Answers to the Ontological Questions

This section provides the answers to the nine questions identified in the first section that a correct ontology must answer.

Ontological Questions

The nine questions Ontology must answer are the following:

  1. The Nature of Physical Existence
  2. The Nature of Material Existence
  3. The Nature of Cause
  4. Cause and Determinism
  5. Determinism and Volition
  6. Matter and Consciousness
  7. What are Qualities Qualities Of?
  8. The Substantialness of Substance
  9. Analog Versus Discrete

This ontology provides the answers to these questions in the following subsections.

The Nature of Physical Existence

The mistake that almost all ontologies make is the implied assumption that material existence means exclusively one or the other of the following: 1. just physical or "natural" existence (if a physicalist ontology) or a combination of the physical ("natural") and non-physical ("supernatural") existence (if a mystic ontology).

This ontology corrects these mistakes by identifying the true nature of material existence (see below) and the fact that physical existence is a subset of material existence.

Physical existence is that aspect of material existence of which we are directly conscious, the objects, substances, and events we see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and "sense" internally as the states of our physiological being. Physical existence is that which the physical sciences, that is, physics, chemistry, and biology, and specialized branches, geology, astronomy, oceanology, etc. study.

The Nature of Material Existence

Material existence is natural existence. Nature is all that exists on its own, that is, which exists independently of any particular individual's consciousness or knowledge. It includes all attributes of all things that exist naturally, volition, consciousness, life, and all physical properties.

While I have made this explicit throughout this metaphysics (of which ontology is a branch) I want to emphasize that those aspects of existence which the mystic philosophies relegate to some "supernatural" realm, are just as natural as the physical aspects of material existence—but are unique attributes that are not themselves physical but a different mode of existence. Volition exists as a material attribute (not a thing) just as much as mass is an attribute of all (non-living) physical existents. But volition, like consciousness itself, cannot be directly perceived; which is why it is not a physical attribute and not a result of any arrangement or behavior of the physical.

Life, consciousness, and volition are material and natural, but not physical. Because they are attributes of physical organisms, they are always manifest in that physical form, and cannot exist independently of the physical organisms, but they are material attributes that make an organism a living entity, a conscious one if it is conscious, and a volitional one if it is a human being.

Natural Existence

Philosophy and science have come to use the word natural or nature to refer to what I have called the physical. By reducing the concept of nature to include only the physical, the phenomena of life, consciousness, and volition become problematic. It is obvious these aspects of existence are not, "physical," therefore, if nature includes only the physical, life, consciousness, and volition must be, "supernatural," or, not real, or phenomena arising (emerging) from the behavior of the physical. All of these have been put forth as explanations and all are incorrect.

This ontology explains that the physical, living, conscious, and volitional are all aspects of the same material or natural existence. Each of these represents a different level of differentiation with unique qualities. There is nothing, "supernatural," about life, it is only a unique differentiation of material existence, but, being a differentiation of material existence above the level of the physical, it cannot be explained in physical terms nor as a phenomena of physical behavior. To the extent life pertains to physical entities (and it always does), as a physical entity, the physical qualities determine the limits of its nature and behavior, but as living entities (organisms), the behavior can only be explained in terms of the differentiating quality, life.

The material existence we are conscious of includes living, conscious, volitional beings. Since reality is what is, the way it is, reality includes life, consciousness, and volition. It is not possible that existence be without any of these aspects.

This obviously raises the question of whether there has always been life, consciousness, and volition. It is doubtful this question can be answered explicitly. Nevertheless, since we do have a picture of existence, "progressing eternally through time," the only answer to this question is that, there was always going to be life, consciousness, and volition. The popular view is these things came to be in a series of, "developments," first physical material existence, then life, then consciousness, and finally volition. This is certainly the current supposedly "scientific," view, even while it denies life, consciousness, and volition are unique integral aspects of material existence.

