from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The ontology (in the 16th century as Greek ontologia formed from ancient Greek ὄν ón , being 'and λόγος lógos , teaching', so doctrine of being ') is a discipline of the (theoretical) philosophy , which is the one with the division of being and Deals with basic structures of reality . This subject area is largely congruent with what is called “general metaphysics ” in traditional terminology . The systematics of basic types of entities (concrete and abstract objects, properties, facts, events, processes) in their structural relationships are discussed. Questions that concern specific areas of philosophy are, for example, “What is man?”, “Is there a God?” Or “Does the world have a beginning?”, Or in the field of natural sciences “What is matter?”, “ What is spacetime? ”,“ Are there emergent properties? ”“ What is life? ”Or“ What is the mind? ”. These topics fell into the area of ​​“special metaphysics” according to the traditional structure. Some traditional approaches focus on the concept of being and its relationship to the individual entities. In the natural sciences, “becoming” is of great importance.

Today, the terms “ontology” and “metaphysics” are mostly used synonymously in analytical ontology . In computer science , formal representation systems, based on the philosophical term, have been called " ontologies " since the 1990s .


The term ontology seems to have been used for the first time in German by Rudolf Goclenius (1547–1628). At about the same time there is a document with Jacob Lorhard (1561–1609), professor in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Johann Georg Walch (1693–1775) defines in his work Philosophical Lexicon: "Ontology means the doctrine of the end [being], and is a designation with which some newer philosophers understood the science that deals with the end and its properties." Walch points out that “others prefer to say ontosophy”.

The term “ontology” was used for the first time by Rudolf Goclenius in 1613 and by Johannes Clauberg in 1656 in its real sense (doctrine of being). Rudolf Goclenius separates ontology and metaphysics.

In the classical philosophical systematics ( which can be traced back to Christian Wolff ), ontology represents a part of metaphysics, namely general metaphysics (metaphysica generalis) in contrast to special metaphysics (metaphysica specialis), which deals with God ( natural theology ), the Soul (natural psychology) and the world (natural cosmology) .

With special metaphysics is connected the claim to investigate certain areas of entities solely on the basis of reason (i.e. non- empirically ) : Natural theology stands in contrast to forms of theology that are based on revelation , on “holy Fonts "support; natural cosmology in contrast to empirical physics . Typical questions of a special metaphysics are for example the problems of whether the world has a beginning in time or whether the soul is immortal .

Basic questions of ontology

In the course of history, various phenomena or subject areas have emerged that are the subject of philosophical or general scientific discussions and which can be described as fundamental questions of ontology:

  • the question of existence , which is a characteristic of every being or is questioned as being in itself.
  • the problem of totality , of unity in plurality, of the ( causal ) connection of complex entities.
  • the distinction between things, constructs, processes, states and events        
  • the dynamic development of material systems, connected with the duality of being and becoming
  • numerical equality or difference, the problem of individuation .
  • the question of relationships or relations or structural connections.
  • the problem of identity or persistence and change over time.
  • the topic of qualitative equality and difference, the question of the general or the particular, which is also known as the problem of universals .

Methodical approaches

Methodically , the classical philosophical ontology often takes the route through language , in which it believes to find the expression of the real and the non-real. The question then is what truth can be said (predicted) about beings. Ontological statements then require a justification and the ontology thus becomes a (spiritual) science. Theorists who take very different epistemological basic positions, such as realistic or constructivist positions with regard to certain objects, tread this path, which Aristotle already took in his category writing . The realistic approach is historically linked with the name Aristotle, among other things, and assumes that the basic structures of reality are in principle reliably depicted in experience and can be appropriately expressed in linguistic form. Anti-realistic (also constructivist ) approaches teach, for example, that the basic structures of beings are only projections of thinking about the world . The nature of reality, independent of our knowledge of it, is either inaccessible to us or, as more radical representatives of this position teach, a pointless question at all, since “the world” is simply that which one constructs. Every now and then, constructivist motives are traced back to the thoughts of Immanuel Kant , as he teaches that the thing in itself is unknowable. Although the two epistemological basic positions are irreconcilably opposed to each other, the descriptive content of the ontology can agree with both concepts, whereby according to the anti-realistic position it is only about the structures that are generated as an idea in the perception process and not at the same time about those that - according to the realist - exist in the world independently of an observer. For both views, the ontologist proceeds in a descriptive manner and does not try to explain why the world is the way it is. That is then the subject of special metaphysics.

