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Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, 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 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.

Some philosophers, notably in the traditions of the Platonic school, contend that all nouns (including abstract nouns) refer to existent entities. 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 person; society refers to a collection of persons with some shared characteristics, and geometry refers to a collection of specific kinds of intellectual activities. Between these poles of realism and nominalism stand a variety of other positions.

Some fundamental questions

Principal questions of ontology include:

  • “What can be said to exist?”
  • “What is a thing?”
  • “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. 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:

  • what it is (its ‘whatness’, quiddity, haecceity 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:

  • 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?

Essential ontological dichotomies include:

  • universals and particulars
  • substance and accident
  • abstract and concrete objects
  • essence and existence
  • determinism and indeterminism
  • monism and dualism
  • idealism and materialism


The Essential Dialectic of Reality is:

{Virtual-Noumenal ⇆ Noumenal-Virtual ⇅ Virtual-Virtual} ↻ Noumenal-Noumenal


The Complete Dialectic of Reality is:

{Noumenal-Reality ⇆ Virtual-Reality ⇅ Absolute-Reality} ↻ Ultimate-Reality



The Equivalency Dialectic of Reality is:

{Mathematics ⇆ Logic ⇅ Ontotheology} ↻ Reality