The denial is a mistake, but what science does get right is that life, consciousness and volition are perfectly natural. What science gets wrong is the assumption they are also physical, or only phenomena arising out of the physical. This is why they are seen as "developing." But even this mistaken view admits something very important. If life, consciousness, and volition developed (or evolved), then material existence was always capable of having those qualities or aspects. Even if not actualized, life, consciousness, and volition were always potentials of material existence.

I have already shown that life, conscious, and volition cannot be explained or even described in terms of the physical laws alone. While life is a process carried out by a physical organism, and all of that process that can be observed and studied is a physical process, "sentience" and "purpose" cannot be explained in terms of the physical aspects of that process. The sentient purposive aspects of the life process are the qualities that distinguish the life process from all other kinds of physical processes, and the reason why it is another level of differentiation beyond the physical. Sentience and purpose do not arise out of the complexity of some biochemical process, it is sentience and purpose that make the biochemical process a living one.

Just as no amount of fiddling with or arranging positions can ever produce motion, no matter how many positions one chooses, or how complex the arrangement, no physical chemical processes, no matter how complex, can ever produce life. From positions, to get motion, you must introduce change, an entirely new level of differentiation. From physical entities, to get life, you must introduce a process with the unique qualities of sentience and purpose, an entirely new level of differentiation.

It must be emphasized that no material quality, and life, consciousness, and volition are material qualities (just not physical ones), exists except as qualities of material existents. There can never have just been "life", or "consciousness" without living entities anymore than there can ever have been just motion, without anything that moves. The view that qualities can have existence independent of the things they are qualities of is the great error of Platonic universals and the logical error of reification. To have life, you must first have a physical entity that is living. To have consciousness, you must first have a living organism that is aware. To have have reason and knowledge, you must first have a conscious being that is volitional, that is, man.

Another View of the Hierarchy

The physicalist view is so ingrained that it is difficult to grasp the natural is not just the physical, but including volition, consciousness, and life, not as physical phenomena, but other levels of natural or material existence which transcend the mere physical.

One way of grasping both the meaning and reality of the hierarchy of material existence is to view it in the opposite way, from the top down, so-to-speak. Natural existence includes, rational/volitional, conscious, living, physical beings. Not all existents are rational/volitional, however, some are only conscious, living, and physical. But not all existents are conscious either, some are only living and physical. Still, not all are existents are living, some are only physical.

If we regard the highest level of natural existence in its most complete form, it is rational/volitional, conscious, living, physical beings. This is material existence in its highest form, its fullest realization. A larger portion of existence, a less complete or inferior form, is physical, living, and conscious, but is not rational/volitional (all other existents including all organisms except man). A less complete portion of existence is physical and living, but neither conscious or rational/volitional (all other existents including plants, but not men or animals). The least complete form of existence is only physical, but not living, conscious, or rational/volitional (all existents except organisms).

From this view, volitional conscious beings are what material existence is when it is realized in its fullest potential, and the living but non-volitional aspects of existence (all organisms except man), are merely material existence in its fullest realization with volition "left out," unconscious life, such as plants, are merely material existence with both volition and consciousness left out, and physical existents, are merely material existence with volition, consciousness, and life left out.

The Nature of Cause

If there is to be real knowledge and valid science, material existence must conform to discoverable principles that explain the relationships between material existents which determine their nature and their behavior. The general name for this set of principles is cause. The general understanding of cause may be described in this way: everything that is and everything that happens is the result or consequence of some thing or things doing something (cause) and everything that anything does has a consequence or result (effect).

The ultimate principle behind the concept of cause is the law of identity, A is A, a thing is what it is. Every entity has a specific nature which determines all its behavior and all its relationships to all other entities. Since every event is the action of an entity or entities, and what any entity does is determined by its nature, all causes and all affects are determined by the nature of the entities acting. The relationship of causes to effects may be stated thus: given the same entities in the same state (the cause), the behavior of those entities (the effect) will be the same. The, "same state," includes all of an entity's attributes and relationships to other entities, and where applicable (such as organisms), all internal conditions and behavior.

