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see metaphysicsmetaphysics
, branch of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature of existence. It perpetuates the Metaphysics of Aristotle, a collection of treatises placed after the Physics [Gr.
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the branch of philosophy (and metaphysics) concerned to establish the nature of the fundamental kinds of thing which exist in the world (e.g. do MINDS exist?). Examples of philosophical ontological theory are PLATO's theory of ‘forms’, or recently, SCIENTIFIC REALISM, which asks what kinds of thing are presupposed by scientific theories.

Ontological arguments are also an explicit (or implicit) feature of sociological theory itself, e.g. DURKHEIM's conception of'social facts, WEBER's (or the SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONIST'S) emphasis on individual actors, or MARX's materialism and emphasis on modes and relations in production.

One argument (HUME's view) is that ontological inquiries are bound to be inconclusive, or are even pointless. Against this, the clarification of underlying assumptions is often important. Undoubtedly debate in sociology since COMTE, much of it broadly ontological in nature, has done much to clarify the nature, while also underlining the very great complexity, of social reality (social action, social structures, etc.). However, it has done so not as a separate realm of inquiry, but as an inherent part of sociological inquiry properly conducted. Philosophy can inform these discussions, but it is no longer regarded as the kind of final arbiter it was once assumed to be. The expectation must be that ontologies will change as knowledge and individual sciences and modes of study change (compare EPISTEMOLOGY, KUHN, FEYERABEND).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a subdivision of philosophy that studies universal principles of being, its structure and its laws. Essentially, ontology expresses a picture of the world that corresponds to a particular level in the knowledge of reality and that is recorded in a system of philosophical categories characteristic of a particular period and philosophical tradition (for example, materialism and idealism). In this sense, every philosophical and, in general, every theoretical system rests on certain ontological concepts that constitute its stable content foundation but that change as cognition develops.

The term “ontology” was first used in the philosophical lexicon (1613) of R. Goclenius (Germany) as a synonym for metaphysics. It gained currency in the school of C. Wolff, for whom ontology came to signify the primary fundamental part of metaphysics, concerned with definitions of being as such. Until the early 19th century, ontology developed on the basis of speculation and consisted chiefly of ideas concerning the hidden essences of things. The flimsiness of these teachings on being was criticized by German classical philosophy and was fully surmounted by Marxism, which demonstrated the necessary ties among and unity of ontology, epistemology, and logic and, consequently, the dependence of ontological concepts on the existing level and forms of cognition.

In the 20th century the heightened level of abstract scientific cognition has presented certain basic ontological problems—the construction of an adequate ontological interpretation of abstract concepts of modern science (for example, cosmology and the physics of elementary particles) and the creation of a theoretical foundation for modern methodological approaches and trends (for example, the ontological basis of a systems approach, or of cybernetics). The issue of ontology is discussed in contemporary Marxist literature. Although some Marxist philosophers believe that ontology is not entitled to an independent existence, others assert that it should be a special branch of dialectical materialism.

Attempts to restate problems of ontology in a new, primarily subjective, personal vein, as a matter of the strata and levels of being of the personality, are characteristic of a number of schools of modern bourgeois philosophy, particularly phenomenology, existentialism, and personalism. This line of thought reflects the world view of the pessimistic, alienated individual.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Philosophy the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being
2. Logic the set of entities presupposed by a theory
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


A systematic account of Existence.


(artificial intelligence)
(From philosophy) An explicit formal specification of how to represent the objects, concepts and other entities that are assumed to exist in some area of interest and the relationships that hold among them.

For AI systems, what "exists" is that which can be represented. When the knowledge about a domain is represented in a declarative language, the set of objects that can be represented is called the universe of discourse. We can describe the ontology of a program by defining a set of representational terms. Definitions associate the names of entities in the universe of discourse (e.g. classes, relations, functions or other objects) with human-readable text describing what the names mean, and formal axioms that constrain the interpretation and well-formed use of these terms. Formally, an ontology is the statement of a logical theory.

A set of agents that share the same ontology will be able to communicate about a domain of discourse without necessarily operating on a globally shared theory. We say that an agent commits to an ontology if its observable actions are consistent with the definitions in the ontology. The idea of ontological commitment is based on the Knowledge-Level perspective.


(information science)
The hierarchical structuring of knowledge about things by subcategorising them according to their essential (or at least relevant and/or cognitive) qualities. See subject index. This is an extension of the previous senses of "ontology" (above) which has become common in discussions about the difficulty of maintaining subject indices.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (foldoc.org)


From the Greek words "onto" and "logia," which means the study of being (that which is), an ontology defines the relationships between things. The terms taxonomy and ontology are often used to represent a formal classification of some subject; however, a taxonomy typically defines one category of items in a hierarchical tree structure; whereas an ontology shows the relationships between items in different categories in a graph model.

Ontological Vocabularies
There are numerous vocabularies on the Web that define the data interrelationships on the Semantic Web. Whereas the World Wide Web links Web pages together, the Semantic Web links the data on the Web that are related. See taxonomy, linked open data and Semantic Web.
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References in periodicals archive ?
We have found no good reason for an ontologist or anyone else to accept a correspondence theory of propositional truth.
Counting and listing, not as "being" in the ontologist's heavyhanded sense, but as life, can become the other first question of poems.
From Italian existentialist Nicola Abbagnano to Spanish Christian ontologist Xavier Zubiri, the entries discuss the thought systems of important individual philosophers from around the world, as well as important topics, ranging from aesthetic experience to Zoroastrianism.
Even an inexperienced ontologist intuitively knows that there is more to virtuality than stimulation or simulation.
The image of notes (or rather monads) going on their own way summons the spirit of Nietzsche, a Baroque ontologist par excellence, whose conception of the world as a vast field of interconnecting forces presents the paradoxical but highly contemporary image of a Leibnizian monadology without the all-regulating principle of universal harmony.
These two books make me agree with Hector-Neri Castaneda, who is cited on the blurb as calling Bergmann "the major ontologist of recent decades".
The resources for a proper reconstruction of this type of inference can be gathered from reflections upon the role principles of individuation play in the project of the ontologist: such principles turn out to carry a modal weight similar to that of definitions or conceptual truths.
After working for several years at Cycorp, Ire is now a senior ontologist with Convera Corporation.
The problem, of course, stems from the fact that some of Rosmini's ideas had been explicitly condemned in the 19th century by the Congregation of the Holy Office, and Rosmini had been classified in generations of theology manuals as either a proximate ontologist or a semi-rationalist.
The Positivist and the Ontologist: Bergmann, Carnap and Logical Realism.
It is as much of a problem for the ontologist of music as it is for the Platonist philosopher of mathematics who has to show how mathematical discoveries are made.
The first datum that presents itself to the ontologist is the distinction between individuals and their properties and this distinction is rooted in the fact that the former change and the latter do not.

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