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What Is a Metaphysician?

If you have been involved with the New Thought movement for more than ten minutes, you have probably run across some of the jargon that so often baffles outsiders and newcomers: terms such as treatment, manifestation, and the real biggie: metaphysician. The founders of some major New Thought denominations have written New Thought dictionaries, e.g., Charles Fillmore’s The Revealing Word and Ernest Holmes’s A Dictionary of New Thought Terms. However, one of the glories of New Thought is that no matter how many people subscribe to a particular belief, you are free to believe as you will, particularly when the majority are stuck in the equivalent of still believing that the earth is flat. We can all continually search for ever-closer approximations of truth. Here is a closer approximation of the truth about metaphysics and its practitioners, metaphysicians.

Most New Thoughters have traditionally divided their study of the world into physics (the study of the behavior of matter, physical stuff) and metaphysics (the term that they have appropriated for the study of non-physical mind, including ideas and more recently, experiences). That is just lovely for Descartes dualists, who believe that mind and matter are equally real. But most New Thoughters will hasten to tell you that they are neither dualists nor materialists (those who believe that only matter, physical stuff, is real), but idealists (those who believe that only mind/ideas/experiences are real, and that matter is a particularly dense form of mind). Well, folks, you are either an idealist or a materialist, or else you end up straddling the fence as a dualist. Serious, black-belt philosophers (not the cracker-barrel here’s-my-view type) have pointed out numerous logical self-contradictory flaws in materialism and even more numerous logical self-contradictory flaws in dualism. In other words, if you embrace either materialism or dualism, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Even idealism as originally outlined by Bishop Berkeley has some logical problems, but they can be cleaned up, as the process philosophers have explained. The process-thought term for idealism is panexperientialism, but we don’t have to experience that right now.

Let’s go back in time way before Descartes to the ancient Greek philosophers, and a little later, to the efforts of Andronicus of Rhodes to organize the writings of Aristotle. Andronicus placed Aristotle’s writings on first philosophy (Aristotle’s term for the study of what is real) meta ta physica, after the writings on physics. The Greek word meta can mean beyond, after, or a bunch of other useful things. This is how the term metaphysics came into existence, but it simply means that we study first philosophy after we have studied what is known about the physical world. It only implies separation of topics for study, not separation in the real world. First philosophy includes both seen and unseen, physical and nonphysical. One of the errors committed by the materialists (only physical stuff—matter—is real) is that in their attempts to cling to that position in the face of a torrent of conflicting data, they deleted the equations in quantum physics that would have allowed them to see that there is only one set of governing laws for the universe, not one set for big things and another set for tiny things.

Long before New Thought, long before Jesus (on whose teachings New Thought is based, even though the ideas have been around longer than that), the academic discipline of philosophy (which philosopher William James defined as "an unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly" was divided into three main branches, with logic, a fourth, encircling them all: metaphysics, the study of what is real; epistemology, the study of what is true; and axiology (ethics/aesthetics), the study of what is good (values). One of philosophy’s main duties is to reconcile data from science with data from revelation (mysticism). A metaphysician, then, is a philosopher who specializes in the branch of philosophy dealing with what is real. In modern times, as materialism took over science and attempted to block out all other positions, metaphysics went out of fashion; and philosophers mostly reduced or limited themselves to word games, Humpty-Dumpty style. Someone appropriated the term metaphysician to refer to the student of the nonphysical, muddying the waters. Metaphysics is not and never has been the opposite of physics; once again, it uses data from physics and all other areas.

All religions are metaphysical because they all deal with first philosophy, the study of what is real, with particular emphasis on Ultimate Reality, a.k.a. God. A religion is a collection of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality; we can borrow someone else’s or put together our own. Spirituality is the raw material from which one builds a religion. Therefore, to talk of "metaphysical religions", as scholars have come to do, just further confuses the issue.

Philosopher and New Thought historian Horatio W. Dresser, whose parents met in the office of P. P. Quimby, where they were both patients, says of the term metaphysical healing, that many

used this term as synonymous with "mental science" and applied idealism. . . . The term "metaphysics" as thus employed need not be understood in the philosophical sense as a complete system of first principles. It means a practical idealism emphasizing mental or spiritual causality in contrast with the prevalent materialism, or the assumption that matter possesses independent life and intelligence. Thus the term "Christian metaphysics" is practically the same as the terms used by Quimby to indicate that there is a spiritual science in the New Testament. (Dresser, A History of the New Thought Movement, pp. 141-42 and 136-38)

The terms metaphysics and metaphysician have become hopelessly unclear. To use them is to dishonor philosophy, which has the best claim to them. Many New Thoughters who are ignorant of the academic discipline of philosophy casually fling them around. Even scholars of religion abuse them.

The best solution is to avoid using the terms altogether and simply say what you really mean. If you are speaking of symbolical or allegorical interpretation of Scripture, say so. If you are using the laws of mind coupled with your faith in Ultimate Reality to achieve physical or mental healing, say so. And if you are referring to the traditional branch of philosophy dealing with what is real, say so.