Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course




existence preceeds essence

From Flickr user andrew j. cosgriff

As we have been discussing Metaphysics, I have continually returned to Jean Paul Sartre’s invocation of the meeting of Existence and Essence:

“What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”

 Now, Sartre was talking about people through an existential lens; but the concept may come to bear on what we’ve learned this week about learning and knowledge. Whether existence precedes essence, or the other way around, we have been engaged in activities and discussions this week that support either hypothesis.

Some of what we have learned has resolutely existed before we have put it into context for ourselves as essential. And some of what we are learning about existed in our minds as essences before it came into being on the board or the class blog.

Which makes me wonder:

  • What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic? And,
  • How and where does it exist?

In short, these are the two questions of Metaphysics: What is…? And what is it like?

I look forward to hearing your responses, and continuing this discussion into Epistemology.


21 Responses to Metaphysics

  1. jeff says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    The essence of what I learned about metaphysics is that many answers to the questions posed in metaphysics are never definitive. Questions begging the purpose of life, cannot be solved for everybody when everybody’s definition of ‘purpose’ is different. I remember talking to David in the class, and him talking about how the purpose of life to be happy. For me, I could understand his view; it’s reasonable to assume that the purpose of our life is to have a great and enjoyable existence. However, I also identify with the flipside of that argument, realizing that the ‘purpose’ of an individual life may to help others rather than just enjoy life for one’s self. Whether metaphysics is asking the purpose to life, or if others are really conscious, or if animals share the same consciousness as humans, it’s really impossible to accurately to define for everybody when the answers require one to step back and see the world through a lens that does not exist — the third person omniscient.

    How and where does it exist?

    The essence of non-definitive answers to metaphysical questions exists in the questions that metaphysicians seek to answer. There are questions that have been pondered for thousands of years, yet a definitive answer is still not available. Whether that means there is no answer, the answer is different to everybody, or that the answer is incomprehensible is up to debate, but we come to the clear conclusion that many questions in metaphysics cannot reach a definitive answer as long as people disagree in the world.

  2. Jess says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics?
    I think a lot of what I learned about metaphysics was simply understanding what I was thinking. For me, it would be easy to say that metaphysics is everything, but actually grasping that concept is really difficult, because the idea that, as I am typing this, nothing is real, or everything is a figment of my imagination is all just a bit too large to grasp. All in all, I think the essence of what I learned is that everything is more than it seems, and there is always another angle to look at or ponder, even when it seems like something is unchanging.

    What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?
    Most of what I learned has to do with concepts or new ways of thinking that I’ve never seriously considered. The idea of solipsism is something that always fascinated me, but I never really considered it more than just a random idea. I think that my research into the concept of nothing led me into a rabbit hole of other ideas, one which all interconnected. In a sense, I think that the main thing I learned was that everything could be connected, whether physically or otherwise.

    How and where does it exist?
    I don’t think my knowledge physically exists, but I do think that it exists i my head, as a kind of reminder. It isn’t something that I call up, but I try and consider things from a wider perspective now, because I don’t want to just take things for granted. In many ways, I think metaphysics is like a steppiong stone to other ideas and branches of philosophy, and I like the idea that it leads to other places, so maybe, in a way, it exists in the other branches of philosophy.

  3. alyssa says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?
    Honestly, I don’t know what I’ve learned, some days I feel like I have learned a great deal. Then when someone states something I start to doubt what I have learned. Almost as if I “unlearned” something. I uncovered about my topic of “perception” is that perception somehow makes its way into everything. My original idea was perception on the way of life, how people perceive different things in different regions because of how they were taught. I realized during our discussion that even us as people whom have lived within the same region, we still have different ideas on perception. Which tumbles down to another point I found out, if only a handful of people perceive things as such, how is the validity of it get determined? I’m not sure where I am going with this anymore, but I found that the more I look at this, the more questions and the more confused I get.
    How and where does it exist?

    As I said before, perception is everywhere. How it exists is beyond me. In the mess of the big bang and how we all transformed from apes to humans we must have all decided that one way is right; but then people started thinking for themselves.

  4. ktay says:

    • What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    The essence of my metaphysics learning consists of the realisation as I take one step forward in learning; I take two steps back at the same time. Even though my knowledge has increased, I realize that what I have learnt pales in comparison to what I haven’t learnt. Secondly, I have understood that there is no right or wrong in metaphysics, since those two things are extremely subjective and different for everyone. Most individuals will have their own perceptions and understanding of the same topics; so this means that all these diverse views should be respected.

