The ontology (Greek ὄν, on, " being" to εἶναι as a present participle, einai, "to be", and λόγος, logos, " teaching word" ) is a discipline of theoretical philosophy. The ontology is concerned with the scale of beings and the basic structures of reality and of possibility. This subject area is largely congruent with what is called the traditional terminology " general metaphysics." Here, as a system of the fundamental types of entities ( concrete and abstract objects, properties, facts, events, processes ) and their structural relationships is discussed. Specific subject areas in question are, however, questions such as' what is man? "," Is there a God? "Or " Does the world have a beginning? ". These themes were the traditional fabric structure to the " special metaphysics." Some traditional approaches to the concept of being and its relationship to each of the entities in the foreground. Today in analytic ontology, the terms " ontology " and " metaphysics " are generally used interchangeably. In computer science since the 1990s are formal systems of representation, similar to the philosophical concept called " ontologies ".

  • 7.1 Older and modern classics
  • 7.2 Systematic diagrams and manuals
  • 7.3 History of the ontology


The term ontology seems to have been used in the German language for the first time by Rudolf Göckel ( 1547-1628 ). At about the same time is a testament in Lorhard Jacob (1561-1609), a professor in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Johann Georg Walch (1693-1775) defined in his work Philosophical Lexicon: " Ontology is the science of the end of [ His ], and is a designation with which some modern philosophers of science who is ever and its properties from the end understood. " Walch notes that say " others prefer Ontosophie ".

The ontology provides the classic ( among other Christian Wolff declining ) philosophical system a part of metaphysics is, namely, the general metaphysics ( metaphysica generalis ) in contrast to the special metaphysics ( metaphysica specialis ), dedicated to God (natural theology ), the soul ( Natural Psychology ) and the World ( Natural cosmology ) busy.

With the special metaphysics of the claim is connected, (ie non- empirical) to investigate solely on reason based certain areas of entities: Natural theology stands as opposed to forms of theology, on the basis of revelations on " sacred writings " support; the natural cosmology, in contrast to empirical physics. Typical questions of a special metaphysics would be about the problems that the world has a beginning in time or whether the soul is immortal.

Fundamental questions of ontology

Throughout history, various phenomena or themes have emerged which are the subject of philosophical discussions are, and who can be described as fundamental questions of ontology:

  • The question of the existence which belongs every being as a feature or questioned as being in itself.
  • The problem of totality, unity in diversity, the ( causal ) relationship of complex entities.
  • The numerical equality or difference, the problem of individuation.
  • The question of the relation or relations or structural contexts.
  • The problem of identity or persistence and change over time.
  • The theme of the qualitative equality and diversity, the question of the General or Special, which is also known as universals.

Methodological approaches

Methodically, the classical ontology is often the way over the language in which she believes retrieve the precipitation of the real and non- real. The question is then, what is true about the being statements ( predicate ) can. Ontological statements may then require justification and the ontology is to a science. This way, the Aristotle has gone into its writing category, tread theorists who take very different epistemological positions, such as realistic or constructivist positions with respect to certain items. The realistic approach is historically linked, among others, by the name of Aristotle, and assumes that the basic structures of reality to portray in the experience principle, reliably and in linguistic form are appropriate predicable. Anti Realistic ( constructivist ) approaches to teaching, for example, that the basic structures of being are only projections of thinking about the world. As the reality is constituted independently of our knowledge of it is us either inaccessible or teach how radical representative of this position at all a meaningless question, because "the world" is simply those one construct. Every now and then are returned constructivist motifs on thoughts about Immanuel Kant. Although both epistemological framework theories are opposite unforgiving, the descriptive content of the ontology may correspond to two concepts, where it goes to anti- realistic position only to the structures that are generated as an idea in the process of perception and not also those who - as the realist - regardless present of an observer in the world. For both views is in any case that the ontologist only descriptive (descriptive ) is going on and does not attempt to explain why the world is as it is. This is then subject to the special metaphysics.

Problem and Conceptual History

Being as being - - Although the term " ontology " is introduced late in the history of philosophy, its subject is treated in ancient times.

The philosophy of Heraclitus (around 520-460 BC ) from Ephesus to the question of becoming and being stood in contrast to the teachings of Parmenides (c. 520-460 BC ) from Elea. While Heraclitus emphasized the mutability of all being with his Principle Everything flows, Parmenides defended the thesis immutability of being, see chap. Parmenides.

For Aristotle (384-322 BC) the metaphysics as " first philosophy " at the same time the task of " the being purely insofar as it is, and to see the same rules can assume ." This " first philosophy " forms a separate part of his metaphysics. "Being " and " science of God " are doing in a polar context.

Also in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is the ontology - already in more explicit form - the doctrine of the divine being over, but still together, the " pure" or "general" make up the foundation of metaphysics and common represent other " metaphysical" mentioned disciplines ( cosmology, psychology, etc.). In Pererius (1535-1610) start at the beginning of the 17th century "being " and " science of God " to become independent and be as two different sciences are juxtaposed: First philosophy and general science on the one hand, metaphysics in the sense of theology the other side.

Goclenius (1547-1628) distinguishes the ontology as " philosophia de ente " due to the relationship of its object to the matter of the " scientia transnaturalis " as the doctrine of God and the angels. Micraelius (1597-1658) brings this division for the school philosophy of the 17th century examples expressed. He divided metaphysics into a 'generic, in the being is considered in its most abstract sense and in complete indifference " and in a" special metaphysics in which the being is considered in those types of substances that are separated from all matter, as the angels and the separated soul are "God. The "first philosophy " summed up part of metaphysics appears to him now than the actual continuation of the " metaphysica generalis ", while the " natural theology " is reduced to a part of the " metaphysica specialis ".

