Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ontology and the Existence of Matter

In the article by Barry Smith and David Mark, Do Mountains Exist? Towards Ontology of Landforms, a philosophical argument is posed concerning the very existence of geographic features as well as other facets of nature that humans regularly interpret. The method of philosophy that underlays the argument of this essay is called ontology, or as the Princeton University web dictionary defines it: "the metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence." Essentially, the essay makes a few key points that I caught on to while reading, they include:

1. Philosophical ideas and particularly ontological ones, have and will continue to change as scientific thought progresses.
2. Ontology is made up of a primary and field based interpretations, by both average people and scientists; creating a basic level of interpretation of the environment all the way through a very advanced one.
3. People use different methods of interpretation to validate what they see in nature. From children's stories to advanced mathematics, many methods are used by humans to compartmentalize and arrange their environment. This is done in turn as an effort to maximize mankind's relationship with its surroundings and to gain peace of mind while considering the meaning of existence.

I am not 100% confident of my interpretation of this essay and I would appreciate anyone who felt they grasped the concepts of the essay to let me know if my insight into the essay was on track.

1 comment:

Max L said...

You hit some nuances and a couple interesting points of the article, but the take-home message is related to what Jim hit in class. The idea is that there are two classes of objects. Some objects are "bona fide" objects that have specific boundaries and are identifiable and separate them from other objects. A bird and a tree are distinct from one another and are thus bona fide objects. On the other hand mountains, other land forms, and species are entities by "fiat." For example, there are no distinct boundaries between the mountain and its foothills, but the boundary does seem to exist somewhere according to fiat or an arbitrary standard that is set by a group of people. The difficulty faced by environmentalists is how to articulate protection for things that may not exist without relation to other things.

Hope this helps.