universality" (whatever it means...) Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 8:44
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    @MauroALLEGRANZA Sure, especially the "whatever it means" part:). If pressed, I'd speculate that "reality" beyond consciousness might more closely correspond to classical physics, where the consciousnesses of all observers agree on the outcomes of all measurements. So the "world" comprised of those outcomes is an "objective reality" (...whatever it means). And while QM may or may not be the "true" theory, something goofy is definitely going on at that level, in that regime, of observation. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 8:52

2 Answers 2


You have not been aggressive enough in trying to think thru what methaphysics is.

The two main sub-aspects of metaphysics are: ontology -- what there is, and epistemology -- how to know things.

I like to start thinking about philosphy by examples, and than applying Socratic quesstioning of assumptions to those examples. Rather than starting with a "theory" of metaphysics, lets start with the dominant metaphysical belief of the plurality of philosophers today, and by spelling out questions about those beliefs, we can try to get a feel for the "what it is" and "how to do it" of metaphysics.

In a simplified summary, a plurality of philosophers today are physicalists, who hold that there is one type of thing in the universe -- matter, or at least the "physics substance" that produces matter. The relation of space and time to that substance is -- in dispute, with a many holding that space and time are properties of that substance, but others questioning that. The majority of physicalists presume we have a self, and that self has experiences, from which we can build up a model of the world of physics thru indirect realism, using deductive reasoning of classical logic, and testing of that reasoning through experiential observations by our self, or other selves who can share their own results.

Many key aspects of this metaphysics were not developed consciously, or rationally, but rather were unconscious insights that we discovered in our infancy and toddlerhood. The assumption of "object permanence" a key developmental stage of infants, intrinsically leads to a belief in inferential realism of the world. We also develop a self-identity in infancy, then extend this to others with the insight of "theory of mind" in early toddlerhood. But note how these insights were adopted -- as pragmatic tools to better understand our world and experiences. This is not abstract thinking, but instead pragmatic efforts to process empiricism.

Philosophers did not then create the metaphysics of "physicalism" thru abstract thinking, but by trying to refine and achieve coherence to our toddlerhood thinking. Most toddlers are dualists from an early age, which is a more complex ontology than physicalism. Physicalist thinking seeks to derive a simpler ontology, and explain consciousness and awareness as aspects of physics. The empiricism I noted is a methodological naturalism, which physicalists tend to trust far more than abstract reasoning about the universe. We humans tend to think that aspects of our universe can be understood from first principles (rationalism), but most physicalists consider empiricism and methodological naturalism far more useful and more generally applicable.

However, none of the assumptions I outlined are universally accepted by philosophers, and all of them are under debate in the philosophic community.

There are multiple other ontologies that philosophers have held by that challenge this physicalist model. Dualism is the most common -- that there is both mind-stuff and matter-stuff in the universe, not just one kind of stuff. But there are others as well -- both mind-idealism, that everything fundamentally is mind-stuff, and abstraction idealism -- that everything is, fundamentally, abstract ideas. Plato's idealism -- his "cave and shadows on the wall" metaphor, holds that what is "real" are perfect ideals of "human", "chair", etc, and our world is just filled with derivative flawed copies of these ideals. Another abstract idealism is that everything is just math, and math somehow generates our world (this was held by the Pythagoreans, in ancient times, and is being revived today by some theoretical physicists). There are also monists who hold that there is some "neutral" substance that has both matter and mind properties, and that the appearance of two types of properties leads to a mistaken division of the world into two types of things -- this neutral monism view is common among the recent crop of pan-psychist philosophers.

None of these views are based soley on abstract reasoning -- all are based on trying to make sense of or world, which is an intrinsically both rational and empirical process.