In John Clauberg (1622-1665) gets the ontology as " metaphysica generalis " a comprehensive status of the " natural theology " overlaps in some way. For Leibniz, then as the " science of the thinkable in general, insofar as it is such a " appears.

The final cleavage of ontology as an overarching metaphysics ( " metaphysica generalis " ) and natural theology (reduced to " metaphysica specialis " ) by Christian Wolff ( 1679-1754 ) is finally complete. For him, the ontology is defined as " first philosophy " the science of being in general. It has the task " to explicate by conceptually reasoned deduction all those rules ( predicates ), which can come to being as such and which are therefore of the utmost generality ."

Kant (1724-1804) criticized the ontology as a discipline that unlawfully carrying her " proud name " and " would arrogate to himself to give of things in general synthetic a priori knowledge in a systematic doctrine ," while yet the mind a priori " never more could afford as to anticipate the form of a possible experience in general. " Therefore, the claim of the previous ontology must be " the modest, a mere analytic of the pure understanding, make room ". This " science of the most general concepts and principles of all natural and moral things in general without taking objects that would have given [ ... ] shall not affect the supernatural ." You " is called transcendental philosophy, because it contains conditions and first elements of all our knowledge a priori ".

While for Hegel (1770-1831), the former metaphysics by the critical philosophy " reaches its end shaft ". However, since " an educated people without metaphysics " as a " temple without holy of holies " is, Hegel tried these critical re-establish in his being and essence logic.

The - widespread especially in England and France - empiricist oriented materialism of the 17th and 18th centuries has Wolff back ontological system. For Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), the rezipiert materialism in Germany as a counterpoint to the speculative philosophy of Hegel, who is " objectively reasonable beginning, the true basis of philosophy, nature." The attempt to derive " being as such ", it appears epistemologically seen impracticable. For the " thinking from being, but being not from thought. His is off and by itself - being is given only by His - His is a reason in itself. "

The second half of the 19th century is mostly characterized by the rejection of Hegel's speculative - dialectical system. The ontology is assigned a taboo. Dominant directions this time of positivism and the philosophy of life, both of which were influenced by the neo-Kantianism.

In the philosophy of the 20th century reawakened some interest in the ontology. In the neo-scholasticism (Hans Driesch ( 1867-1941 ), Erich cup ( 1882-1929 ) and Aloys Wenzl ( 1887-1967 ) ) is a dispute with the embossed Aristotle Thomistic system design instead.

Old and new ontology

Under the old ontology is meant mainly represented by Parmenides direction of philosophy. Since this doctrine made ​​absolute Being and Nothingness called unthinkable, such a view is often referred to as a positivist. Against such a setting, the accusation of scientism has been raised. The old ontology is developed on the natural philosophical and cosmological belief of the immutability of the cosmos and of the starry sky, see → mechanistic worldview. After Georgi Schischkoff limited the old ontology the notion of reality on materiality. The timeless and unchangeable General was in the old ontology as being of a higher order, indeed as the only true Being. The new ontology has a much broader concept of reality, which refers to a hierarchical ordering of the real world. After Nicolai Hartmann has just what was once considered the realm of perfection, the realm of beings whose weak and imperfect images are the empirically observable things, as the realm of the incomplete being proven, which could be formed only in the abstraction. This is perhaps the most tangible contrast between old and new ontology.

Connection to other sciences

The philosophy ontology understands the basic structures of reality and thereby increases as a claim to provide a universal tool to understand the world. It is therefore logical that the term ontology or synonyms of this term can also be used in other sciences.

Established has the term in computer science, where for example in the areas of Semantic Web and natural language understanding. In other sciences the term ontology is less well established, but is used occasionally, such as linguistics, literary studies, psychology and mathematics. In contrast to the philosophy of Ontologiebegriff but then refers to a limited subject area or a specific subject or object.

The plural ontologies is used in philosophy to ontologies of different philosophers, of which usually each for himself but claimed universality. In the other sciences, however, the plural ontologies refers to various sections of the reality. For example, areas of knowledge, different people and their respective worldview.

Content, there is a conceptual proximity of the ontology to systems theory and cybernetics, which also deal with structures of reality, albeit more strongly with the quantitative aspects and dynamic processes.

Also, the mathematical area of Formal Concept Analysis, deals with the ordering of objects and their attributes in a structure. Can be described formally by means of formal concept analysis from mathematics ontologies in the sense of computer science.

Equivalents in other cultures

The approach of the Asian philosophy to underpin the reality with a conceptual base structure is very different from the Western ontology. It is aimed more towards relationships, processes and cycles and sets things and their properties as transient in the background. Whether this approach should also be taken under the generic term ontology is controversial.

  • Pro argues that it also comes to make the tangible reality by a mental basic structure.
  • Contra is argued that the term ontology comes from the Greek and is thus firmly linked with the Western philosophy and their ideas. The Asian philosophy is often equated with the form in which it will be referred to them in Western esoteric circles.

One of the basic structures of Eastern philosophy see Wuji, Yin and Yang, Five Element theory, the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, and to some the Eight Trigrams. However, the concentration is quite critical to things and properties in branches of Western philosophy. See process philosophy.

Probably be found in other cultures basic structures of knowledge, where you can argue about whether they represent an ontology, and differ markedly from Western ontology understanding.