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.

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.

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