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Ontology vs epistemology

  1. Sep 28, 2004 #1
    Hello, everyone...

    This is my first post here and i need your philosophy-help. I know the standard (you know àlla Wikipedia) definitions of ontology and epistemology. What i need to know is if my example is right here. Please feel free to comment as much as you want.

    In ontology you can give a definition for some concept because it "is" what it "is". I mean gravity is defined in this way, since physics does NOT explain where gravity comes from it just describes how it works and what laws this phenomenon "seems" to follow.

    in epistemology you can give a definition to some concept via formula's, for example like the way Newton introduced the concept of "force" : F =ma. This definition is backed up by experimental evidence. So this definition is "proven"

    Finally can i see that definitions in ontology are given to things based upon the fact that they "are" what they seem to be. These definition do not explain WHY this thing is what it is...
    In epistemology you give definitions based upon some logic proof like the diverse laws in physics...

    Is this correct...Keep in mind that i primarily want to describe the difference between ontology and epistemology via the gravity-example...

    marlon :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2004 #2

    Les Sleeth

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    Gold Member

    Since you say you know the formal definitions, then I assume you are looking for a common sense understanding.

    In my own day-to-day perspective there are things I know because I've experienced them sufficiently (like gravity), or I accept something as "known" because others have experienced them sufficiently. This subject of how we know and what is known is epistomology. Some people believe they know for other reasons than through experience. A few individuals over in the debunking area of PF claim they "know" psychic phenomena do not occur. Do they know, or do they just think they know? In terms of gravity, do we know it operates the same at every single spot in the universe? No, we don't know that even though if we were designing a space ship, we'd assume the law of gravity holds constant. The reason we don't know that is because we can't experience every place in the universe. So I say that knowing (in a healthy mind) is established when sufficient experience establishes certainty; and also, that the reason knowing comes about that way is because it is simply how consciousness operates.

    However, besides knowing what the experience of gravity is like, there is also the fact that gravity exists. How is it that gravity exists? What establishes its existence? What is the underlying nature of gravity? All these are ontological questions because they are concerned with the nature of existence.

    Finally, while we are dependent on conscious experience to know, gravity itself, for example, has absolutely nothing to do with whether we know it exists or not. So to know is one thing and existence is another. I can't see how one is "versus" another, but from the standpoint of a consciousness desiring to know what exists, of course there is a most intimate relationship between knowing and existence.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2004
  4. Sep 28, 2004 #3
    Some say ontology is an epistomological idea, while others say epistomology is an ontological idea. Ontology has more to do with spiritual ideas such as eternity or consciousness or whatever that are often argued to have no cause or clear linear logical definition. Epistomology has more to do with what is demonstrable.

    Wittgenstein made a critical modern distinction between the two. He declared that there are facts and mysticism. That which is not demonstrable such as ontology is mystical, the realm of spirituality and religion.

    Using your examples, the force in f=MA can be interpreted either way, as a mystical action-at-a-distance, or as simply an epistomological discription of gravity. This is why it was so controvercial when Newton first published the idea.
  5. Oct 1, 2004 #4
    Ontology is the study of what exists and the nature of what exists. It is, in short, metaphysics. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justification. Trying to determine which Laws of Nature there are, and what they are in and of themselves is to do ontology (or, alternatively, to do metaphysics). Trying to determine how we are justified in believing in these Laws of Nature, or believing anything about these Laws of Nature, is to do epistemology.
  6. Oct 1, 2004 #5
    Whoa. Again, ontology is just the study of what there is in the world (objects, properties, relations, etc.). Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justification. Neither has any essential connection to spirtuality or religion. Further, Wittgenstein never made any such distinction (it wasn't in the Tractatus, Philosophical Investigations, nor in On Certainty, at least). If you have some source for your assertion about Wittgenstein, I'd love to hear it.
  7. Oct 2, 2004 #6
    Ontological Philosphy is divided into two necessary truths about the world we live in.
    01- What is..

    02- What out to be..
    A-Self Interest

    Here is a quite usefull link.
  8. Oct 2, 2004 #7
    Read the introduction to the tractatus.

    While you are at it, read this:


    Then I might suggest finding a little humility.
  9. Oct 2, 2004 #8
    Quote please. I'd love you to find where in the Tractatus Wittgenstein actually asserts that everything non-demonstrable is spiritual/mystical. What Wittgenstein actually says is the the world consists of objects and states of affairs, both of which exist in logical space. This is Wittgenstein's view concerning what ultimately exists. In other words, this is Wittgenstein's ontological view.

    Further, "ontology" is not synonymous with "ontological argument", which is (bizarrely) what the link you gave me is concerned with. The first is a discipline that studies that which exists and the nature of that which exists, the second is a type of argument that relies essentially upon the notion of existence (as Anselm's and Aquinas' did, and as Kant famously debunked for treating existence as a predicate). It is relying upon the notion of existence that makes an argument ontological, and not any connection to spirituality or mysticism. You can construct ontological arguments about "that Island an Island greater than which cannot be conceived" which makes no reference to spirituality or mysticism. Please, try and be clear about this.

    Finally, I'm not sure what the crack about humility is supposed to mean. Perhaps you mean that when you make false claims, I should not point out errors or ask for evidence. What a strange view! Of course, I could respond that I'll go get some humility once you go get some education, but that would be counter productive to discussion, no? So, from now on perhaps you should check your ego at the door.

    Last edited: Oct 2, 2004
  10. Oct 10, 2004 #9
    The simplest and probably the most common example of ontology that I've come across is the ontological proof of God. It may be elementary but it might help you understand what it is. The ontological proof of God basically states that by definition God is perfect and absolutely perfect. Because human beings are able to comprehend the idea of perfection, then God must exist. If God did not exist, then we would naturally assume that we were perfect and nothing could be more perfect than us. As far as epistomology is concerned, it is the study of knowledge or how we come to know. so ontology would be a method of how we come to know. I'm not familiar enough with the terms to apply that to your example of gravity, but maybe now you have a better idea what these ideas are.
  11. Oct 12, 2004 #10
    But then of what value is this classification? What is now the NEW direction? 'What is' and 'What ought to be' have fundamental transitional relations that are vital to the human survival. Personally, I believe that:

    Studying, understanding, and continually revising and re-engineering 'What is' must subsequently result in fully understanding, realising and achieving 'What ought to be'. That we can imagine this, even in the presence of potent errors in our imagination, is a very good starting point. Ironically the former has always been intellectually elevated above the latter by elitism, consequently casting persistent doubt upon the possibility of a consistent transitional relation between them.

    'What ought to be' is deriveable from 'What is' through proper conduct of human reason.....or should I say, proper conduct of interdisciplinary scholarship.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2004
  12. Oct 12, 2004 #11

    The value might be to understand the purpose, why things are the way there are and change for the better.

    I would agree and would hope that it is not only my perception, that change is ongoing, towards natural perfection.

    Now I know your secrete ballot, not that I did not have a notion.
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