Concept and Object of Ontology

In Metaphysics IV, 1, Aristotle stated the following: “There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these others treats universally of being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attribute of this part; this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do.

Now since we are seeking the first principles and the highest causes, clearly there must be some thing to which these belong in virtue of its own nature. If then those who sought the elements of existing things were seeking these same principles, it is necessary that the elements must be elements of being not by accident but just because it is being. Therefore it is of being as being that we also must grasp the first causes”.

These words of Aristotle regarding the first philosophy (prote philosophia, the scholastics’ prima philosophia) are still the best and clearest elucidation on the subject under the present scrutiny, i.e., Ontology or General Metaphysics, so also called since it studies the being as being, with the most universal approach.

However, such understanding of Ontology was modified by modern philosophers under the influence of Kant. By his account, we know the phenomena and cognize the existence of the noumena, of which, however, we never have a direct sensible experience, i.e., we can only intuit it through a dialectic, which he called transcendental, but never through sensible intuition. Therefore, Ontology would be the science of the noumenon, with the special role of examining and explaining what is behind the phenomena, whilst each particular science attends the phenomenon itself.

Hence, modern philosophers usually employ the term ontological as referring to the elucidated, the being in general, and ontical as referring to the entity determinately considering the fact of being, in order to avoid confusion between these two realities that, indivisible in the order of being, are distinct in philosophical visualisation. Such terminological usage, however, means not an acceptance of the Kantian doctrine, but simply a need for distinctness necessary to a proper philosophical scrutiny.

Such manner of considering, however, is not universally granted matter of course in philosophy. Scholastics, for instance, considered ontical as the entity not yet uncovered by the spirit, as intelligibile in potentia, and ontological, the entity already discovered, intellectum in actu. Ontical truth is a truth within the being; ontological truth is an act in intellect. Thus, ontical belongs to the immanence of the entity, and ontological to the immanence of being, transcendentally apprehended.

Ontology, as a philosophical science, arose from greek culture by the constructive action of Aristotle, who called it prote philosophia (first philosophy) and theologike episteme (divine science), since it studies the more “divine” beings towards the Unmoved Mover, the Pure Actuality. In medieval philosophy, mainly scholasticism, theology was separated from ontology, for the transcendence of Pure Actuality, ontologically examined, reach not the transcendence of the finite being. God is not an objectum of episteme, of the philosophical science, but its term, to be reached by it; not as an object to be analysed but to be reached.

We had the opportunity to refer in a previous work to the classification of Andronicus of Rhodes on the works of Aristotle that, edited following the books of physics, was titled ta [biblia] metá tá physiká, from which it was latinized the term metaphysica. A careful exam, however, shall demonstrate that that was not a mere classification, but the Aristotelian perception of such science. With scholasticism, such themes studied in the fundamental and famous work of Aristotle (Metaphysics) become a rigorous science that examines the being is its immanence and its transcendence (post physicam et supra physicam) independent from experiential physics. It is not the study of the being separated from the physical and sensible plane as per se subsistent, such as the so-called platonic view (although we shall argue that we disagree with calling such idea platonic, as we shall discuss in further work on the genuine platonic philosophy).

Ontology, therefore, considers the being concretely, in all its density, although examining through specific methods of aphairesis (abstraction) the physical and transphysical (as in the example of the exam of rotundity ontologically independent from the rotund object). Nevertheless, true metaphysics must not realize such separation of noetic functionality to, afterwards, consider it as physical, what leads to the dangers of abstractism, the vicious form of abstraction that consists in considering ontically what is separated only ontologically. Such distinction must be made to avoid a caricature one usually creates of Ontology that induces many students to keep away from it instead of venturing into such important philosophical study. Ontology seeks to penetrate into the most intimate reality of the being, into its concrete exuberance, disassociating it through noetic work, but never neglecting to return to concretion what was, through aphairesis, separated.

The term Ontology was coined by Johannes Clauberg and popularized by Wolf. However, the prote philosophia of Aristotle, the philosophia prima of the Scholastics, Ontology, or General Metaphysics, all refer to the same science of being whilst being. There were two positions amongst the Scholastics on considering Ontology. Those who followed the Thomist position considered it as the coronation of philosophy that should be preceded by logic, cosmology, psychology, and mathematical philosophy. Others, however, considered it as fundamental philosophy, gestated in Gnoseology, and divided into general metaphysics and special metaphysics, which was the philosophical anthropology (metaphysics of man) and cosmology (metaphysics of the material world).

As one can infer by the order of our Encyclopedia, we have, before the two positions, an intermediary one. We have started by a general view of philosophy with our Philosophy and Worldview, followed by Logics and Dialectics, in order to establish our methods, then we examine Psychology and, following, an analysis, synthesis and concretion of the gnoseological process in Theory of Knowledge, to finally reach our Ontology, as the analysis of the being whilst being. The following works shall account for Theology, Axiology, Symbolics, Aesthetics, Noology, etc. Thereby, if Ontology is not belatedly placed, it is also not prematurely so. We rather place it where and when the development of the study of ontological process starts to demand answers to the fundamental questions of Ontology.

