As a physicist who takes an interest in metaphysics, I was shocked to learn that practitioners of metaphysics call themselves metaphysicians. Why not metaphysicists?

My first thought was that unlike meta-mathematics or meta-theory or meta-anything, the case of metaphysics is slightly different. Whereas meta-mathematics is the theoretization of mathematics, metaphysics is not the theoretization of physics. People who are meta-theorizing about physics should probably be called metaphysicists. Instead metaphysics is a 'discpline' of inquiry originating in Aristotle's Metaphysics and bears its name mainly due to that circumstance and maybe the fact that it deals with questions that are not or beyond physical.

However, in this light the choice metaphysician also seems awkward. How would physicians call their form of theoretization about their craft? Then again, their craft is medicine and they would call it meta-medicine maybe. Is that the reason why we call practitioners of metaphisics metaphysicians? or is there a historical reason lurking somewhere? When did the term make its first appearance?

  • 1
    The choice for "metaphysician" may have been strengthened by the tendency to associate the suffix -ist with -ism.
    – user36989
    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 18:03
  • Dear @JohnForkosh. Thanks for sharing that article and for daring a guess :) Foundational issues of quantum mechanics are also very interesting to me and I did worked in this area for some time. I am also interested in metaphysics itself and believe that talking about foundational issues of physics requires metaphysical discourse. I'd want to refer to myself as a physicist who takes an interst in metaphysics. I would not refer to myself as a metaphysician. Probably one would reserve this term for someone who is working in the field of metaphysics. I merely take in interest in metaphysics.
    – Marlo
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 18:40
  • Someone whose profession is X may be interested in Y. X may be 'soccer player' or 'president of the United States' or 'theoretical physicist' and Y may be 'microbiology' or 'endocrinology' or 'metaphysics'. I think it's perfectly fair.
    – Marlo
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 18:48
  • The body is of the many and the many is of the one. All IS One. As the end becomes the beginning so the beginning becomes the end. All IS One. Are you not you also? Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 18:16
  • Few living look me up for questions to my answers. Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


The reason is historical. "Physics" as science is relatively recent (it was covered by natural philosophy before), and "physicist" as its practitioner was only coined by Whewell in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1836), in direct contradistinction to "physician", which by that time was already taken.

"As we cannot use physician for a cultivator of physics, I have called him a physicist. We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist."

Metaphysicians, on the other hand, got their first choice of name much earlier (compare to mathematician, also old).

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