That's the whole question.

Per the Stack Exchange -> Philosophy -> Metaphysics Tag Page

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the essence of things, of the fundamental nature of being and the world and the principles that organize the universe. Metaphysics is supposed to answer the question "What is the nature of reality?"

Since it is impossible to answer the question that is not asked... I thought the question best exist, since it "should be answered".

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    See Metaphysics Feb 21 at 14:34
  • There are different points of view: reality is made of: (i) individuals, (ii) facts, (iii) processes. In addition to individuals, another aspect regards universal (abstracts): are they also part of reality? And then uncreated substance (God) in addition to "created" ones: individuals. Feb 21 at 14:41
  • Thx for fixing tag. My keyboard decided to stop working while I was composing the question. (Am using my spare kb now). Tagging it "Metaphysics" was my intent. Feb 21 at 14:41
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    You are welcome :-) The "u" tag was quite uninformative... Feb 21 at 14:43
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    While I've added my vote to reopen (and a +1) do note your question is too short and too meta — if the central n sole question is on a tag it belongs to meta. If there is a philosophy question hiding underneath, you need to articulate it
    – Rushi
    Feb 22 at 3:56

7 Answers 7


The issue here is not that there is no answer, but that there are many, incompatible answers. This is one of the core questions that tends to define a particular philosophical outlook and commitments. At best, we can give a general survey of some of the major answers:

  • Plato - Reality exists in a realm of pure ideas. (What we normally experience as reality is a degraded copy of that.)
  • Hume - Reality is what we experience through our senses.
  • Zoroaster - Reality is a battlefield between Good and Evil.
  • Bostrom - Reality is a cosmic computer running our world as a simulation.
  • Descartes - Reality is what we apprehend through the light of reason.
  • Kant - Reality divides into the knowable and the unknowable.

Not every philosopher considers metaphysical issues, but those that do are certain to have contrasting answers.

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    ...there is no complete answer. Feb 21 at 18:53
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    Splendid answer. Silly to close this question
    – Rushi
    Feb 22 at 2:28

Metaphysics is supposed to answer the question "What is the nature of reality?"

Reality is by definition all that there is, so nature is part of it presuming it exists, if so then there cannot be a nature of reality.

Maybe what is meant is what sort of thing reality is but once we think of reality as everything which exists, and we admit that we don't know everything which exists, we implicitly accept that we don't know what reality is beyond our definition of it as all that there is.

Understanding a thing seems to consist entirely in explaining it in terms of something else. We explain natural elements in terms of atoms, atoms in terms of protons and electrons etc. However, reality is by our own definition all that there is, so there is nothing outside reality, and therefore nothing we could explain reality with.

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    You might be somewhat mixing together "nature" as in "tendency/property/characteristic" with the other "nature" which is plants and wildlife, things that grow and live and reproduce". The metaphysical question, uses "nature" in the first meaning. The hope is to explain the second type of "nature". But the metaphysical "nature"... means the "properties and characteristics" type. Feb 21 at 17:49
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    Exploiting the polysemy around the word nature that@AlistairRiddoch talks of is silly. To see that just translate your answer into a language where 'nature' is not used in these multiple manners. OTOH the point of understanding x in terms of y being impossible for reality is really superb. One really needs to stand apart — a doctor needs to be not-a-patient, a judge needs to not be on either party's side etc. How can one stand apart from reality?? This is what makes the question central to philosophy but unanswerable. So +1 in resultant. But do consider dropping the irrelevancy on polysemy
    – Rushi
    Feb 22 at 3:50
  • @Rushi "Exploiting the polysemy" I don't. There is nothing in what I say which suggest or imply that I do. My answer makes clear that I take the term "nature" here to refer to whatever might explain what reality is beyond our definition of it as all that there is. Whatever "nature" is used to refer to in the question, it cannot be outside reality. So now you're going to have to put +2. Feb 22 at 10:07
  1. The short answer is “42”, see the end of chapter 27 from the book Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

    The short answer indicates: Just asking for the nature of reality is possibly not the best way to understand the phenomena of our world and to orientate ourself in it.

  2. Metaphysics is an old term, totally overladen with speculations and claims from millenia of philosophy.

    In order to change the term into small but valid coin: The best insight into reality is the standard model of cosmology. It spans the frame in the dimensions of space and time. It clarifies that the universe exists the longest time without humans. Hence it is not to expect that anthropocentric approaches provide helpful explanations and suitable models.

    The frame of cosmology can be further detailed by other sciences.

    From the viewpoint of philosophy it helps to distinguish between ontology and epistemology. The two disciplines deal with the building blocks of the universe, objects and processes (ontology), and with our knowledge and its reliability (epistemology). In addition, for our living together some familiarity with ethics is indispensable.