While ontology must emphasize the nature of cause is determined by the nature of existents themselves, and that all causal relationships are the result of the nature of those entities between which the relationships exist, in the everyday world it is impractical to reduce every investigation and explanation to the essential nature of every entity involved. The sciences frequently describe cause in a way that appears as though events cause events. As a practical matter and for the sake of the mathematics involved, this kind of description is useful. Unfortunately, the fact it is the nature of existents that determine cause (not events) is frequently ignored or unrecognized by the sciences, which is a very great mistake.

The emphasis of ontology on the true nature of cause, and the fact that it can be known objectively, is based on the fact that all of material existence can be comprehended in terms of the six primary differentiating qualities, by which all things are differentiated from one another and all qualities and attributes of material existence can be explained. Science, technology, and all practical study of things and events must acknowledge, at least implicitly, that the causal relationships between all things can ultimately be reduced to these principles. This essential nature of material existence is the metaphysical foundation for the possibility and certainty of scientific knowledge.

Cause and Determinism

If the material universe is to be knowable it must conform to some set of principles (laws) that are universal (apply to everything) and eternal (all the time), and those laws and principles must be discoverable and understandable. But, if the nature of physical existence conforms to principles which cannot be violated, everything is determined by those laws or principles. If the human mind is only an aspect of physical existence, it is determined (that is, its function) by the same laws or principles that govern all physical existents and events and our supposed ideas or thoughts or knowledge are only naturally occurring events with no more meaning than a dead tree falling or a burp.

This has been a great problem in philosophy and has lead to some great errors. One of the greatest errors is the assumption that thoughts, knowledge, and even choice are all only physically caused events, with no real meaning. All our supposed knowledge and "free choice," is an illusion.

This is a gross logical fallacy, denying the implicit premise it rests on. It says, in essence, "it is possible to know if real knowledge is possible," and contradictory concludes, "real knowledge is not possible." Of course, if real knowledge were not possible, it would be impossible to really know it. Objectivists call this an example of the fallacy of the stolen concept.

The question is not if knowledge and volition are possible in a determined material world, but how they are possible. That they are possible we already know or we would not be able to ask the question.

The supposed dilemma between determinism and volition is a misunderstanding of the nature of cause and the nature of life. All causes and all affects are determined by the nature of the entities acting. If life, consciousness, and volition arose from the behavior of physical matter, volition would not be possible; but life is a distinct differentiation of material existence. In the same sense that accelerating entities have all the qualities of position and motion, but no arrangement of position or motion can produce acceleration and no acceleration violates any qualities of position or motion, life has all the qualities of physical material existents and does not violate any of those qualities, but no arrange of material extents or substances can produce life.

Life is unique differentiation of material existence with its own qualities and attributes. In examining living organisms, all we can learn about them by direct observation is their physical nature. Since life and its qualities do not "arise" nor are produced by the physical laws, life itself cannot be directly observed. Our knowledge of life comes from two other sources, our observation of living entities and our own introspection.

We know a great deal about the physical nature of living entities (organisms) from the study of them directly. For example, we know there are specific biochemical structures required for an organism to be living (the existence of which do not automatically produce life, however). The physical structure and chemical (especially the genetic) makeup of an organism determines the physical limits and requirements of that organism and the life of that organism must be manifested within those limits.

So, the physical nature of organisms define the limits and requirements, but also provide the means for the life process. The, "physical plant," is like the instrument or tool on which life plays. It must play on something and that something provides the means for the life to fulfill itself.

But life is not separate from the organism, it is an aspect of it. It is an aspect of a physical entity, but not a physical aspect. Life is that unique process of the entity that differentiates it from a non-living entity and causes the entity to be an organism, the purpose and result of the process is the continuation of the organism as a living organism.

The ontological answer is that, while all the behavior of all physical (non-living) entities is determined entirely by the laws of physics (the first three levels of differentiation), the behavior of living, conscious, and volitional beings is determined by their nature, which as physical entities, cannot violate any law of physics, but, for that behavior which is strictly "living" behavior, it is not by physical laws, but the nature of life, itself, and consciousness itself, and volition itself that determines the behavior.

Determinism and Volition

Existence must consist of both a determined aspect and an undetermined aspect. Both aspects are required if there is to be volition.