    • How and where does it exist?

    This essence exists only in my mind, in my philosophical construct. Even though I may attempt to share it with others, they will never be able to understand it fully because of language restraints. It exists solely through my efforts. Through grappling with the assigned material and additional solo reading, I was able to form the essence.

  5. kelseyf says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    The essence of my knowledge of metaphysics was trying to decide whether or not the questions I was asking were true, and if they were, should we as humans change the way we are doing things. My topic is about animal consciousness and intelligence, and whether or not they should be considered people. I’ve discovered that I think animals such as orcas and dolphins are equivalent to humans, and should be treated as such. Looking at places such as Seaworld, I discovered that we are cruelly treating these intelligent animals that deserve to live in their natural habitats, and not be imprisoned for our “entertainment”.

    How and where does it exist?

    This knowledge does exist, as biologists and neuroscientists try to define animal intelligence and consciousness. These ideas can be proven through the research that has been done, and the results found. Although it is not yet widely known, (many of my classmates were unaware of the issues of Seaworld and who Tillikum was) I hope that this knowledge will become more spread, so more people are aware, and can make intelligent choices about how to live their lives. (Boycotting Seaworld etc)

  6. Vincent says:

    • What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics?

    To say that there is an essence to any knowledge, is to say that you understand its origin. In order to understand the origin of any knowledge, I must predict all other ideas and memories, (that I had during the creation of this knowledge and the additional ones that I have now) that influenced the creation of this knowledge in great magnitude and to what degree and how the knowledge was influenced by my idea/memory/previous knowledge. I cannot navigate all the possible connections that could have influenced the creation of this knowledge, and how outside sources, and memories could have influenced it additionally. However, If I were to view this essence from a great distance away, I could say that the main origins creating its essence would be a) this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv1_YB1IedE, b) the life boat activity, and c)
    the collective influence of others on my mind to this day.

    • What have you learned or discovered about metaphysics?

    I would argue that I have not learned or discovered anything on my own in general. There are too many other factors that influence both these processes to take any credit or acknowledgement for learning or discovering. It is impossible for myself to learn or discover anything without the aid, of its: organic counterparts, outside stimuli, other selfs, and many other unmentioned influences. I would rather say that I have developed ideas and memories based on outside influences around very basic quantum mechanics, some basic language creation terms, that (subjectively) metaphysics is much more holistic and all encompassing than it seems, and the processes that govern metaphysics are closely intertwined with the physical objects it is based upon.

    • How and where does it exist?

    No knowledge exists in one place alone, rather it is a collective of factors spread out upon tangible objects and intangible concepts. My knowledge of metaphysics does not exist in one place, rather it exists in the factors that created its essence and vice versa, its essence in its factors. My knowledge, like my mind, is scattered across unmeasurable distance and connected by intangible ties discovered by my mind alone. These ties between objects and concepts are everywhere, when discovered in some order or collective they may form a concept then perhaps an object as a result. That is why “everything” cannot be comprehended by our minds, any attempt to see all the connections between everything there is and everything there will be is only diluted to a concept we call “everything”.

    I hope that this conveyed the current thoughts within me and a portion their essence.

  7. sassidy says:

    ~ What is the essence of my knowledge on metaphysics and what have I discovered or learned about it?
    My ideas on the topic are constantly fluctuating. I would say that a core idea or “essence” is not present, because I have no strictly grounded concept: but perhaps that was the point, to not have a universally solid base point. My metaphysics essence(s) consisted of varying percentages of “things”, truths, what reality is, and whether or not there is more to anything. Additionally, to toss a pun at you, I have learned nothing about metaphysics.

    ~ How and where does it exist?
    HOW: It exists upon thought of the particular knowledge.
    WHERE: Only within my mind. Upon reading the comments so far, the ideas of a metaphysics essence were very similar, suggesting that it exists in multiple minds and places. The most important thing I have concluded, as our collective metaphysics visit comes to a close, is that all thoughts are known in different ways. Therefore, it would be impossible to assume that my single mind’s knowledge is thought in the same way as any other.

