Philosophy Metametaphysics
Anna-Sofia Maurin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0217


Metametaphysics is the study of metaphysics. It asks, of the questions posed by metaphysicians, how they (and their answers) ought to be characterized, if they make any sense, what answers to them can be taken to describe, whether answers to them can even be known, how we can know them (if we can), and so on. Here the topic will be approached via a distinction between “metaontology” and “metametaphysics,” a distinction that, in turn, is taken to more or less coincide with that between two metametaphilosophical traditions: “Quineanism” and “Aristotelianism.” Contemporary philosophers belonging to the Quinean tradition, whether they be proponents of that tradition (so-called neo-Quineans) or critics of it (neo-Carnapians) constitute a rather close-knit group, brought together by their belief that whatever questions about the possibility and practice of metaphysics need to be answered, this answer should be sought through a close study of (logically regimented) language and, in particular, of the semantics of the existential quantifier(s). Philosophers belonging to the “Aristotelian” tradition are much more gerrymandered. Subgroups belonging to this tradition can however be identified in terms of more than their opposition to the basic ideas common to the Quineans. Members of one influential such group hold that metaphysics ought to be primarily concerned with spelling out what grounds/constitutes/explains what exists, rather than, as the Quineans would have it, with what exists (period). It is precisely because many who profess to belong to the Aristotelian tradition repudiate the central Quinean idea that metaphysics is primarily concerned with answering the question “Are there Fs?” that the distinction between Quinean and Aristotelian (meta)metaphysics is here taken to coincide with that between metaontology and metametaphysics (as (meta)ontology is normally understood as the (study of) the study of what there is, whereas (meta)metaphysics is taken to have a wider scope including, apart from questions concerning existence, questions concerning the nature of that which exists, etc.). On the grounds of these distinctions, the present entry is subdivided into two main parts: One that discusses metaontology, primarily as set out in the Quinean tradition, and one that discusses issues in metametaphysics, as these have been debated (at least for the most part) by what may be described as proponents of a primarily Aristotelian tradition. Please keep in mind that although this way of setting things up is by no means unnatural and has good support in the existing literature, it is nevertheless (and unavoidably) somewhat arbitrary.

General Overviews

For up-to-date overviews written by the foremost experts in the field The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an excellent source. Although it does not as yet include an overview article on metametaphysics explicitly, quite a few of its entries deal with issues that arguably belong under that heading. Examples include Khlentzos 2011 and Miller 2012, in which some of the most common challenges put to metaphysical realism are explored. Van Inwagen 2012 among other things sets out the most central views on the nature and possibility of metaphysics, and Hofweber 2013 examines the debate on the sense (or nonsense) of existence questions posed in metaphysics. Philosophy Compass is likewise a good source for up-to-date (but more opinionated) introductions to most topics in contemporary analytic philosophy. Papers on matters metametaphysical include Eklund 2006, in which a comprehensive introduction to the specifically metaontological discussion is given, and Jenkins 2010, in which “ontological realism” as that term is used in the metaontological debate, is critically investigated.

  • Eklund, Matti. “Metaontology.” Philosophy Compass 1.3 (2006): 317–334.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2006.00026.xE-mail Citation »

    Summarizes some of the most central views and arguments in the contemporary debate on metaontology. The focus is mainly on the viability of the Fregean/Quinean approach to ontology on the one hand, and the plausibility of the skeptical or deflationary critique of ontology on the other.

  • Hofweber, Thomas. “Logic and Ontology.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2013.

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    Investigates issues in the intersection of logic and ontology. For a discussion of issues of direct relevance to matters metametaphysical or metaontological, see section 3.

  • Jenkins, Carrie. “What is Ontological Realism?” Philosophy Compass 5.10 (2010): 880–890.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00332.xE-mail Citation »

    Distinguishes between three senses of ontological realism and argues that only the sense in which ontological realism amounts to the claim that the facts of ontology are objective is useful for the contemporary metaontological debate.

  • Khlentzos, Drew. “Challenges to Metaphysical Realism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2011.

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    Reviews a number of semantic and epistemological challenges to realism (i.e., the view that the world is as it is independently of how humans take it) that all concern how links can be set up between our beliefs and the mind-independent states they allegedly represent.

  • Miller, Alexander. “Realism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2012.

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    Distinguishes realism understood as a thesis about existence from realism understood as a thesis about independence and then discusses the notion in light of canonical critiques of realism in either guise.

  • van Inwagen, Peter. “Metaphysics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2012.

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    Examines a selection of problems normally classified as metaphysical in order to pinpoint what metaphysical problems have in common. Argues that no common feature can be found. Also examines the view that the metaphysical enterprise is impossible. Especially relevant to the subject matter of the present entry are sections 4–5.

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