The scientific ontology assumes that beings are treated by the empirical sciences, from physics to the social sciences and economics. A modern ontology should therefore be based on the knowledge of these sciences. This ontology is very general and deals with those scientific questions that go beyond the individual sciences, i.e. concern the entire reality of being and becoming. It can be checked on the basis of its correspondence with the individual sciences.

Problem and conceptual history

Although the term “ontology” was introduced late in the history of philosophy, its object - beings as beings - was already treated in antiquity .

The philosophy of Heraclitus (around 520-460 BC) from Ephesus on the question of becoming and being was in contrast to the teachings of Parmenides (around 520-460 BC) from Elea . While Heraclitus emphasized the changeability of all beings with his principle everything flows , Parmenides advocated the thesis immutability of being.

For Aristotle (384–322 BC), metaphysics as the “ first philosophy ” has at the same time the task of “considering beings, purely insofar as they are, and the determinations belonging to them”. This “first philosophy” forms a separate part of his metaphysics . “Science of being” and “science of God” are in a polar context.

In the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) the ontology - already in a more explicit form - is opposed to the doctrine of divine being, which, however, together make up the “pure” or “general” metaphysics and together form the basis of the represent other “metaphysical” disciplines (cosmology, psychology, etc.). With Benedictus Pererius (1535–1610), at the beginning of the 17th century, “science of being” and “science of God” began to become independent and were classified as two different sciences: first philosophy and general science on one, metaphysics in the sense of theology the other side.

Goclenius (1547–1628) differentiates the ontology as "philosophia de ente" due to the relationship of its object to matter from the "scientia transnaturalis" as the doctrine of God and the angels. Micraelius (1597–1658) exemplifies this split for the school philosophy of the 17th century. He divides metaphysics into a "general one in which beings are viewed in their most abstract sense and in complete indifference" and into a "special metaphysics in which beings are viewed in those kinds of substances that are separated from all matter, as it is to God, the angels and the separated soul ”. The part of metaphysics understood as the “first philosophy” now appears to him as the actual continuation of the “metaphysica generalis”, while the “theologia naturalis” is reduced to a component of the “metaphysica specialis”.

With Johannes Clauberg (1622–1665) the ontology was given a comprehensive status as “metaphysica generalis”, which in a certain way also encompassed “natural theology”. With Leibniz this appears as the “science of the thinkable in general, insofar as it is such a thing”.

The final split between ontology as overarching metaphysics (“metaphysica generalis”) and natural theology (reduced to “metaphysica specialis”) is finally carried out by Christian Wolff (1679–1754). For him, the ontology as “first philosophy” is the science of beings in general. It has the task of "explicating all those determinations (predicates) which can be assigned to beings as such and which are therefore of the highest generality" by means of conceptually based deduction.

Kant (1724–1804) criticizes ontology as a discipline that illegally bears its “proud name” and “presumes to give synthetic a priori knowledge of things in a systematic doctrine”, while “the understanding never more a priori than to anticipate the form of a possible experience at all ”. Therefore, the claim of the previous ontology must "give way to the modest, a mere analytics of the pure intellect". This "science of the most general concepts and principles of all natural and moral things in general, without accepting objects that are given [...] does not affect the supersensible". It "is called transcendental philosophy because it contains conditions and first elements of all our knowledge a priori ".

For Hegel (1770–1831) the former metaphysics "reached its end" through critical philosophy. But since “an educated people without metaphysics” is like a “temple without the most holy place”, Hegel tries to critically restore this in his logic of being and essence .

