In short, what are metaphysics?
I literally have no idea what is meant by this term. Isn't everything in this answer already covered by philosophy? Specifically epistemology and ontology and philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of society et al.
I understand the etymology of the term and its origination from the categorical decision of Andronicus of Rhodes, however, this does not seem to be the sense in which most use the term. So what sense are we to make of "metaphysics" (or, as it was once called "transphysics" - see p.2 note 5).
Considering the morphology of the term, I am tempted to an understanding of its use as if it meant physics about physics and the closest I can come to there is that metaphysics is redundant for "language" (read: intentionalistic acoustic blasts or other signifiers and symbols). Is not this already adequately addressed by linguistics and philosophy of language (writ short: rhetoric)? If we are to take the prefix "meta-" as "beyond" or "about", "transcending", or simply in the Greek sense of "with" "across" or "after", then is not the philosophy of science the domain of anything beyond, about, with, across or after... physics? As for "transcending" what is there to "transcending physics" other than poetry or the psychological? If the use of "meta-" prior to philosophy is meant to invoke some abstraction informing ("behind" or "fundamental to") philosophy, then where is the inadequacy of the term philosophy to address this purported abstraction? Are logic, rhetoric and reason inadequate to the task of what may otherwise, if a name for such is even warranted, be considered "meta-philosophy"? No.
Furthermore, it seems overwhelmingly the case - tho not necessarily so - that everywhere this term is employed it is used to solicit agreement and not to advance knowledge claims which can be rationally assessed a truth value. For example, from the start in "What Is Metaphysics?" Martin Heidegger asks us to accept as answer the not answering of a direct question. Instead the reader is presented poetry as if it were reasoning: "We can therefore call the truth of be[ing] the ground in which metaphysics as the root of the tree of philosophy is supported, by means of which it is nourished"; and the resulting imponderability of addressing statements such as "each metaphysical question always encompasses the whole problematic of metaphysics and in fact is the whole of metaphysics" is confounded by not answering the direct question, "what is metaphysics". Please note the difference between Heidegger's singular title and the grammar I have chosen for the title to my question here. I do not know if Heidegger's grammatical error owes to translation, however, I think it is worth noting the mis-use of the verb in the singular instance if anything to critique, in Russells words, the "eccentric" prose so typical of metaphysicians and what amounts to obscurantism - not unlike the sly little weaver's insistence upon the Emperor's fine raiments of gold.
Highly eccentric in its terminology, his philosophy is extremely obscure. One cannot help suspecting that language is here running riot. An interesting point in his speculations is the insistence that nothingness is something positive. As with much else in Existentialism, this is a psychological observation made to pass for logic.
From "Wisdom of the West: A Historical Survey Of Western Philosophy In Its Social And Political Setting" by Bertrand Russell (boldface my own).
As for my understanding of the primary redundancy noted above, I appreciate the obvious point that not all language use is in regards to physics, but it seems ridiculous to think that metaphysics means "my point of view" or simply means some such opinion, sentiment, way of looking at things, etc. and that this is considered "a branch of" philosophy.
I've read that metaphysics is about "the nature of nature" but isn't this just a bad pun? The "nature" of nature is natural, no? I've read that metaphysics is an investigation of the fundamental nature of reality, but what does "fundamental" even add to describing reality and the redundant phrase "nature of reality"? Isn't this the domain of physics - unless by "fundamental" you imagine there is something transcendental or mystical or just imponderably mysterious beyond rational comprehension (and even these words do not do justice to the feature I am trying to describe... for what would transcending what is even mean??)
"As long as there continues to be a verb 'to be' that looks as if it functions in the same way as 'to eat' and 'to drink', as long as we have the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', as long as we continue to talk of a river of time, of an expanse of space, etc. etc., people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up. And what's more, this satisfies a longing for transcendence, because in so far as people think they see the 'limits of human understanding', they believe of course that they can see beyond these."
From "Culture and Value" by Ludwig Wittgenstein, pg. 15e, c.1931
If by metaphysics it is meant an investigation into the "nature" or "essence" of being, again - is not "being" enough? Is not "existence" enough? Furthermore, are not these domains adequately addressed by the study of existence and the study of what may be said about existence and the rationally assessing of the truth value of these statements? (read: ontology and epistemology).
Unlike Hume, I am not advocating commitment of metaphysics to the flames:
When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
From: "Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals" by David Hume, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, M.A. 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902).
Like Ayer, however, I question what relevancy metaphysics has to philosophy:
...although the greater part of metaphysics is merely the embodiment of humdrum errors, there remain a number of metaphysical passages which are the work of genuine mystical feeling; and they may more plausibly be held to have moral or aesthetic value. But, as far as we are concerned, the distinction between the kind of metaphysics that is produced by a philosopher who has been duped by grammar, and the kind that is produced by a mystic who is trying to express the inexpressible, is of no great importance: what is important to us is to realize that even the utterances of the meta-physician who is attempting to expound a vision are literally senseless; so that henceforth we may pursue our philosophi- cal researches with as little regard for them as for the more inglorious kind of metaphysics which comes from a failure to understand the workings of our language.
From "Language, Truth and Logic" by Alfred Jules Ayer (1936)
And so I ask, is there anything more to "metaphysics" than descriptions which are unjustifiable?
To be clear, I am not suggesting that metaphysics are useless or uninteresting. I ask because, as stated above, it seems quite odd to consider something which is so muddled and unclear "a branch of philosophy".