 

FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS OF ONTOLOGY

 

What is the being? The Scholastic Quid is the fundamental question of Ontology. To Metaphysics, the question is “why the existing beings exist?”, the Scholastic Cur. In modern times, Heidegger considered that the fundamental question of Ontology is: “Why is there the existent instead of nothing?”.

Ontology emerges from mankind’s meditations on mutability, variability, finitude, the mutable and transformative becoming of things. Everything changes, but what change is a changing thing. This thing that mutates, whilst fulcrum, changes not, is immutable. The world of becoming is, at the same time, the affirmation of the world of being. Ontology, or General Metaphysics, is structured in light of such meditation, for it addresses the generality of metaphysical terms, which are ontological themes. If the concept of Metaphysics as exposed in our Theory of Knowledge (Gnoseology) is understood, there should be unproblematic to comprehend the reach and the justification of such important discipline.

 

HOW TO KNOW THE BEING?

 

In light of such meditation, the first question should be: “How can we know the being?” The answers, however, were already examined in our Gnoseology. Now, the object of Ontology is the Being, but the being is found in everything that is, everything that isn’t nothingness. Found in everything, even the phenomenic. In this case, Ontology finds the foundations to its scrutinies and such foundations diverge not from the entire existence.

The being is revealed in all of our experiences. The first Greek philosophers searched it through the observation of the material world, by their symbolics, to what indicated the arkhe, principle of all things, which study we have done when examining the philosophy of the unconditioned, in our Philosophy and Worldview. It is a mistake to think that there was only a physics and not a metaphysics. Some unclear concepts of metaphysics led many to understand the Presocratic speculation with a single finality: to comprehend the physical world. Such can be explained by a deficient appreciation of the schematic structures of the Greek culture and mainly of its symbolics: the hellenic people indicated the ontological plane with concrete existential concepts, due to the lack of a structured philosophical vocabulary that led them to, naturally, use terms existential-concrete experiences to formulate what surpassed them, i.e., the transphysical world. A careful analysis of the works of the Presocratics shall provide a clearer understanding of the genuinely scientific and metaphysical thought coming from Hesiod until Plato.

The hylozoistic view of the Greeks, the divinization of existence as predicate of being, impelled them to search for the referents indicated by the symbolics of the happening and, if it was not sufficient to lead them further into the study of the laws of the spirit, it paved the way to the advent of Socrates, Plato, and, finally, Aristotle, to whom coped the construction, in solid, regular and monumental lines, of Ontology.

Posteriorly, Ontology can rely on other methods, such as the apprehension of our being in the presence of being. But it is through the cooperation of material, logical, formal, and ontological truths that we obtain a criterion able to guide us in the appreciation of ontological themes, i.e., the dialectical cooperation of methods for a more careful and safe scrutiny. Whether Ontology a) accepts the identification of laws of thought and laws of being, such as the idealists that accept the identification of being and thought (whilst thought we accept it, whilst act of thinking, we distinguish it), or b) at least an affinity between both orders, i.e., an analogy, such as accepted by the realists, for instance, in any form the reflexions – the reflexive method – through its synthetical-analytical and analytical-synthetical processes starting either from exterior or interior experience, is the proper method for such study.

It is necessary to distinguish the act of thinking (which is psychological)and the thought (being); the penetration into the being (the thought) and the apprehension of it depend on the functioning of the act of thinking. Reason belongs to the real-idealists when they affirm that the objective world is modeled by us. Thus, our capacity of assimilation that depends on our accommodated schemes grants us a conditionate apprehension of the being. We know and we ignore. But, through what we know, we can decadialectically discover what we ignore. And if from what we ignore a purely intellectual intuition is not possible, others orders can be acquired, founded on the operative itself that however dispense not the profoundness of our affectivity, as decadialectics has already demonstrated.

However, one cannot restrain Ontology into a method established a priori. Philosophical experience shall always reveal news and good ways (meth odos) according to the progress of human thought. If decadialectics as concretional method of positivities is applied, the possibilities of thought within a so fertile and wide field as the being – that encompass everything – are not finished. Decadialectics, we believe, is the most efficient method of obstinate suspicion against all abstractism and other vicious forms, but it ought to still be subject of improvements and achievements as future postulation of ontological themes demands. Founded, as it should, on human experience, an eminently wide field, which possibilities escape from any previous delimitation, such method must be always open to new routes, as we shall have the opportunity to examine those, for instance, offered by modern philosophy.

A quick historical exam of Ontology, or at least of its fundamental themes, should reveal soon enough an abundance of reasons favoring our attitude, as, for instance, the history of the Greek thought. When the first Greeks of the cosmological period searched for the arkhe based on sensible experience and the result of physical analysis, they were trying to discover the profound nature of things and of the cosmos, the fundamental reality, the great unconditioned, such as the water, symbol of arkhe (vibration, plastic principle, able to manifest all forms) according to Thales or the apeiron, the indeterminate that is determinate in finite things, by Anaximander. or yet the fire, the fluidic – dynamic and active – principle of Heraclitus, etc. Although such first ontological fumbles were founded on physical facts, they intended a deeper search into their origins, source and principle. Pythagoras inaugurates a new phase of ontological speculations, in which the number (arithmos) refers to a genuine ontological field so much so that such numbers found on things (proportions, harmonies, etc., as studied in our Theory of Knowledge) are symbols of the arithmoi archai. It is an Ontology of mathematical knowledge in the Pythagorean sense, not in the sense of common mathematics founded on abstractions of third level of quantitative, i.e., the arithmos posootes.

