Series – Philosophy / Ontology


Ontology is the central subject matter of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The word ontology was coined in the early seventeenth century to avoid some of the ambiguities of ‘metaphysics’; Leibniz was the first major philosopher to adopt the word. The terminology introduced by Christian Wolff in the early eighteenth century came to be widely adopted: Ontology is the general theory of Being as such, and forms the general part of metaphysics, or theoretical philosophy.

The three special parts are:

1)      General cosmology  –  Theory of the World

2)      Rational psychology  – Theory of The Soul

3)      Natural Theology –   Theory of God

In the usage of analytical philosophy, ontology is the general theory of what there is. For instance the question about the mode of existence of abstract entities such as numbers, imagined entities such as golden mountains and impossible entities such as squares circles, are ontological questions. And it is on an ontological question that modern materialism, physicalism and naturalism differ from their opponents: the question of what there is.

To understand this in the simple sense let us conduct a thought experiment. Posit an entity in your consciousness and name it x, now posit another name it y. x = reality; y = appearance of reality. Now in this case imagine the entity x to be a Cat. The knowledge we have about cat is its biological, physiological, morphological and sociological nature, this knowledge is attained by the scientific method as it is the closest to reality (or perhaps the best version of reality)  – this would be called the ontology of the being as such (Cat). Now suppose that it is your pet Cat and you interpret its actions in a storytelling landscape to narrate to a child – ‘The Cat is a Martian refugee on Earth, spying on the Earthlings and sending information back to Mars through hyperconscious dimension of cat brain simulated reality”. This is obviously not the reality of the Cat, but nonetheless can be useful in entertaining a Child, this would constitute y; i.e – Phenomenology – which we discuss in the next article.

It is sometimes understood that even Science does not really have an ontological right to claim as the description of reality but is only a way of looking at the reality which is more perfect than others. It is often claimed that Scientific method is also not as perfect as it is presented to be. So do we have no way knowing anything about what there is? Is knowledge doomed to always remain in the shadow of ignorance?  Was Socrates really wise only because he at least knew that he did not know?  And if knowledge is not our redemption then what is?