  8. Avery C says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics?

    The essence of my knowledge about metaphysics is that all human knowledge is ultimately subjective. Our perceptions of the world are solely based upon data absorbed by our sensory organs. This data passes through the human brain and is imbued with our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, which are ultimately based upon human genetics and previously absorbed information. As logically follows, all things created by humans are equally saturated by our human bias.

    The design of airplane wings is a good example of this. We (as a collective) claim that this design was based upon the shape of birds’ wings; however, the truth of the matter is that the design is based upon what humans think are the shapes of birds’ wings. It is a subtle but important difference, as it shows how all information from the natural world is funnelled through the human mind before being applied. This funnelling creates a contamination of the raw information, rendering true human objectivity impossible, and perhaps any kind of objectivity impossible.

    What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    Much of what I have learned about the topic is related to the essence of metaphysics as I perceive it. For example, the idea of the phaneron developed my understanding of human subjectivity. Learning about the theory of mathematical Platonism (which I covered in a blog post) also helped to widen my understanding. The theory of mathematical Platonism (henceforth referred to as TMP for reasons of brevity) claims that numbers exist objectively in an abstract world, independent from human subjectivity. This is one of many conflicting theories, but one that piqued my interest.

    This theory asserts that, for example, the number five exists abstractly in another world and that all instances of five in this world are simply imperfect copies. This is intriguing because it assumes that five is the same for everyone. Why does my five have to be the same as your five? This theory also represents how humans like to classify and organize things (even where no such system may exist), which has further implications about human subjectivity.

    How and where does it exist?

    Following the answer to the first question, this essence exists in my subjective human mind, and now parts of it exist in your subjective human mind because you have read and absorbed this comment. Whether this subjectivity renders metaphysics useless is up for you to decide (which you will do in a subjective manner).

  9. davidwaffles says:

    My metaphysical topic had to do with the purpose of happiness. Throughout this unit I learned that metaphysics is a super broad topic, and the more I learned about it the dumber I felt about everything. When I dealt more with happiness I watched countless videos that tried to tell me how to obtain happiness, and they all had something in common; money is not a prime factor in happiness. It was quite interesting because many of us are guilty (including me) of thinking too much about money.

    Where does this knowledge exist?

    It exists everywhere inside every person. The knowledge of happiness exists in the places where people want to be happy, and I am confident majority of society wants to find happiness. In my opinion, it is our purpose to seek a balance that has both happiness and sadness, because as Kimberly pointed out, “there can be no light without darkness”. The same applies to happiness; without emotions that contrast those of pleasure and happiness, you will always be happy which ultimately means you’ll never be happy.

  10. cateredman1 says:

    What is the essence of Metaphysics?
    For me it was understanding that many of my questions won’t be answered, and if I think I have found the answer all I need to do is talk to someone else about the topic and it will become unraveled again. Like happiness, purpose, what exists out in the universe, or whether a god exists. It is all subjective, yet while looking up the quote that Jayden used, (it had something about a horse and a camel) I found this one (and I don’t know if it’s the one Jayden used or not) but “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” and this is true. But who’s to say the horse in the long run won’t take you farther? So with discussing all I have learned in metaphysics and listening to discussions, what I have now is a horse. And maybe in a week I will have a rabbit, I don’t know, but what I know is that it keeps changing and what I put out to the group always comes back differently.

    Where does it exist?
    It exists in my own mind, subjectively. It is an idea, but when put out into the world it will all change based on the person taking in the information. So an idea can exist within all of our minds, but taking different forms.

  11. joel says:

    I’ll keep it short…it seems that the major topics we talk about under then category of Metaphysics, like perspective, or free will or even the meaning of life are simply too difficult to define. Everyone has a different perspective on all these topics and it is hard to understand what everyone else means when they try to define one of the topics we’ve talked about. But that being said, I still think I, and the rest of the class have a much stronger knowledge of the subject. We have all learned enough to be having this conversation about metaphysics right now. I go back to what I said last week, that the diagram and the dialogue we shared as a class is proof of us learning. So I would say the essence of my understanding of metaphysics is that is a constant debate. IT is ever changing ideas and perspective.

