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Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of beingbecomingexistence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.[1]Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences. A very simple definition of ontology is that it is the examination of what is meant, in context, by the word 'thing'.

Etymology[edit]

The compound word ontology combines onto-, from the Greek ὄνon (gen. ὄντος, ontos), i.e. "being; that which is", which is the present participle of the verb εἰμίeimí, i.e. "to be, I am", and -λογία-logia, i.e. "logical discourse", see classical compounds for this type of word formation.[citation needed].[2][3]
While the etymology is Greek, the oldest extant record of the word itself, the New Latin form ontologia, appeared in 1606 in the work Ogdoas Scholastica by Jacob Lorhard (Lorhardus) and in 1613 in the Lexicon philosophicum by Rudolf Göckel (Goclenius).
The first occurrence in English of ontology as recorded by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition, 2008) came in a work by Gideon Harvey (1636/7–1702): Archelogia philosophica nova; or, New principles of Philosophy. Containing Philosophy in general, Metaphysicks or Ontology, Dynamilogy or a Discourse of Power, Religio Philosophi or Natural Theology, Physicks or Natural philosophy, London, Thomson, 1663. The word was first used in its Latin form by philosophers based on the Latin roots, which themselves are based on the Greek.
Leibniz is the only one of the great philosophers of the 17th century to have used the term ontology.[4]

Overview[edit]

Some philosophers, notably in the traditions of the Platonic school, contend that all nouns (including abstract nouns) refer to existent entities.[citation needed] Other philosophers contend that nouns do not always name entities, but that some provide a kind of shorthand for reference to a collection either of objects or of events. In this latter view, mind, instead of referring to an entity, refers to a collection of mental events experienced by a personsociety refers to a collection of persons with some shared characteristics, and geometry refers to a collection of specific kinds of intellectual activities.[5][need quotation to verify] Between these poles of realism and nominalism stand a variety of other positions.

Some fundamental questions[edit]

Principal questions of ontology include:[citation needed]
  • "What can be said to exist?"
  • "What is a thing?"[6]
  • "Into what categories, if any, can we sort existing things?"
  • "What are the meanings of being?"
  • "What are the various modes of being of entities?"
Various philosophers have provided different answers to these questions. One common approach involves dividing the extant subjects and predicates into groups called categories. Of course,[citation needed] such lists of categories differ widely from one another, and it is through the co-ordination of different categorical schemes that ontology relates to such fields as library science and artificial intelligence. Such an understanding of ontological categories, however, is merely taxonomic, classificatory. Aristotle's categories are the ways in which a being may be addressed simply as a being, such as:[7]
  • what it is (its 'whatness', quiddityhaecceity or essence)
  • how it is (its 'howness' or qualitativeness)
  • how much it is (quantitativeness)
  • where it is, its relatedness to other beings
Further examples of ontological questions include:[citation needed]
  • What is existence, i.e. what does it mean for a being to be?
  • Is existence a property?
  • Is existence a genus or general class that is simply divided up by specific differences?
  • Which entities, if any, are fundamental?
  • Are all entities objects?
  • How do the properties of an object relate to the object itself?
  • Do physical properties actually exist?
  • What features are the essential, as opposed to merely accidental attributes of a given object?
  • How many levels of existence or ontological levels are there? And what constitutes a "level"?
  • What is a physical object?
  • Can one give an account of what it means to say that a physical object exists?
  • Can one give an account of what it means to say that a non-physical entity exists?
  • What constitutes the identity of an object?
  • When does an object go out of existence, as opposed to merely changing?
  • Do beings exist other than in the modes of objectivity and subjectivity, i.e. is the subject/object split of modern philosophy inevitable?

Concepts[edit]

Essential ontological dichotomies include:[citation needed]

Types[edit]

Philosophers can classify ontologies in various ways, using criteria such as the degree of abstraction and field of application:[8]
  1. Upper ontology: concepts supporting development of an ontology, meta-ontology
  2. Domain ontology: concepts relevant to a particular topic or area of interest, for example, to information technology or to computer languages, or to particular branches of science
  3. Interface ontology: concepts relevant to the juncture of two disciplines
  4. Process ontology: inputs, outputs, constraints, sequencing information, involved in business or engineering processes

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

Ontology was referred to as Tattva Mimamsa by ancient Indian philosophers going back as early as Vedas.[citation needed] Ontology is an aspect of the Samkhya school of philosophy from the first millennium BCE.[9] The concept of Guna which describes the three properties (sattvarajas and tamas) present in differing proportions in all existing things, is a notable concept of this school.

Parmenides and monism[edit]

Parmenides was among the first in the Greek tradition to propose an ontological characterization of the fundamental nature of existence. In his prologue or proem he describes two views of existence; initially that nothing comes from nothing, and therefore existence is eternal. Consequently, our opinions about truth must often be false and deceitful. Most of western philosophy— including the fundamental concepts of falsifiability — have emerged from this view. This posits that existence is what may be conceived of by thought, created, or possessed. Hence, there may be neither void nor vacuum; and true reality neither may come into being nor vanish from existence. Rather, the entirety of creation is eternal, uniform, and immutable, though not infinite (he characterized its shape as that of a perfect sphere). Parmenides thus posits that change, as perceived in everyday experience, is illusory. Everything that may be apprehended is but one part of a single entity. This idea somewhat anticipates the modern concept of an ultimate grand unification theory that finally describes all of existence in terms of one inter-related sub-atomicreality which applies to everything.[citation needed]

Ontological pluralism[edit]



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