Metaphysics Chapter from The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft

Metaphysics is the most important, most foundational, part of philosophy.

Unlike all other sciences, including other philosophical sciences, metaphysics explores reality as such, all of reality… it seeks the truths, laws, and principles that are true of all being.

Some sample metaphysical questions:

  • Is all being one, true, good, and beautiful?
  • Is evil, matter, spirit, God, chance, causality, time – real?
  • How can a being change, that is, be both the same being it was, and also different?
  • What is the relation between a thing’s essence (what it is) and its existence (that it is)?
  • Does language reflect reality?
  • Are “universals” like justice, human nature, squareness and redness real things, or real aspects of things, or only concepts, or only words?

The Lord of the Rings illuminates at least 3 important metaphysical questions:

  1. How big is reality? Is it larger or smaller than our thought?
    • Tolkien’s view is that “there are more things in heaven and earth (i.e., in reality) than are dreamed of in your philosophies (i.e., in thought).
    • Leads to a fundamental attitude towards all reality of wonder & humility. You expect mysteries, you expect moreness: terrors to stop your heart & joys to break it. Reality is big. 
    • You are inside a very great story ~ Tolkien

    • The fundamental reason for the popularity of LOTR is that people sense it is real.
    • Tolkien always felt that he had discovered, not invented it – that it had always been there.
  2. Is supernaturalism real?
    • Only supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back ~ CS Lewis, Miracles
  3. Are Platonic Ideas real?
    • Whereas most people recognize 2 kinds of reality, 2 metaphysical categories: objective matter & subjective spirit – Plato offers a 3rd category, objective and spiritual – Ideas = not things, but objects of thought, real truths that measure our ideas as erring or true, Platonic Ideas are neither in space nor in time – they are unchangeable, birthless, and deathless.
    • Christianity supplied the metaphysical house for Plato’s Ideas – the Mind of God, the Word of God, the Logos.
    • The human experience that helps us best to understand Plato’s Theory of Ideas is the experience of artistic creativity. Truth in science (world is standard for our ideas about it) is the reverse of truth in art (the artist’s ideas are the standard for the world he creates).
    • If God created the universe, all science is reading God’s art ~ Kreeft

    • Human minds seem to be in touch with Platonic Ideas when we make value judgments. Kings, and hobbits, and elves are more or less real not by conforming to the physical world but by conforming to the Platonic Idea of it.
    •  Human science is but the backward undoing of the tapestry web of God’s science.

    • A great mythmaker awakens the longing for these Platonic archetypes, which are buried deep in human knowledge through using a magic language: the language of myth.

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