Constituent Ontology

Barry Smith, An Essay in Formal Ontology”, Grazer Philosophische Studien, 6 (1978), 39–62.

Barry Smith,Logic, Form and Matter”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 55 (1981), 47–63.

It is argued, on the basis of ideas derived from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Husserl’s Logical Investigations, that the formal comprehends more than the logical. More specifically: that there exist certain formal-ontological constants (part, whole, overlapping, etc.) which do not fall within the province of logic. A two-dimensional directly depicting language is developed for the representation of the constants of formal ontology, and means are provided for the extension of this language to enable the representation of certain materially necessary relations. The paper concludes with a discussion of the relationship between formal logic, formal ontology, and mathematics.

Barry Smith and Kevin Mulligan, Framework for Formal Ontology”, Topoi, 3 (1983), 73–85.

Barry Smith, “On Substances, Accidents and Universals: In Defence of a Constituent Ontology”, Philosophical Papers, 26 (1997), 105–127.

The essay constructs an ontological theory designed to capture the categories instantiated in those portions or levels of reality which are captured in our common sense conceptual scheme. It takes as its starting point an Aristotelian ontology of “substances” and “accidents”, which are treated via the instruments of mereology and topology. The theory recognizes not only individual parts of substances and accidents, including the internal and external boundaries of these, but also universal parts, such as the “humanity” which is an essential part of both Tom and Dick, and also “individual relations”, such as Tom’s promise to Dick, or their current handshake.

Barry Smith, “Characteristica Universalis”, in K. Mulligan, ed., Language, Truth and Ontology (Philosophical Studies Series), Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer, 1992, 48–77.

Danish translation in Almen Semiotik, 14 (1998), 158–187.

Recent work in formal philosophy has concentrated over­whelmingly on the logical problems pertaining to epistemic shortfall - which is to say on the various ways in which partial and sometimes incorrect information may be stored and processed. A directly depicting language, in contrast, would reflect a condition of epistemic perfection. It would enable us to construct representations not of our knowledge but of the structures of reality itself, in much the way that chemical diagrams allow the representation (at a certain level of abstractness) of the structures of molecules of different sorts. A diagram of such a language would be true if that which it sets out to depict exists in reality, i.e. if the structural relations between the names (and other bits and pieces in the diagram) map structural relations among the corresponding objects in the world. Otherwise it would be false. All of this should, of course, be perfectly familiar. (See, for example, Aristotle, Met., 1027 b 22, 1051 b 32ff.) The present paper seeks to go further than its predecessors, however, in offering a detailed account of the syntax of a working universal characteristic and of the ways in which it might be used.