Lets examine some of the other disputes in metaphysics -- to see how the dispute plays out. Lets take selfhood. I listed selfhood as a presumption of the common physicalist worldview, but this is not universal among physicalists. David Hume, by introspection, decided he could not nail down conceptually or definitionally what a "self" was, and so decided he had no self, just a fleeting collection of often unrelated thoughts and perceptions. Other physicalists have also attacked selfhood. The eliminative materialists take the process of reduction -- understanding something means reducing it to its fundamental substrate -- to its logical extreme, and declare that nothing built of matter is real, just the fundamental matter itself. This is called "scientific realism", and it involves declaring that humans, selves, chairs, etc. are basically not "real". The Delusionist school of philosophers do not go this far, but they DO hold that the existence and agency of mind cannot be true under physicalism, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that our belief in selfhood and mind is just an accidental and spurious artifact of our unconscious brains building an internal self-model in order to keep track of what we are doing in the world.

Buddhists ALSO question selfhood, but from an idealist POV. They too cite the inability to nail down a self by introspection similar to Hume. But note that experiences hosted by self are what we have used to infer everything about the world, and if we question self, we should question our experiences, and the inference to the world, too. The ultimate nature of the world, per the Buddha, is that of just an isolated self dreaming the world, which is all delusion (maya).

Note that selfhood is not the only assumption that is challenged by philosophers, others challenge the notion of absolute reductionism to achieve knowledge. The pure reductionism of scientific realism, and of the eliminative reductionists relative to self, has been questioned by other scientists and philosophers. Most have settled on a concept called emergence working in our world -- that new phenomena and structures develop from basic matter, and these emergent structures, or tiers of reality, are real too. In science terms, this would, for instance, be to hold that things like species, ecosystems, ecological niches, and genetic drift, or norms, societies, communities, and patterns of behavior are all real things, and can be studied as real phenomena. This is the majority view among physicalists, and it makes physicalism a much more complex view, with at least the plausibility of consciousness and selves real and emergent phenomena from physics.

Emergence is also a majority view among idealists, most of whom disagree with the Buddha and actually accept that there is a physical world too, and that it is emergent from either ideas, or minds.

Two other major challenges among philosophers include challenging realism -- and challenging substance. The anti-realists hold that our models of a world "out there" are all that we really know exist, and given how our models change all the time, inferring reality based on them is -- unnecessary and misleading. IE, just treat modeling as a virtual process that has utility. The anti-substance thinkers follow Whitehead in noting that what really matters in our models of the world is RELATIONS between things, and the processes by which they change, not the things themselves. Whitehead initiated a "process-philosophy" movement that holds that science should focus on relations and processes, not "substance" and substance thinking fails to account for our actual world.

A final challenge is to reasoning itself. Logicians have in the last several decades, realized that there is not "one true logic" but rather an infinity of logics. What this means to our ability to understand the world, or even build a coherent metaphysics, has not yet been worked out.

I hope this summary helps. We need to make metaphysical assumptions to build up any kind of thinking about ourselves and/or the world. This includes assumptions about "what is" and "how and what we know". And philosophers dispute each others assumptions using both empiricism and reasoning. My short list of competing metaphysical assumptions can be dramatically expanded if you delve deeper into philosophy.

Whether these assumptions include "universality" or not -- is up to the individual philosophers. Most assumptions sets presume universality to at least some degree. Universal reductionism, universal emergentism, universal monism, and "One true logic" all tend to embed universality into themselves. But building a worldview off logical pluralism, multiple emergentist tiers, and accepting both substance AND processes as real, for instance, is at least a possibility.


Not necessarily.

What is "beyond the physical" essentially refers to what's rational, what raises internally, in opposition to what's empirical, what raises by means of the senses. The realm of the rational is essentially subjective and biased, not universal and absolute. Perhaps what is physical could imply an absolute reality, but what is metaphysical normally not. Even God has different representations for everyone (or else, we would all believe in God, and we would all know the same God-object).

Perhaps what you see as red I see it as your green, but I also call that red. There's no possibility of universality on the metaphysical realm.

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