Ordinary objects in the world around us exhibit a wide variety of different kinds of properties. For example, objects seem to have weight and exert force on other objects (as do people). Such properties are physical in nature. But objects are also countable and as such they exhibit mathematical properties and obey mathematical as well as physical laws. Because they take up space, objects are also subject to geometrical laws and exhibit spatial properties. We could go on and develop a considerable list of the kinds of properties possessed by not only objects, but people as well. Below is a representative list of the kinds of properties we can distinguish in the world about us. We'll discuss this list more thoroughly in class. Each property-kind comprises a class of properties, all of the same kind.
(2) Spatial properties: Such properties all involve the fundamental notion of continuous extension in a given dimension. Having a definite size or shape is a spatial property. [Geometry]
(3) Kinematic properties: Such properties involve the notion of continuous movement. Having speed or velocity is one such property. [Kinematics]
(4) Physical properties: Such properties involve the notion of force or energy. Having mass is an example of one such property. [Physics and Chemistry]
(5) Biotic properties: These properties all have to with life and the peculiar nature of living things. Being subject to growth, death, disease, etc. are all kinds of biotic properties. [Biology]
(6) Psychical properties: These properties all involve the aspect of sensory feeling and perception. Examples of such properties are any sensible quality, e.g. a taste, touch, color, feeling, etc. [Psychology]
(7) Logical properties: Such properties have to do with analysis in thought. The laws of logic govern various properties that direct our ability to reason about objects. The fact that objects have logical properties is what makes us able to think and reason about the world. [Logic]
(8) Historical properties: Objects have a past and a future. With respect to these directions in time, they exhibit development and can be used to influence and be influenced by the growth of human culture. All historical properties involve a connection to human cultural formation, in one way or another. [History and Historiography]
(9) Linguistic properties: These properties involve symbolic signification. Objects have the ability to be represented linguistically. They can be "meaningful" or supply meaning to something else. [Philology, Linguistics, Semantics]
(10) Social properties: People interact with one another and the objects and events in the world can aid or hinder that interaction. To the extent that they do, objects have social properties. [Sociology]
(11) Economic properties: All sorts of objects are in supplies of relative abundance and scarcity. The value they have as a result of their supply and the demand for them is a peculiarly economic value. All properties relating to the scarcity and conservation of such non-endless abundance are economic. [Economics and Finance]
(12) Aesthetic properties: These properties involve the notions of beauty and harmony. In calling objects beautiful, ugly, gaudy, clumsy, elegant, etc. we are ascribing to them aesthetic properties. [Aesthetics and the Fine Arts]
(13) Juridical properties: Such properties involve political legalities as their purposes are exhibited in the function of the state. While not subjects of the state, objects can be the subjects of political dispute. [Jurisprudence and Political Science]
(14) Ethical properties: These properties all involve the concept of "love." People are the primary subjects of moral properties, and, of course, only they are properly moral or immoral. But inanimate objects have ethical properties derivatively as the subjects of moral or immoral human actions. [Casuistry]
(15) Pistical properties: The Greek word PISTE` means faith. Such properties as these involve the notion of "trustworthiness." This is more than just a moral notion. Objects are treated as trustworthy when we use them as tools for a given purpose. Think of the trust you place in your automobile for example. The ultimate and highest degree of trust is usually reserved by people for that entity which they treat as divine regardless of whether or not they call it a "god" explicitly.
Corresponding to each kind of property there is a science whose job is to investigate the laws governing that kind of property. Where I could think of it, I've mentioned the corresponding science in parentheses after the description of the property-kind. I'll refer to such sciences as "specialised sciences." With regard to all the specialised sciences, philosophy has a very definite task. Philosophy itself is a science whose task is to build theories about how all the kinds of properties listed above, and their concomitant sciences, interrelate one to another and to the human self. Philosophy does this theoretical task through two branches: Metaphysics and Epistemology.
This is not a form of occultism. A metaphysical theory is a theory about what the basic nature of reality is like. It is a theory that attempts to characterise the nature of the real in terms of one or more of the property-kinds on our list. Some people think that my list is to big, for example. They would want it limited to maybe just the physical properties. All other kinds of properties would have to be reducible to the physical or simply nonexistent. That there seems to be nonphysical properties would just be a mistake of common sense. Such people hold a view called 'physicalism' and are themselves called 'physicalists'.
Other people have held that only the psychical aspect is real and that objects are just collections of sensations. Such a view is called 'idealism' or 'phenomenalism'. There are other "isms" as well. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras held that everything was characterised by mathematics alone. His view is called 'Pythagoreanism'. The attempt to do metaphysics by reducing all the other kinds of properties to just a few is called 'reductionism'. Notice that a metaphysical reduction is a theory about how all the various aspects relate to each other and the human self. They all relate by being of the same kind. A reductionism also offers a theory of what a person is by characterising him in terms of the one aspect that is selected as the only real one.
All the specialised sciences have metaphysical assumptions at their root. The student, though, is seldom aware of this, primarily because he's never told what they are, he's never exposed to philosophical thinking and his teachers are often ignorant of those assumptions as well. Every specialised science at the least assumes that its own subject matter has a distinct existence. In the methodology they follow, every specialised science also reveals assumptions about how that subject matter relates to the subject matter of other disciplines. When a philosopher investigates the metaphysical assumptions of some one specialised science, he's doing the philosophy of that science (as philosophy of mathematics for example). In our study this term we will be doing what amounts to the metaphysics of ethics.
This is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the theory of knowledge. It proposes answers to the questions: What is knowledge? What are the mechanics of knowledge acquisition? Any epistemological theory has metaphysical assumptions behind it. Knowledge is always characterised in terms of what is taken to be real. The mechanics of knowledge acquisition must then operate according to the laws of that property-kind(s) which is posited as the basic nature of reality. Because every specialised science relies upon methodologies of investigation for acquiring knowledge of its subject matter, every specialised science also has epistemological assumptions operating behind it.