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Parmenides was among the first to propose an ontological characterization of the fundamental nature of reality.
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.
The compound word ontology (“study of being”) combines onto– (Gr. ὄν, on, gen. ὄντος, ontos, “being; that which is”) and -logia (Gr. -λογία, “logical discourse”). See classical compounds for this type of word formation.
While the etymology is Greek, the oldest extant record of the word itself, the New Latin form ontologia, appeared in 1606 in the work Ogdoas Scholastica by Jacob Lorhard (Lorhardus) and in 1613 in the Lexicon philosophicum by Rudolf Göckel (Goclenius).
The first occurrence in English of ontology as recorded by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition, 2008) came in a work by Gideon Harvey (1636/7–1702): Archelogia philosophica nova; or, New principles of Philosophy. Containing Philosophy in general, Metaphysicks or Ontology, Dynamilogy or a Discourse of Power, Religio Philosophi or Natural Theology, Physicks or Natural philosophy, London, Thomson, 1663. The word was first used in its Latin form by philosophers based on the Latin roots, which themselves are based on the Greek.
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.[need quotation to verify] Between these poles of realism and nominalism stand a variety of other positions.