The empirically oriented materialism of the 17th and 18th centuries - widespread especially in England and France - rejects Wolff's ontological system. For Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872), who perceived materialism in Germany as the antithesis of Hegel's speculative philosophy, the “objectively founded beginning, the true basis of philosophy, is nature”. The attempt to derive “beings as such” seems to him epistemologically impracticable. Because “thinking is from being, but being is not from thinking. Being is of itself and through itself - being is only given through being - being has its basis in itself ”.

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

In 20th century philosophy there is a renewed interest in ontology. In the Neuscholastik ( Hans Driesch (1867–1941), Erich Becher (1882–1929) and Aloys Wenzl (1887–1967)) there is an examination of the Thomistic system conception, which was shaped by Aristotle .

Old and new ontology

Under old ontology is meant mainly advocated by Parmenides direction of philosophy. Since this doctrine absolutized being and called nothingness as unthinkable, such a view is often called positivistic . The charge of scientism has been raised against such an attitude . The old ontology arose on the natural-philosophical and cosmological conviction of the immutability of the cosmos or the starry sky, see mechanistic worldview . According to Georgi Schischkoff , the old ontology restricted the concept of reality to materiality . The timeless universal and unchangeable was in the old ontology as being of a higher order, indeed as the only true being. The new ontology has a more comprehensive concept of reality that relates to a hierarchy of the real world. According to Nicolai Hartmann , what was once considered the realm of perfection, the realm of beings, whose weak and imperfect images are the empirically perceptible things, has proven to be the realm of incomplete being, which could only be formed in abstraction . This is perhaps the most tangible contrast between the new and the old ontology.

Scientific ontology

The model of emergent self-organized processes and systems provides an approach for a general scientific ontology that is based on the findings of the individual sciences . In this model, the processes of the world are mapped to a uniform basic process, which works from the Big Bang through the development of life, the functioning of the brain to the processes of human society: Elements that interact with each other arise naturally and mostly spontaneous systems with new structures, properties and capabilities. Depending on the area of ​​application, this general model is also known under the terms Complexity Theory , Evolution , Synergetics , Holism , Monism , Symbiosis , Autopoiesis , Spontaneous Social Order and Invisible Hand of the Market .


Critical description of ontology in Niklas Luhmann's systems theory

In the field of systems theory research , Niklas Luhmann dealt with the concept of ontology in its historical and contemporary contexts as a possible description of modern society. The understanding of ontology is limited in the way typical of systems theory with a binary differentiation structure:

"Ontology we want to designate the result of a mode of observation that starts from the distinction being / not being and subordinates all other distinctions to this distinction."

- Niklas Luhmann : The society of society

According to this quote, Luhmann worked with an observation method that he took from Georg Spencer-Brown's calculus of forms ( Laws of Form ) and modified it for his own theory. Two values ​​given for differentiation require the designation of one of the two, whereby the respective other is hidden. The hidden value is still available as a constitutive condition of the designated value, e.g. B. for a reentry , which means the re-entry of a distinction into what is already different. Applying this procedure to ontological observation in the form of being / not being creates a paradox. Nothing is called something that is not. This fact forces follow-up operations from the start on the side of being. The nothingness thus does not represent any actual intrinsic value, but merely helps being functionally to achieve unrestricted validity. It can therefore no longer be used operationally, because nothing is lost through its designation or non-designation. It consumes itself, so to speak, or in other words, reflection does not add anything of its own to the production of knowledge.

Luhmann understood ontological thinking, going far beyond a humanities meaning, also as an essential part of everyday and socially relevant communication. In the historical development he saw a change in society from a “stratificatory differentiation” to a “functional differentiation”. In the course of an analysis of changing social semantics (self-description) and the associated movement from universalistic to relativistic ways of seeing things, he came to the understanding of the need to replace the ontological scheme with new terms, that of "observer" and that of "observation" .

