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Metaphysics, a word derived from the Greek phrase, ta meta ta physika, meaning "the (works) after the Physics," is the title given to the 13 books of Aristotle's discussion of such general concepts as 'first principles' (Metaphysics, I, 2, 982b), 'being as being,' (IV, 1 1003a), 'theology' or 'something which is eternal, immovable and separable' (VI, 1, 1026a), 'first substance' (VII, 1, 1028a-b) and many other related topics such as time, space, cause, identity, etc. In medieval times the Greek meta came to be equated with the Latin trans, and metaphysics evolved into the study of things transcending or beyond nature. In English this gradual change is reflected by equating metaphysical with supernatural and transnatural. (O.E.D., p. 678)

The two greatest classical metaphysicists are Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), followed by Plotinus (204-270), an interpreter of Plato, who served as a link between ancient and medieval philosophy. In the later Middle Ages Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) initiated a major renewal of Aristotelian metaphysics. Modern metaphysical study begins with the rationalist Descartes (1596-1650), leading, in the next century, to the increasingly sceptical British empiricists Locke (1632-1704), Berkeley (1685-1753) and Hume (1711-76), who closed his Enquiry(1748) by exhorting his readers to "commit to the flames" any volume of divinity or school metaphysics which did not meet his experiential and quantitative restrictions ( Sect. XII, Part III, 132). By emphasizing moral arguments over speculative arguments, the idealist Kant (1724-1804) sought to restore metaphysics by trying to move beyond both dogmatism or scepticism. He was followed by Hegel (1770-1831) whose absolute idealism dominated 19th and early 20th century metaphysics. But based on Comte's positivism, another anti-metaphysical movement emerged in the late 19th century, growing into the pragmatism of William James (1842-1910), Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914) and John Dewey (1859-1952). Logical positivists, like A.J. Ayer (1910-89), had an even deeper scepticism toward metaphysics. They rejected metaphysics, not because it doctrines were false, but because they saw them to be "literally nonsensical." (Ayer, 173). Then, Wittgenstein (1889-1951) took logical positivism one step further with his linguistic analysis, now known also as ordinary-language analysis (Hancock, 289-300).

While Lewis writes that the imaginative man in him is "older, more continuously operative, and ... more basic" than other aspects of his life, and that he "loved Balder before Christ," he also "loved Plato before St. Augustine" (Letters, 444 and GID, 132). References in his works to the classical and medieval philosophers abound. At one place he states that "to lose what I owe to Plato and Aristotle would be like the amputation of a limb" (Rehab, 64). In 1954, in his inaugural at Cambridge, he identifies himself as a representative of the 'Old Western Culture,' that European culture from antiquity to the early 19th century, that both sharpened his intellect and redeemed his heart. (SLE, 12-14).

Lewis's earliest memory of taking part in a metaphysical argument was as a student at Wynyard (1908-10). (SBJ, 31). In the 1943 preface to The Pilgrim's Regress he describes his personal philosophical pilgrimage from the early 1920's through the early 1930's: "On the intellectual side my own progress had been from 'popular realism' to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity" (PR, 5). Then, in books seven and eight Lewis gives an allegorical account of this journey, starting with John's study of metaphysics (PR, 120-162).

In 1923, C.S. Lewis's close friend, Owen Barfield, became an Anthroposophist. Over the next eight years Barfield and Lewis had "an almost incessant disputation," a 'Great War,' which Lewis considered to be "one of the turning points of his life" (SBJ, 166-167). A series of currently unpublished letters and essays ensued on both sides. One treatise by Lewis, Clivi Hamiltonis Summae Metaphysices contra Anthroposophos Libri II (1928) sought to dismantle Anthroposophy's metaphysics. In addition, it also reveals Lewis's own metaphysical "half-way house between atheism and Christianity." (Adey, 11)

One of Lewis's least read books, Studies in Words, has a 50 page chapter on "Nature" which includes sections on 'natural and supernatural' and 'physical and metaphysical.' The first section covers the standard theological sense along with some more modern meanings. Lewis then notes that supernatural also came to be equated with Aristotle's Metaphysics. What follows in the 'physical and metaphysical' section is an explanation, already given above, for the origin of the word itself in the cataloging of Aristotle's works.

In his 1947 book, Miracles, Lewis begins by reducing all metaphysical views into two broad divisions: naturalism, which believes that nothing exists outside of nature itself; and supernaturalism, which believes that something else does exist beyond nature. Then, he argues that naturalism can explain neither the reasoning process nor the Moral Law. They both point to the existence of something beyond nature, a supernatural Being who is the Creator of nature and upon whom nature is dependent and with whom it interacts. Lewis's refutation of naturalism was challenged at the Socratic Club by G.E.M. Anscombe, a follower of Wittgenstein. He partially rewrote and changed the title of chapter three to reflect her criticisms. Some point to this debate as a "horrible and shocking experience" for Lewis. Others, like Anscombe herself, speak merely of a "sober discussion" which led to his adjusting his argument (G.E.M., ix-x, 224-232).

In conclusion, all of Lewis's fiction and some of his non-fiction have a central metaphysical argument: the argument from desire. Described as 'sehnsucht' or 'longing' or 'joy,' this argument claims that our experience provides us all with a recurring desire that cannot be satisfied by life in this world. Plus, this longing points us away from ourselves to Another, Ultimate Object, to satisfy us. Some even see it as Lewis's most powerful theme and put it in the same class as Anselm's 'ontological argument.' (Kreeft, 249-272).


Adey, Lionel. "The Barfield-Lewis 'Great War'." in CSL. Vol. 6, No. 10 (August 1975): 10-14.

Anscombe, G.E.M. Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind. Volume 2 of The Collected Philosophical Papers of G.E.M. Anscombe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981.

Aristotle. Metaphysics, tr. W.D. Ross in The Works of Aristotle. Volume 1. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991.

Ayer, A.J. Metaphysics and Common Sense.San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper & Co., 1970.

Hancock, Roger. "History of Metaphysics" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 6. ed. Paul Edwards. Macmillan: New York, 1972.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991.

Kreeft, Peter J. "C.S. Lewis's Argument from Desire." in G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy. ed. Michael H. Macdonald & Andrew A. Tadie. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

Lewis, C.S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics . ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1970.

_________. Letters of C.S. Lewis. ed. with a memoir by W.H. Lewis. revised and enlarged. ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1988.

_________. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1947, 1960.

_________. The Pilgrim's Regress. An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism. Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1958.

_________. Rehabilitations and Other Essays. London: Oxford University Press, 1939.

_________. Selected Literary Essays. ed. Walter Hooper. London: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

_________. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. London: Fontana, 1955.

_________. Studies in Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

Simpson, J.A. and Weiner, E.S.C. The Oxford English Dictionary, Volume XVII. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Richard James
Burkesville Christian Church
Burkesville, Kentucky
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Last Updated: Monday, September 03, 2001