Ontology: "of being" is the philosophical study of the
nature of being, existence or reality in general, as well
as the basic categories of being and their relations.
Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of
philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with
questions concerning what entities exist or can be said
to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related
within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to
similarities and differences.
The term metaphysics actually comes
from somewhat of an historical accident.
Editors of Aristotle's work simply titled the
book which comes after his 'physics' the
'metaphysics' - which indeed discusses
many of the classic problems of
metaphysics - so 'meta' simply means
What do you think of as some of
the questions of metaphysics?
Metaphysics is the study of the nature, structure
and constitution of reality - sounds almost like a
definition of philosophy for some. A major
component of metaphysics is ontology, i.e. what
there is (matter, sets, null set, experience,
minds, relations). Other aspects of metaphysics
are questions concerning the nature of time and
space (relations, or containers?), what
properties all entities share, free will,
In ontology, questions concerning the
nature of minds has become somewhat of
a separate discussion (mind/body relation,
dualism, reference, content, individuation)
which often overlaps with philosophy of
language and more recently philosophy of
science (and cognitive science).
What metaphysical beliefs do you think you have?
Which do you think science has? Christianity?
Is metaphysics a waste of time? Why, why not?
What kind of metaphysical questions can you think of?
Does the past exist? Do souls exist? Does the future exist?
What kinds of relations can they have?
What is the logical structure, if any, of the universe?
What are properties? Are properties and relations real? What is
What is time? Can there be a stretch of time during which nothing
Are there possible worlds? Do they exist? Are my actions free? Is
the universe absurd or rational? Why is there stuff at all? Was the
universe created? Is there a god or gods?)
Philosophy can be divided into two major
directions of thought, centered on what is
considered to be the fundamental issue in
philosophy: the relation between Being
Let us consider some very basic feature of our being.
We sit for instance on a chair. We can see the chair, we
can touch it, and the other senses can as well perceive
of the chair. Now these perceptions all occur within our
brain, where the input data of the sensory organs come
together, and form an "image" of the thing we perceive.
A central issue in this is whether or we regard the thing
that caused the perceptions as real or not. Or in other
words, apart of our perceptions and awareness of the
chair, is there really something outside and separate
from our mind?
Materialism answers this with a clear yes. Not
only by our senses but also through science and
instruments, we can know about this object, that
is separate from our mind. There is an objective
world, independent of our mind. The objective
world consists of what is called matter, which
has the property of being in motion (undergoing
change) at all times. Space and time just denote
the modes of existence of matter.
Idealism answers this with a clear no.
Apart from our immediate perceptions and
awareness of the world, there is no such
thing as an outside, objective world. The
world takes places entirely within our
mind. Outside of that, nothing exists.
Hobbes is one of the first modern writers to
explicitly endorse the position in metaphysics
known as materialism. Materialism is an
ontological position, that is, it answers the
question "What is there?" - materialism answers
"matter, i.e. physical objects". As simple,
straightforward and uncontroversial as this
answer may seem, it is anything but. Science, of
course, has adopted this metaphysical position.
But what of minds, souls, and spirit consciousness? This is a question that
materialists have no compelling answer for
(compelling for some, in any case).
Hobbes was not the first materialist. At the very
least, Democritus and Leucippus the atomists,
preceded him. Hobbes, however, had a more
modern view (and no doubt more of his writings
survived so we understand the position better) of
materialism so he is a good historically
representative materialist. Of course, he had no
difficultly explaining things - wood, stone, flesh,
brains, stars, moons, bone, you name it. As
physicists are content to do today, he postulated
things (all things) are composed of atoms. So,
what's the problem? What about minds?
Hobbes is convinced that we are complicated
machines. Just as Data is from The Starship
Enterprise. The episode "measure of a man" is
an extended look at whether Data counts as
sentient. The conclusion, of course, is yes - so
Data is granted rights. Hobbes would hardly be
surprised by this conclusion, but are we? We are
surround by Data's ancestors - computers. We
have no trouble explaining them, and we also
have no trouble realizing they are not sentient
(capable of feelings). The question for
materialists is one of prediction: How would we
know if/when they become sentient?
What is it about certain complicated machines
(us) that distinguish them from other complicated
machines (computers)? How do we understand
choice, desire, anger, and consciousness such
that machines can have all these
properties/abilities? The materialist thinks we
can give good neurophysiological descriptions.
Don't forget, we can explain almost all the
behavior of some organisms in this way, why not
us? For many, this is a troubling idea. Why?