“Now the distinction being / not being is being replaced as a fundamental distinction (primary distinction), and ontologically completely implausible replaced by the distinction between inside and outside or self-reference and external reference of the observer. Because, according to the new version, an observer must first be created before he can apply the distinction between being and not being. "

- Niklas Luhmann : Society of Society page 911

Seen in this way, unrivaled truth could no longer be achieved in a modern society. While in the premodern societies, with their class or caste order, a stable system consistency with reliable power relations was guaranteed (e.g. through recognition of the nobility of birth), a separate code is now created in each subsystem, e.g. B. in the economy with the difference pay / not pay in politics power / opposition or in science truth / untruth.

But also in the system-theoretical description of meaning it becomes clear how Luhmann questions ontological validity claims with constructivist arguments.

“It is a self-illusion of meaning-constituting systems when they think that permanent identities have always existed and will continue to exist, and one can therefore relate to them as to what is already there. All orientation is construction, is a differentiation that is updated from moment to moment. "

- Niklas Luhmann : The Society of Society page 44/45

In doing so, he confronts the possibility of an ontological positing of being with its reinterpretation into procedurally generated and temporally conditioned operations, the continuation of which can only be guaranteed through autopoietic system formations and can be continued through recursions generated in the system. Systems themselves cannot consist of themselves, but only from operational distinctions such as system / environment.

Connection to other sciences

Philosophy understands ontology to be the basic structures of reality and claims to provide a universal tool to understand the world. So it is understandable that the term ontology or synonyms of this term are used in other sciences as well.

The term has established itself in computer science and there z. B. in the fields of Semantic Web and understanding of natural language . In other sciences, the term ontology is less well established, but is still used occasionally, e.g. B. in linguistics , literary studies , psychology and mathematics . In contrast to philosophy, the term ontology then refers to a limited subject area or a specific subject or object.

The plural ontologies is used in philosophy for the ontologies of different philosophers, each of which generally claims general validity. In the other sciences, however, the plural ontologies refers to different sections of reality. E.g. different areas of knowledge, different people and their respective worldview.

In terms of content, the ontology is conceptually similar to systems theory and cybernetics , which also deal with the structures of reality, albeit more closely with their quantitative aspects and dynamic processes.

The mathematical field of formal concept analysis also deals with the ordering of objects and their features in a structure. Ontologies in the sense of computer science can be formally described with the means of formal concept analysis from mathematics.

Correspondences in other cultures

The approach of Asian philosophy to underlay reality with a basic conceptual structure is very different from Western ontology. It is more oriented towards relationships, processes and cycles and places things and their properties in the background as transitory . It is controversial whether this approach should also be included under the umbrella term ontology .

  • Pro it is argued that it is also about making reality tangible through a basic conceptual structure.
  • On the contrary , it is argued that the term ontology comes from the Greek and is therefore firmly linked to Western philosophy and its ideas. Asian philosophy is also often equated with the form in which it is referred to in western esoteric circles.

For the basic structures of Eastern philosophy see Wuji , Yin and Yang , Five-Element-Doctrine , Daodejing , Laozi and, with restrictions, also the Eight Trigrams .

However, the concentration on things and properties is also criticized in branches of occidental philosophy. See process philosophy .

Presumably, there are also basic structures of knowledge in other cultures that can be discussed as to whether they represent an ontology and which differ significantly from the Western understanding of ontology.


See also literature on metaphysics .

Older and modern classics

  • Thomas Aquinas: About being and essence. De duck et essentia . Latin-German, with introduction, translation and commentary edited by Horst Seidl. Meiner, Hamburg 1988, ISBN 3-7873-0771-0 .
  • Ernst Bloch : Tübingen Introduction to Philosophy . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main, new extended edition (!) 1970, DNB 456137513 . (identical to complete edition volume 13)
  • Georg Lukács : Ontology - Marx. On the ontology of social being. The basic ontological principles in Marx . 1972, DNB 730293432 .
  • Heinrich Rombach : structural ontology. A phenomenology of freedom. 2nd, unchanged edition. Freiburg i.Br./ Munich 1988, ISBN 3-495-47637-7 .