  12. Thad says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    During the study of metaphysics, I have discovered that the essence of my knowledge about Metaphysics is we always have more concern about other-being instead of our self-being. In another word, our perception (consciousness) is limited by ourselves. Just like any other sub-topic we have dived into, we constantly talked about human consciousness without actually mentioning them from time to time. For instance, when we were discussing essence of being, the term “make things itself” raised a lot of awareness while the topic represents a form of consciousness. When I introduced the example of how should we judge or distinguishing normal human beings and non-normal human beings based on the consciousness condition, it certainly caused some debate. By our common knowledge a person who cannot think as “human” or does not possess the awareness of living normally are not categorized as “humans”, in the mean time those who are “suffering(judging by us)” from intelligence disabilities still, considered to be one of us. The reason we conclude this matter is simply because we “think” they are suffering, but really? would it possible that they are thinking that we are the “disabilities”. The comparison clearly shows how the consciousness are limited simply because we are ourselves.

    How and where does it exist?

    Apparently this idea exist only in our consciousness (ideal). once the topic is raised then the matter will develop through the process. Also this term applies to other branches of metaphysics as well such as freewill and essence. I found this topic is pretty narrowed even though it is widely applicable, because when diving in to consciousness(perception), all it matters is you, your consciousness that is currently proceeding. Perhaps I’m being limited now. Anyways the development of consciousness is still in progress while itself is limited by us, humans.

  13. nadine says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    I have learned that metaphysics is hugely broad topic with hundreds of different ideas and concepts. I’ve been taught a brief introduction to many different metaphysical topics, introductions that have left me with even more questions than answers. I discovered that there can never be a definite answer to a metaphysical question because metaphysics is an extremely subjective topic. Every person has an opinion or an idea of something, and that idea will become their bias when they attempt to answer their questions. The more I have uncovered about the topic, the more confused I have become. It’s as though I uncover a clue that will help me understand a concept, but in order to solve/ understand the clue and move onto the next one, I must first discover the answer to the many questions that that clue proposes. So as you can tell, for me metaphysics involves a convoluted process that would take ages of thinking to even get close to creating a solid theory. That solid theory however, would still be subjective to my own thinking.

    How and where does it exist?

    Following the answer to the first question my knowledge exists in my consciousness. It it may be hard to explain that knowledge to another person, but that does not mean that it is not there. My knowledge could never be exactly explained to anther being for that being could never understand or exactly agree with my subjective findings.

  14. kevinshafieyan says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    I feel that my knowledge of metaphysics has been increased quite broadly after all the discussions we’ve had in class. I’ve learned more about consciousness, and I wish to explore even further into the topic because it is a very interesting topic. The fact that you can learn about consciousness and basically the study of everything is really neat. At least, in my opinion. I have also discovered some neat theories that I’ve thought about for a long time now.

    How and where does it exist?
    Referring to my first blog post about metaphysics, I feel that it exists in my brain, or my subconscious. Again, in my blog post I explained that we can be connected some way in a weird subconscious level. Saying that, I feel that I cannot explain in full detail where it exists unless I could communicate on a telepathic level because that way, you would know exactly what I’m talking about. That concludes my thoughts about metaphysics.

  15. kaustinstack says:

    The essence of my knowledge on metaphysics is a blank canvas that I paint whatever I wish upon it. So far I’ve painted layers of space and time. Dimensions and possible realitys beyond our idea of the world. I’ve learned that I can exist however I want because the world is subjective. I’m at a point in which I understand the big contradictory questions such as the arguement of free will. Every day I wonder how real all my interactions really are. I have yet to come to a personal conclusion on most of these topics, but am glad I have the knowledge to consider possibilities involving such vast ideas. I’ve gained a more alien perspective on life because of the open ended questioning I’ve learned to do. This is exciting because I have a whole life ahead of me to question and explore in further depth than I would have otherwise if I hadn’t taken this course.

  16. joelsims says:

    Honestly, I feel as if I’ve un-learned knowledge that I thought I possessed and replaced it with concepts and ideas that I wouldn’t been able to fatham a couple weeks ago. My knowledge with the subject of metaphysics isn’t too large, but one thing I can say is that I’ve learned that there is not one definitive answer to any metaphysical question, because the views others have will never be understood by another.

    Where my knowledge exists wherever I so please. I can call upon what I’ve learned in situations that suit it.