With Parmenides, the study of being is speculatively taken to a reflexion on its interiority, the search of its absolute, since the being is examined in its ipseity, affirming itself without relation or opposition to any other. With Leucippus and Democritus, the mechanicist-atomistic position emerges until reaching the crisis that creates the skeptical movement in which the ontological studies are suspended. To the skeptical and relativistic phase follows the socratic reaction and the advent of Plato and Aristotle, who synthesize the positivities of greek philosophy under the influence of two temperaments, the eminently introvert of Plato and the lively extrovert, tending to a intellectualist realism, of Aristotle.

Without extending much as to not repeat ourselves, it is easy to verify the diversity of courses that can be employed in ontological speculation, according to the advent of diverse positions of the philosophical process, repeated in the various cultural cycles. The antinomy between the One and the Multiple, the Being and the Becoming, patently found in the works of the Presocratics (studied in our Theory of Knowledge) and that remains, at least apparently, in the work of Plato that establish a metaphysical dualism between the eide and the world of becoming (world of appearances) is coalesced into a unity in Aristotle by incorporating the eide to the material world. Aristotle overcomes the antinomy of being and becoming with the doctrine of antinomy, by establishing the modes of being, i.e., actuality and potentiality and, therefore, dialectically conciliating the determinability of potentiality with the determination of actuality. The cosmical order shines through the eyes of Aristotle as something already given without him trying to explaining it or seeking its transcendental origin. Thus, the idea of creation appears not in the Aristotelian thought and the Unmoved Mover is a creator or providential God. In short, his thought is not theist, but markedly pantheist, since it affirms the eternal and unconditional existence of the world.

The presence of a cosmical intelligence ordering the world appears with the Stoics: the Logos spermatikos (the reason that generates the cosmic order), a creative providence acting by immutable and necessary laws. Such logos is still corporeal, a soul of the cosmos acting in the realization of order, leading to periodical palingenesis found in the cyclical thought of the eternal recurrence (influencing not only the gnostic thought, but many philosophical ideas until our time, such as Nietzsche’s thought of the eternal recurrence).

We see the presence of such thought in the School of Alexandria and, through an allegorical symbolics, in the philosophy of Filon and Plotinus, and in the judaic thought as the search for the symbolized by the construction of an aesthetics of the symbolized, which is the mystic (of egyptian influence, undoubtedly) that admits, by the apprehension of the symbolized through symbols, a more intimate union – a visio essentiae Dei – of the human intellect and the divinity. In Plotinus, influenced by platonic thought, God is One, simple and unique, perfect and omnipotent. Anarchos, absolutely free, He creates freely and the cosmos arises from the emanation of this One through Its hypothesis, such as Intelligence and Soul of the World – a dangerous pantheistic position.

We shall have the opportunity to examine the great extent of the plotinian influence within the Christian thought, such as in Saint Augustine and Scotus Eriugena. Saint Thomas, in the Western cultural cycle, has the same role as Aristotle in the Greek one: to realize the great concretion of positivities theretofore enunciated. Ontology is efficiently established. Founded in Aristotle, but with the influence of platonism, it realizes a genuinely christian ontological synthesis through the convergence of aristotelian and platonic thoughts at the same in which it exceeds the antinomy by the doctrine of the being and essence.

The process of ontological thought hitherto examined reveals the following methods: speculation through experiential physics (presocratics); merely logical speculation (parmenidean), dialectic speculation (heraclitean), relativistic and skeptic critic (sophists in general), formal analyses, but founded on intellectualist empiricism (Aristotle), aesthetics of symbol (Plato), aesthetics of symbolized (mysticals in general, including Plotinus), mystical speculation and revelatio (gnosticism and augustinianism) until reaching the thomistic synthesis, which is the realistic intellectualistic of aristotelian aspect with allegorical speculation, founded on the religious revelatio of Christianity.

The methods continue to be developed. After the XIII century and the period of reflux of the Scholasticism (XIV), nominalism reemerges under new colors and the ontological analysis proceeds under the aegis of empiricism and agnosticism, a return to the skeptical period of the greek culture. Empiricism, fed by the work of Ockham, threats to subvert the ontological speculations, such as the thought of Locke, Berkeley, Stuart Mill, until our days.

It emerges the evolutionist and intuitionist movements, alternating disparate positions that reveal a detrimental constant of the philosophical thought, with the influence of predisponent factors until reaching the phenomenology of Husserl and the existentialism in its manifold shades, as we shall analyses in this book as regarding the manners in which each one stands before the great ontological themes. All of those methods – which we shall employ preferably those already established, with some variances founded on new experiences that should emerge – shall be concretionized in a synthesis of positivities offered by our decadialectics, which proceedings as referring to the ontological themes shall be exposed throughout this book.