Systematic presentations and manuals

  • Article "Ontology" in:
    • Ritter / Founder / Gabriel (Ed.): HWPh .
    • Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy.
    • Hans Jörg Sandkühler (ed.): European encyclopedia on philosophy and sciences.
  • David Malet Armstrong : Universals: an opinionated introduction. Westview 1989, ISBN 0-8133-0772-4 At the same time a very clear introduction to the basic problems of systematic ontology.
  • Hans Burkhardt, Barry Smith (Eds.): Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology . Philosophica Analytica, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-88405-080-X .
  • Jan Faye, Uwe Scheffler, Max Urchs: Things, Facts and Events . Rodopi 2000, ISBN 90-420-1533-0 .
  • Reinhardt Grossmann: The existence of the world. An introduction to ontology. 2nd Edition. ontos, Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-937202-38-2 .
  • John Heil: From an ontological point of view. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005, ISBN 0-19-925974-7 .
  • Michael Loux: Metaphysics - A Contemporary Introduction. 3. Edition. London 2006.
  • EJ Lowe: A Survey of Metaphysics. Oxford 2002.
  • Uwe Meixner : Introduction to ontology . Scientific Buchges., Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-15458-4 .
  • Edmund Runggaldier , Christian Kanzian: Basic problems of analytical ontology . Schöningh, Paderborn 1998, ISBN 3-506-99493-X .
  • Benjamin Schnieder: Substances and (their) properties. A Study of Analytical Ontology . de Gruyter, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-11-018155-X .
  • Erwin Tegtmeier: Basic features of a categorical ontology. Things, properties, relationships, facts . Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1992, ISBN 3-495-47722-5 .
  • Jan Urbich, Jörg Zimmer (ed.): Handbook ontology . Metzler, Stuttgart 2020, ISBN 978-3-476-04637-6 .
  • Béla Weissmahr : Ontology. 2nd Edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-17-011775-0 .

On the history of ontology

  • Kevin Mulligan : A History of Early Analytic Metaphysics. In: Steven D. Hales (Ed.): Analytic Philosophy: Classic Readings. Wadsworth / Thomson Learning, Belmont, Cal. 2002, ISBN 0-534-51277-1 , p. 83 ff.
  • Walter Pagel : Paracelsus, van Helmont, Virchow and the changes in the ontological concept of disease. In: Virchow's archive for pathological anatomy. Volume 363, 1974, pp. 183-211.