Volition, the faculty that makes it both possible and necessary to act by conscious choice depends on two things: 1. That those aspects of reality about which choice is possible be knowable and 2. That the volitional being be able to discover and learn (know) what the nature of knowable reality is.

All choice depends on being able to predict the consequences of actions (physical or mental). It would not be possible to choose any action if the result of an action could not be reliably known. In our day-to-day life, our every act is based on an expected result, from turning a light switch to typing on a computer keyboard. Because expected results are taken for granted, we do not notice them. For example, when performing the simplest of tasks, like boiling an egg for example, we do not notice that we go to the cupboard for a pan expecting the pan to be there, that turning on the tap, we expect water to come from it, that going to the refrigerator for an egg, we expect it to be cold and fresh, that turning on the stove, we expect a flame, and we expect the water in the pan to boil after heating a certain time. If any of those expected results of our actions were different, we would be astonished.

If material existence is to be knowable, and if choice is to be possible, material existence must be determined, that is, it must be consistent and it must be able to be manipulated. This is possible only if it is governed by discoverable principles, else, nothing would be predictable or knowable about material existence an no consequence of any choice or action could be known.

Conversely, that which knows and chooses must not be determined, else neither knowledge or choice would be possible. What is called knowledge and choice would be no more rational or volitional than any other naturally determined occurring event.

Consciousness and volition pertain only to the process life, are made possible by and are necessary to the process in human beings. The moment that process ceases, both volition and consciousness cease.

Matter and Consciousness

How does physical existence (that which we are conscious of) relate to all of existence which must include consciousness (our direct awareness or perception of material existence)?

In the older philosophies this question was reduced to the question of mind versus matter and there were three answers: dualism—which made matter and made two different things, essentially relegating consciousness to the supernatural; physicalism (extreme empiricism)—which either denies consciousness outright, as the behaviorists do, or "explains" consciousness as only a quality "emerging" from the behavior of the physical; or idealism which regards consciousness as primary and matter a product of consciousness, which in its most extreme form is called solipsism.

This philosophy solves the problem by pointing out material existents have attributes only some of which are physical. We are conscious, that is, we directly perceive only of the physical attributes of material existents. The other attributes which are possible to material existents, life, consciousness, and volition, cannot be directly perceived. Consciousness then, is that attribute of some material existents; namely, some higher forms of living organisms, and is a perfectly natural attribute of material existents, though not a physical attribute.

What are Qualities Qualities Of?

Both science and philosophy seem to give the impression, because everything exists by virtue of its qualities, that things consist of qualities. In one sense, it is true, a thing is whatever its qualities are. A thing is what it is, that is, its nature, as described by its qualities and attributes, is what it is.

The wrong implication is, since a red rubber ball has the qualities, round, red, and elastic, if we took some roundness, added elasticity, and redness, we would have a red rubber ball. This is obviously absurd. Red, elastic, and roundness cannot be qualities of each other. They all must be qualities of something else. If we want to make a red rubber ball, it is something else we must make red, and round, and elastic. The question is, what is it that is qualified red, round, and elastic?

In fact, there is no "something else." The red, roundness, and elasticity of the red rubber ball exist only as attributes of the red rubber ball. Qualities such as red and elastic are not "added" to something or "impressed on" something—they exist only as qualities because the red rubber ball exists—it is the red rubber balls nature that are the red, the round, and the elastic.

There are no qualities independent of entities with those qualities. There is no "red" apart from things which are red. There is nothing "heavy" apart from things that are heavy. There is no "life" apart from things which are living.

The Substantialness of Substance

This may be the most important question of ontology. It determines whether one views the reality one perceives as real or as illusory.

The existence we perceive is either reality, with the very attributes we perceive, or it is something else. Perception is either awareness of reality as it is or is some kind of deceptive illusion that makes true knowledge impossible.The whole purpose of this ontology is to explain how the existence we perceive is reality, and that it has the very nature we perceive it to have.