  17. Jayden says:

    I think the epitome of my journey through metaphysics is understanding that questions can quite often have more than one answer when viewed from different angles or studied in different contexts. When looking at questions from a scientific or logical standpoint, it often seems that what we know may not be true at all. For me it seems that whenever i feel i uncover an answer that will help me argue my point, it only opens up more questions to debate. Every answer no matter how absolute or sound the thinking may be, seems to have subjective, or controversial facts behind it. Even delving quite deeply into the worlds of sciences and physics that I cannot even begin to understand.

    For me the most interesting part of the metaphysics unit was debating how and where things exist, as well as their essence. The essence is the designated purpose of something, whether or not that thing is a physical object, or a figment of information that exists purely in my head, is completely different for each idea or object. It was extremely interesting to debate weather ideas or thoughts actually exist unless they are being told to someone else or shared in some way. If they do not than that opens up the question of “do ideas have essence at all?”. Honestly i still have not been able to answer that question for myself but looking forward, applying the thinking of metaphysics to other areas of Philosophy should prove to be beneficial.

  18. parkercopeland says:

    What is the essence of my knowledge about metaphysics.
    You don’t know what you don’t know, and there is very little I know. Also it’s possible that everything I know is wrong, BUT I think I know everything, and I’m right all the time, so that’s all that really matters, right? My essence of metaphysics is that everything fits together in a extra-dimensional puzzle that I’ll never be able to see, so maybe it’s best to be content, but I like being curious.
    I’ve learned that Metaphysics can be pretty all-encompassing, and very interconnected. Any subtopic will run through all the other subtopics leaving you with nothing but questions. One thing that seemed to be a big runner in this sense was the topic of Consciousness. No matter what our discussions had it always ultimately came to consciousness. This makes me wonder even more about the mystery of consciousness.
    How and where does it exist?
    It exists in my intentions. I will always have looked into Metaphysics . Maybe I will look at metaphysics in the future, at which point I will have always looked into metaphysics in the future. This exists because I allow, no, I make it exist, and it exists in me.

  19. shiyun says:

    What is the essence of my knowledge about metaphysics? Well, to be completely honest, I’m not quite sure if i have truly learned much from the metaphysics unit. I’ve listened to class discussions and I’ve tried to digest and understand that we talked about as best as I can, but nothing that had really brought me to a conclusion. Maybe I might not have truly learnt anything, but I can say that metaphysics is like an onion, and I have just peeled back a layer, therefore being one step closer to getting to its core. The purpose of our existence, whether human beings are the only beings that are conscious, perspective, free will, and other subtopics of metaphysics are questions that I will constantly be asking from now on due to this unit.

    I think that the essence of my knowledge can really only exist inside my mind. I can try my best to put my thoughts into words, but the outcome would still be somewhat less competent than what was thought up in my mind. It’s sort of like trying to complete a puzzle with a few missing pieces, the picture is almost complete and the general idea is there, but the entirety of the picture will never be seen. Give now for instance, I have things that have been thought up in my mind that I would like to share, but I’m just unable to put into words. So, I think that the true essence of knowledge can only exist within a self even if the self attempts to share their knowledge with others.

  20. liamb says:

    What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic?

    My blog post was about the meaning of life and whether or not religion (or a god) is needed for there to be a meaning to life. Through researching and writing my blog post, I learned about different views on the meaning of life, and different branches of metaphysics in general. I also learned other things about metaphysics as a whole, like the main questions of “what is?” and “what is it like?”, as well as a little bit on some other topics.

    How and where does it exist?
    I think that the knowledge I have gained can really only exist in its truest form in my mind. It exists in the way that I will continue to learn and discover different perspectives, and it will affect how I discuss similar topics in the future.

  21. aileen4 says:

    That’s quite an interesting quote, and I actually really do believe that. The whole concept of metaphysics is one thing, but once we discuss the topic, it becomes a whole nother thing. To me, I viewed it as the philosophy of the basic understanding of life. Basic questions we may not actually ask but have always had are answered in this topic; for example what is the meaning of life? Why do we act the way we do? Is there really a meaning behind all of this? Are whales just as smart as we are? And even though metaphysics may not give us a straight up answer, the whole discussions and process of trying to find the answer is literally just as equivalent. Talking with one another and sharing ideas and understanding and respecting what others has to say helps us learn and understand things in new ways, which i feel is what metaphysics is all about. There is never a single concrete answer, but rather multiple ideas of trying to figure out what the answer is. Only once when it is fully submerged, and pulled out so we have an understanding, similar to the quote, the discussion being the literal definition of man


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