The most common, and most hotly debated still,
objection to the materialist position is the consciousness
objection. The objection goes like this - we are conscious
and nothing else is. We are unlike machines in this
important respect. Materialism, in principle, can not
provide an explanation of the 'emergence' of
consciousness from physical matter or the intentionality
of mental states. Data isn't conscious (nor are zombies).
Thus, we are not merely material things. Of course,
those who support this position must provide an
alternative explanation of consciousness - we start as a
zygote, when is consciousness infused? How do we
argue against Hobbes without resorting to a religious
Idealism on the other hand claims that
there is no such material world, and that
the world in first instance is our mental
process, our mind and thoughts. That what
is perceived, and which behaves ordinary,
is not an entity on itself, but was created in
or by the mind.
If we consider the claim of Idealism to it's ultimate
extend, we conclude that it would see on the world as if
there was only one mind. This would lead to a
contradictory point of view of solipsism, which is the
vision that apart from our individual mind, nothing at all
whatsoever exists, including other minds.
This point of view of solipsism is however not a viewpoint
taking in by any known philosopher. It would be a
contradiction to even consider it a philosophy, because
the activity of philosophy contains discussing it with other
people (minds). According to solipsism, only one such
mind exists, so to discuss it with other minds would be a
Idealism however, in order to escape from this
absurd point of view, is more commonly known
and developed in the form of objective idealism.
Instead of one individual mind, the world is
considered to be in essence and primary
instance an Absolute Idea (Hegel) or
fundamental principle. The connection between
objective idealism and religion can be made
clear, cause the idea of a deity (God) is just that:
a fundamental principle or Absolute Idea.
Idealism as such as a whole does not oppose as
such the fact that there is a material world, only
that in the point of view of idealism, matter is not
the primary substance.
According to idealism mind (Hegel: Geist (mind,
spirit)) in the form of a fundamental principle or
an Absolute Idea is the primary substance,
matter is just a secondary substance, which
does not exists independent of mind.
Dualism is the ontological position that
there are two kinds of beings (substances)
matter and spirit both of which are eternal.
It is distinct from monism and from theism.
Historical examples of dualism include
1) Greek - Plato and Aristotle
2) Persian - Zoroastrianism
3) Indian - Samkhya Yoga
4) Mormonism - heterodox Christianity
In accounting for change and permanence
Aristotle analyses the world in terms of form and
matter, potentiality and actuality. Matter without
form is pure potentiality. The source of all
change is the Unmoved Mover, pure actuality,
spirit without matter. The dilemma is: if matter
has some actuality without spirit then it so far is
ordinary dualism but if matter has no actuality
without spirit then matter would be created and
temporal (relating to time).
Monism is any philosophical view which
holds that there is unity in a given field of
inquiry, where this is not to be expected.
Thus, some philosophers may hold that
the Universe is really just one thing,
despite its many appearances and
diversities; or theology may support the
view that there is one God, with many
manifestations in different religions.
The following pre-Socratic philosophers
described reality as being monistic:
Anaximander: Apeiron (meaning 'the undefined
infinite'). Reality is some, one thing, but we
cannot know what.
Heraclitus: Fire (in that everything is in constant
Parmenides: Being. Reality is an unmoving
perfect sphere, unchanging, undivided.
a belief in the existence of God or gods.
2. belief in one god as creator and ruler of
the universe, without rejection of special
Belief in the existence of a divine reality;
usually referring to monotheism (one
God), as opposed to pantheism (all is
God), polytheism (many gods), and
atheism (without God).
The appeal of dualism lies in it being the
nearest logical alternative to material and
spiritual monism which avoids the
criticisms raised against both. It also offers
a solution to the problem of evil generally
by locating the problem in matter vs. spirit.
Objections to its appeal:
1) if the soul is eternal how can it go through a
unique event, for example growth in knowledge,
liberation or attainment of heaven?
2) if the soul is inherently good and eternal and
independent of the body why is it in an evil
3) One can conceive of an evil spirit (the devil)
or of evil not based in bodily needs (Eden).
Dualistic attitudes are reflected in
popular theism in several ways:
1) the world is evil; one should flee it or avoid it - monastic
withdrawal, ascetic distrust of the sensuous, celibacy as a higher
2) the world is corruptible especially in the sins of the flesh and must
be guarded against (vs evil as disregard of reason)
3) the world is morally neutral in its basic institutional structures;
personal spirituality is all that is needed
4) the world is good as the creation of God but not as good as the
world to come - heaven.
Two forms of dualism
1) ordinary dualism in which matter is
eternal and independent of spirit - Plato
2) dependent dualism in which matter is
eternal and dependent on spirit - Aristotle.
The first argument against materialism
holds against ordinary dualism.