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Philosophical Word: Ontology


There are various different but related issues that are normally utilized in ontology in its implementation during concept description as well as determination of their existence. These issues of ontology include the situation involving a project in which types of things in existence are determined. The project in which the independent existence of things is explained in a metaphysical manner is also an ontological issue that is of great importance to the process where the specification of things is carried out. Other issues of ontology include the situation where it provides certain criteria used in the identification of various things that are in existence and the possibility of grounding ontological issues in science. Inwagen (1998 pp 223)

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Determination of Types of Existing Things

The decision concerning types of phenomena in existence was initially formulated by Aristotle, where he made use of the word category to refer to types. According to Aristotle, categories are important in the classification of anything which could be mentioned or thought about. Generally, the decision of the specific type of phenomena in existence is normally dependent on a number of factors, including language, the purpose of mentioning particular phenomena, as well as the domain in which phenomena are being used. It, therefore, occurs that logic does not have a place in the decision of types of existing phenomena if the three determinant factors are not in existence.

That is logic that is not interrupted results in an ontologically neutral description of phenomena. In this particular case, a neutral definition does not impose any restriction on the described phenomena, and it leaves it open to be applied in any domain. This goes against the main objective of ontology, where it involves itself in getting specific meanings as well as categories or types for everything that is in existence. Sommers (1963 p. 327)

There are both modern and traditional methods used for the determination of things represented in a particular category or type. Aristotle’s method is among the oldest, and he classified phenomena into different genes that vary from each other in nature. Several subcategories are outlined under a supreme genus which he referred to as substance. Individual species of human beings are classified at the very end of the categorization of phenomena since it includes specific identification of phenomena whereby one can be able to mention names of individual human beings.

Aristotle also made use of syllogisms to come up with different types of existing phenomena. In this particular case, syllogisms were considered as patterns that assisted in the representation of inference rules. Four different categories of propositions were used, and they were accompanied by patterns of sentences expressing them accordingly. However, modern categorization followed a completely different trend compared to that of Aristotle’s traditional categorization of phenomena since modern philosophers formulated ontologies from specific to general. Sommers (1963 p. 328-352)

Among the modern methods used is a conceptual schema, which provides a standard manner in which knowledge encoding is carried out. The conceptual schema is normally considered as the place where other types converge as they relate to each other in their application. However, the implementation of conceptual schema has not registered full usage but only partial implementation. Generally, a language that is universal is of great importance in the expression of representations.

Universal language exists in the form of natural language, which enables human beings to express everything in a rather general form. Universal language also exists in the form of logic, where all phenomena that had been previously expressed using natural language are expressed logically. However, it occurs that it is quite difficult to integrate logic in expressions since attaining precision levels needed in order to apply logic is not an easy task altogether. Although this is very difficult, logic has been considered as the only available means through which requirements of complete definitions, as well as categorization, can be achieved. Sommers (1963 p. 353)

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Metaphysical Explanation of Independent Existence of Things

Metaphysical entities include those things that can be perceived by humankind, and they do not have to be provided physically in order for them to be viewed. The direct opposite representation of metaphysical entities is intentional entities that have to be presented for viewing in order for them to be considered intentional. For instance, objects like mountains, persons, a tree, and earth are regarded as metaphysical.

Rand, a philosopher, considers independent things as a whole in his explanation of how they can be able to exist independently of other things. He argues that portions of a certain whole object cannot exist independently as they are entirely dependent on the whole for their support. Objects that occur as a whole are considered metaphysical, and their existence is independent of human beings intentions. In this particular case, Rand regards all objects that can be directly perceived by human beings as a whole, which leads to a conclusion that they possess identities that are mind-independent.

It therefore follows that whole objects which have independent existence are also characterized by unity both in reality as well as mind. The word whole is in this explanation is of great significance as it stresses on the unity experienced by whole objects, and it also makes it clear that portions that comprise the whole are not metaphysically independent. It is impossible to integrate individual human beings whose existence is metaphysically independent into their communities in a similar manner that liver is integrated into the body of a human being. This is because; individual human beings represent single units and not society which shows that collective things do not possess the level of integrity as well as unity that is possessed by single units. Ayers (1991 pp 69)

Further inference concludes that collective things as well as parts do not exist metaphysically independent, but whole units do. The metaphysical independent existence of things have received a wide range of criticism, especially from David Hume, who argues that the consideration of substance as having the ability to exist independently renders those particular objects meaningless. He goes on to argue that it is not only impossible to prove metaphysical independent existence of things, but it is also impossible for human beings to perceive them since, in the first place, they do not exist. According to Hume, knowledge does not have the ability to prove the material reality of things as earlier described in Rand’s explanations concerning independent metaphysical existence of things. Ayers (1991 pp 69-83)

The Criteria of Identity of Things

This is yet another issue that is represented in ontology where the criteria through which things are identified are outlined. There are different criteria applied in the identification process of existing things whose main goal is to attach specific identities to individual things in order to differentiate them from others. The particular criteria employed during the identification process necessitate data exchange which only succeeds when both the receiving end as well as the sender shares a common ontology.