Both science and philosophy, particularly ontology, tend to give the impression that existence is fluid, unstable, and insubstantial. The impression that things consist of attributes is fostered by both science and philosophy. Science describes physical matter entirely in terms of force and fields and implies that physical existents are comprised of them. But "force" and "fields" are only models for describing the behavior of existents and as such are only attributes and like all attributes have no independent existence apart from the existents whose behavior and characteristics they describe.

Without those existents, science has nothing to describe. Like all other knowledge, it begins with and is about the very solid, stable, and substantial world we perceive, and is all a way of understanding reality as it is perceived.

Analog Versus Discrete

Existence consists of existents; there are only existents. Materially, there are only entities, and everything else, qualities, events, relationships, are qualities of entities, the behavior of entities, and relationships between entities. The world, from this view is discrete consisting entirely of discrete existents.

To both science, and our minds this presents a problem. Science sees the world as analog. While entities have characteristics which are, "local," they also have properties which extend indefinitely in all directions, such as their gravitational affects on other entities. At the perceptual conscious level, we are aware of a continuous "field" of consciousness. That field is "broken-up" by separate entities, but there is "nowhere" there is not something. Existence is not discontinuous, either to consciousness or to science.

At the conceptual level, discreteness is required by every concept. A thing is what it is, only if it is really a unique separate thing from everything else. If entities are only "approximately" unique and independent, but in fact the edges "blend into" other things, than the whole structure of conceptual knowledge becomes a blur and, at best, an approximation.

Ontologically, existence is both analog and discrete. The relative qualities are those that differentiate entities from one another. They determine all of the qualities of entities, and the qualities of any entity are what that entity is. The qualities are all relative qualities. Discrete does not mean disconnected. Entities are discrete because they are differentiated by the exact qualities they have. Everything about an entity, from texture, color, and chemical composition of a blade of grass to the weight, hardness, and smoothness of a beach stone can be described in terms of the relative qualities.

To exist, a thing must be different from everything else, and it is its relative qualities that determine that difference. Since no existent can have any relative qualities in any infinite way, all relative qualities of existents are finite. It is the finiteness and the explicit measure of those qualities which give entities their discreteness.

There is a related question to the analog/discrete question, the answer to which sheds light on the analog/discrete question. In one sense, the ancient idea that everything is a flux is true. Physical existents have all the attributes of physicalness, position, motion, and acceleration. Physically, nothing is unchanging, everything is (at least relatively) moving. (With rare exceptions, everything has some heat, and heat is always motion, usually some kind of vibration, for example.) If it is true, how can there be existents with duration. As earlier explained, it is acceleration that accounts for duration, by making it possible for existents to have attributes that remain unchanging (two objects in motion may remain "stationary" relative to one another, for example). In the physical world there truly is continuous flux, those changes which are consistent and uniform remain "unchanged" relative to one another. It is those unchanging relative qualities that provide an existents duration and continuity. Science essentially describes all things in continuous motion, even those things which seem most substantial, unchanging, and solid. The very changes which science describes produce the qualities, especially the perceived qualities, that do not change and make existents substantial, unchanging, and solid.

In the same way, the relative qualities which differentiate existents are themselves analog and indefinite, and any relationship may have any value—the analog nature of physical existence is in potential. When any relative quality is "realized" (there is an existent) the relative qualities for that existent must be finite, and those responsible for the perceptual qualities must be unchanging. Ultimately, discreteness is the product of conceptualization. Concepts are all discrete. Even those concepts for the analog are, as concepts, discrete. This is an essential principle of epistemology,. All concepts are discrete, while material world, including consciousness itself, is analog. Many of the problems of science are a misunderstanding of the fact scientific concepts, like all concepts, are discrete, and what appear to be discrepancies in scientific explanations and reality, are in fact, manifestations of the attempt to force an analog reality into an explanation proceeding entirely in discrete terms. For example, all measurements involving incommensurables and irrationals must have some degree of uncertainty. It is a mistake to assume that because the discrete concept of measurement fails to describe certain physical attributes exactly, those physical attributes are themselves uncertain.

—Reginald Firehammer (5/24/05)