Words related to metaphysics

Origin and meaning of meta-

word-forming element of Greek origin meaning 1. "after, behind; among, between," 2. "changed, altered," 3. "higher, beyond;" from Greek meta (prep.) "in the midst of; in common with; by means of; between; in pursuit or quest of; after, next after, behind," in compounds most often meaning "change" of place, condition, etc. This is from PIE *me- "in the middle" (source also of German mit, Gothic miþ, Old English mið "with, together with, among").

The notion of "changing places with" probably led to the senses of "change of place, order, or nature," which was a principal meaning of the Greek word when used as a prefix (but it also denoted "community, participation; in common with; pursuing").

The third, modern, sense, "higher than, transcending, overarching, dealing with the most fundamental matters of," is due to misinterpretation of metaphysics (q.v.) as "science of that which transcends the physical." This has led to a prodigious erroneous extension in modern usage, with meta- affixed to the names of other sciences and disciplines, especially in the academic jargon of literary criticism: Metalanguage (1936) "a language which supplies terms for the analysis of an 'object' language;" metalinguistics (by 1949); metahistory (1957), metacommunication, etc.

physics (n.)

1580s, "natural science, the science of the principles operative in organic nature," from physic in sense of "natural science." Also see -ics. Based on Latin physica (neuter plural), from Greek ta physika, literally "the natural things," title of Aristotle's treatise on nature. The current restricted sense of "science treating of properties of matter and energy" is from 1715.

Before the rise of modern science, physics was usually defined as the science of that which is movable, or the science of natural bodies. It was commonly made to include all natural science. At present, vital phenomena are not considered objects of physics, which is divided into general and applied physics. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
metaphysic (n.)

late 14c., metaphisik, metafisik, "metaphysics," also "natural theology," from Old French metafisique and directly from Medieval Latin metaphysica (see metaphysics). This was the usual form of metaphysics until 16c.; it was somewhat revived 19c. under German influence.

metaphysical (adj.)

early 15c., metaphisicalle, "pertaining to metaphysics," from methaphesik (late 14c.) + -al, and in part from Medieval Latin metaphysicalis, from Medieval Latin metaphysica (see metaphysics). It came to be used more loosely in the sense of "abstract, speculative, apart from ordinary or practical modes of thought" (among others by Samuel Johnson, who applied it to certain 17c. poets, notably Donne and Cowley, who used "witty conceits" and abstruse imagery), and often had more or less a depreciative sense. Related: Metaphysically.