The Basic Tools of Formal Ontology


Barry Smith

Department of Philosophy and Center for Cognitive Science

University at Buffalo


from Nicola Guarino (ed.), Formal Ontology in Information Systems Amsterdam, Oxford, Tokyo, Washington, DC: IOS Press (Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications), 1998, 19–28.




The term ‘formal ontology’ was first used by the philosopher Edmund Husserl in his Logical Investigations to signify the study of those formal structures and relations – above all relations of part and whole – which are exemplified in the subject-matters of the different material sciences. We follow Husserl in presenting the basic concepts of formal ontology as falling into three groups: the theory of part and whole, the theory of dependence, and the theory of boundary, continuity and contact. These basic concepts are presented in relation to the problem of providing an account of the formal ontology of the mesoscopic realm of everyday experience, and specifically of providing an account of the concept of individual substance.


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