One important criterion that is employed in the identification of things is “sortalism”. Socialism involves the use of sortal concepts which are accompanied by corresponding sortal terms in the establishment of references associated with metaphysical claims. Sortal concepts are normally associated with specific principles on which identity criteria are bases on. Sortalism also holds that identification as well as reference of individuals can only be performed through the use of a sortal. More so, separate individuals only become identical when they have been sorted using a similar identity criteria which they both meet. Ayers (1991 p84)

Various consequences that result from the employment of sortalism are clearly identified when terms like object and thing are generally applied in their neutral occurrence. In this case, these terms do not present themselves as sortal terms since they do not represent specific descriptions of existing things. They are referred to as ‘dummy sortals’ as they wait to be replaced by terms that are more genuine and specific.

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It is therefore the sortal terms that are genuine that have the ability to provide an identity criteria that can be employed by other ‘things’ during the identification process. For instance, the presentation of ‘thing’ as a noun does not provide an identity criterion since it does not meet the requirements of a sortal that is genuine. It follows that it is insensible to count ‘things’ present in a certain location or situation when ‘thing’ is presented in its neutral form.

More precisely, it is possible to specify the representation of books or men in a particular location in terms of figures, but it is impossible to give the representation of ‘things’ that occur in color red in the same or different situation. The main reason is that red things have to be sorted out first before specifying their representation in figures in order for the final identity attached to red things to make some sense. Identification of individuals also follows the same criteria whereby they have to be sorted accordingly using specific sortal terms in order for identities attached to them to make sense. Ayers (1991 p85-90)

Sortalism has received substantial criticism, particularly when its argument is evaluated in reference to the English language and its various applications. It is argued that one can identify something by using ‘thing’ in its neutral form without having to provide its specific description. This is particularly used when both the parties involved in communication want to cover some details of their subject with or without their intention. For instance, when someone reports that there is nothing in his or her shoe and that it was only a fold in his/her sock, the message makes considerable sense since the other party is able to get the message and is quite comfortable with the message even though specific details are eliminated. Quine (2009 pp 19-22)

The Possibility of Grounding Ontological Conclusions in Science

Studies have shown the possibility of basing ontological conclusions in science, including biological, physical as well as psychological sciences. Both classical and contemporary sciences have been considered in order to provide a diverse reflection where historical as well as modern views are integrated accordingly. The situation where a wide range of scientific specializations have emerged has enabled the production of ontological reflections which occur on reality levels.

For instance, physics in its classical and contemporary forms contains a large number of ontological cases. The macrophysics field in particular, comprises of object’s descriptions where definition properties are indicated. The size of some of the objects described through physics exceeds that of molecules which is the same description that ontology is interested in. The other portion of objects described through physics involves microscopic properties of existing things which can serve as essential information to ontological inferences that lead to conclusions.

However, classical as well as contemporary physics have been criticized of its credential level as a science where some critics argue that it has not fulfilled requirements of complete deterministic science. Biology also forms part of the sciences on which ontological conclusions can be based as it provides the process through which living things come into existence. Reproduction is the main concept of biology and without this concept ontology cannot conduct its specification operations.

It therefore occurs that ontology can base its specification of existing things on biology by borrowing their trend of occurrence that would be of great use especially to Aristotle’s categorization. Biology has also received criticism where it is accused of consisting of very many subdivisions which would complicate ontological specifications. Sommers (1963 p. 354-363)


Evidence shows that ontology has a wide range of functions where it is expected to provide specification to various concepts or things that are in existence. Among the important issues of ontology include a project involving the determination of things that are represented in different types.

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Decision making on such an issue requires knowledge on various types that are in existence. Traditional as well as modern types have been formulated, and ‘things’ have been allocated specific types or categories in which they are represented. Other ontological issues concern the metaphysical explanation of things that exist independently as well as the criteria through which things are given identities. Studies have also shown that there is a possibility of basing ontological conclusions in science since it provides concepts and processes incorporated in the ontological process of attaching identities. Inwagen (1998 pp 224-250)


Ayers M. Substance, prolegomena to a realist Theory of identity; journal of philosophy: Routledge, 1991 pp. 69-90.

Inwagen V. Meta-ontology: Cambridge University Press, 1998 pp. 223-250.

Quine W. Words and objections: University of California, 2009 pp. 19-22.

Sommers F. Types and ontology: Oxford university press, 1963 pp. 327-363.

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