  • Don't get me wrong... I LOVE the answer '42'... but I am afraid I can't checkmark it as being the correct answer. I do hope you will understand. I did upvote. Feb 21 at 16:30
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    The humanities exist because empirical science is not the essence of human reality. Human drama is the essence of reality. The Standard Model is just another story told in the context of human drama! Feb 21 at 16:33
  • I agree that a non-anthropocentric standard model of cosmology is useful in understanding reality, however much more so when compared/contrasted to the various human-centric views("other sciences"?) and as you/D. Adams alluded to our own personal experiences. While our opinions seem very similar, I'd emphasize the meshing of three views is critical. Aside: The phrase, "term into small but valid coin" is magnificent. Feb 23 at 18:30
  • EDIT(missed the 5min window): I'd say the meshing of three views is critical, w/ emphasis on the last two. Feb 23 at 18:40
  • Should anyone accidently read my immediately previous comment and care, here is support for it: "What, in the end, are all our verifications but experiences that agree with more or less isolated systems of ideas (conceptual systems) that our minds have framed? But why in the name of common sense need we assume that only one such system of ideas can be true? The obvious outcome of our total experience is that the world can be handled according to many systems of ideas, and is so handled by different men, and will each time give some characteristic kind of profit...” --William James, TVORE,1902 Feb 25 at 15:12

"What is the nature of reality?"

In contrast, a saying from Nolan's Westworld: "What is the nature of your reality?"

Asking the question leads us on to 'Know Thyself' which is, arguably, the beginning of a lived life. There is no definitive answer but only the wrestling with the question. Like a Buddhist koan.

"The serious problems of life, however, are never fully solved. If it should for once appear that they are, this is the sign that something has been lost. The meaning and design of a problem seem not to lie in its solution, but in our working at it incessantly. This alone preserves us from stultification and petrifaction.”
--Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933

  • If there were a final answer to be discovered, do you think it would be unfortunate to actually discover it, because that would deprive us the opportunity to occupy ourselves by trying to find it? If it was a fish to be caught in the sea, and you were the lucky sod that landed it... would you throw it back for others try and catch? Feb 21 at 15:32
  • @AlistairRiddoch In my reality, there are no "fish" - only fishing. This life is all journey. We are here to learn. "The birth of religion In the challenge of the unknown. But all desperation Leads to a fork in the road - We live for understanding Or for control.” --Sleeping at Last, Wires, 2011 [not a fan of the song overall but these lyrics are brilliant-concise] Feb 21 at 15:59
  • In dodgeball, there is definitely a ball. One strategy when you are a target, is to catch the ball, and throw it back. Another is to dodge the ball. You seem to have chosen the latter. While I was really hoping for the former. If there is a final answer, and you found the final answer, would you consider "throwing it back" to preserve the status quo... everyone wondering "Whats the answer?". Feb 21 at 16:15
  • @AlistairRiddoch: There is no spoon.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 21 at 23:39
  • CriglCragl, @AlistairRiddoch Beautifully sublime, Craig. I hesitate to add an explanation, however it could assist understanding so: "Logic implies that all things are known and must follow certain parameters and patterns, yet nature is anything but logical." AR, I'd recommend William James's “What Pragmatism Means” which is a view of reality that incorporates both what is logically known and that which is more ambiguous. Stay curious. Cheers! Feb 22 at 15:39

I would suggest Kant's version of reality; the sum of possibilities. Reason being, for example: when walking around, about to turn a blind corner, I am on the lookout for any speeding cyclist, roller-skater, out-of-control shopping trolley ... basically anything — and that is the reality I have to negotiate; real possibilities that have to be reckoned with. When I have actually turned the corner and find just a couple of pedestrians, well that is the actuality. These definitions make sense to me but perhaps others use different terms. Reality in this sense is actually so much more expansive than actuality. Granted some people call actuality reality.

Heidegger describes Kant's idea of reality in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Chapter One: Kant's Thesis: Being Is Not A Real Predicate, page 34

The concept of reality and the real in Kant does not have the meaning most often intended nowadays when we speak of the reality of the external world or of epistemological realism. Reality is not equivalent to actuality, existence, or extantness. It is not identical with existence, although Kant indeed uses the concept "objective reality" identically with existence.

The Kantian meaning of the term "reality" is the one that is appropriate to the literal sense of the word. In one place Kant translates "reality" very fittingly by "thingness," "thing-determinateness." The real is what pertains to the res. When Kant talks about the omnitudo realitatis, the totality of all realities, he means not the whole of all beings actually extant but, just the reverse, the whole of all possible thing-determinations, the whole of all thing-contents or real-contents, essences, possible things. Accordingly, realitas is synonymous with Leibniz' term possibilitas, possibility. Realities are the what-contents of possible things in general without regard to whether or not they are actual, or "real" in our modern sense.


The big picture of reality is stuff spread in space with persisting traits we identify with laws of physics. The stuff seems to be made of a small range of common building blocks which interact in set ways. The interactions tend to have the result of dissipating energy. Very, very, very exceptionally, it seems, conditions allow building blocks to combine in forms we call life, which has happened on Earth. The combined mass of all humans on Earth has been estimated at 450,000,000,000 kilograms, which is about 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the estimated mass of the observable Universe (give or take a few zeroes),which shows how unrepresentative we are of matter generally. As far as we can tell, the stuff of the Universe has been interacting in more-or-less the same way long before human life evolved, and it would continue to interact in more-or-less the same way if all humans died overnight. Of course, there are all kinds of parochial aspects of reality which we take very seriously here on Earth, but we can hardly claim they are part of the big picture.


The nature of reality is The Great Mystery.

The map (what we know about reality) is not the territory (what exists as reality). But some philosophers argue that their map of reality is the territory!

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