Web links

Commons : Ontology  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: ontology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Mario Bunge, Martin Mahner: About the nature of things, Hirzel 2004.
  2. ^ I. Prigogine: From Being to Becoming, Piper 1992.
  3. Jacobus Lorhardus: philosophicum Theatrum. Ogdoas Scholastica continens Diagraphs Typicam artium: Grammatices (Latinae, Graecae), Logices, Rhetorices, Astronomices, Ethices, Physices, Metaphysices, see Ontologiae, 1. A. Sangalli 1606, here 2. A. Basel; see. Joseph S. Freedman: German School Philosophy in the Reformation Age (1500–1650). A handbook for university teaching , Münster, MAKS 1985; Jean-François Courtine: Suarez et le système de la métaphysique, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France 1990, 410 n.6
  4. l. c., s. v. Ontology 1. A. 1726, 2. A. 1733, ND of these Thoemmes 2001.
  5. ibid. with reference to chauvin, lexic. philosopher. 459 ed. 2 and Joh. Clauberg, oper. philos., 277.
  6. Article “Ontology”. In: Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. 11th edition. Leipzig 1975.
  7. For the development of a distinction in the use of “metaphysics” and “ontology” cf. Elisabeth Maria Rompe: The separation of ontology and metaphysics. The process of detachment was motivated by Benedictus Pererius and other thinkers of the 16th and 17th centuries . University of Bonn, Bonn 1968 (Diss. 1967).
  8. Erwin Tegtmeier: Introduction, Ontology . Texts, Alber, Munich 2000, 17.
  9. a b Georgi Schischkoff (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. 14th edition. Alfred-Kröner, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-01321-5 , (a) zu Lexikon-Stw. “Being”, p. 628; (b) to Lexikon-Stw. “Ontology” p. 503 f.
  10. Aristotle Met. 1003a.
  11. ^ Goclenius: Lexicon philosophicum (1613), p. 16.
  12. Micraelius: Lexicon Philosophicum (1653), p. 654.
  13. ^ GW Leibniz: Opuscules et fragments inédits. Hildesheim (1966), p. 511.
  14. ^ Christian Wolff : Philosophia prima sive Ontologia. Methodo scientifica pertracta, qua omnis cognitionis humanae principia continentur (Frankfurt / Leipzig 1730, 1736), §1
  15. Kant, KrV B 303 / A 246
  16. Kant: Preisschrift about the progress of metaphysics . In: Gesammelte Werke, Akademie Textausgabe, Berlin (1968), Volume 20, p. 260.
  17. ^ Hegel: Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Heidelberg 1975 (1817), § 18
  18. ^ Hegel: Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, Heidelberg 1975 (1817), p. 4.
  19. Ludwig Feuerbach: Some remarks on the ›beginning of philosophy‹ by Dr. JF Reiff. In: Ludwig Feuerbach works in six volumes, Fft./M., Volume 3, p. 133.
  20. Ludwig Feuerbach: Preliminary theses on the reform of philosophy. In: Ludwig Feuerbach: Small philosophical writings (1842-1845). Published by Max Gustav Lange, Leipzig: Felix Meiner, 1950, p. 73.
  21. Jürgen Habermas : Knowledge and Interest. In: Technology and Science as »Ideology«. (Edition 287). 1st edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1968), [1965 Merkur] p. 147 f.
  22. ^ Nicolai Hartmann : New ways of ontology. In: Systemat. Philos. 3. Edition. 1949.
  23. Günter Dedié: The Power of Natural Laws - Emergence and Collective Abilities from Elementary Particles to Human Society, 2nd edition, tredition 2015.
  24. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The society of society . tape 2 . Suhrkamp, ​​1998, ISBN 3-518-28960-8 , pp. 895 .
  25. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The society of society . 10th edition. tape 2 . Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998, ISBN 3-518-28960-8 , pp. 898 .
  26. ^ William Rasch: Ontologies of Modernity. Luhmann's ontology . Ed .: René John, Jana Rückert-John, Elena Esposito. Springer VS, 2012, ISBN 978-3-531-18022-9 , pp. 39 .
  27. Link University of Münster: Theories of the early modern period. Responsible: Prof. Dr. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, 2003, accessed April 4, 2019 .
  28. Niklas Luhmann: Introduction to Systems Theory . Ed .: Dirk Baecker. 7th edition. Carl-Auer Verlag, 2002, ISBN 3-89670-839-2 , p. 137 .
  29. ^ Andreas Kött: System theory and religion: With a religion typology following Niklas Luhmann. Binary code and symbolically generalized communication medium . Königshausen & Neumann, 2003, ISBN 3-8260-2575-X , p. 90 .
  30. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The economy of society. Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-518-28752-4 .
  31. Niklas Luhman: The politics of society. Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3-518-29182-3 .
  32. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The science of society. Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-518-28601-3 .
  33. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The society of society. Chapter 1. III sense . S. 44-60 .
  34. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The society of society. IV. The distinction between system and environment . 10th edition. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1997, p. 65, 66, 67 .
  35. Thomas Bernhard Seiler: Evolution of Knowledge. Volume I: Evolution of the structures of knowledge. 2012, ISBN 978-3-643-11376-4 .
  36. Thomas Bernhard Seiler: Evolution of Knowledge. Volume II: Evolution of Concepts. 2012, ISBN 978-3-643-11377-1 .