While considering how to create formal models of various conceptual domains, I have begun to consider that it will be much easier, at least in the beginning, to choose certain metaphysical categories as primitives. The ones I have encountered as hard-to-avoid so far include:

  • time
  • things (objects): classes, vs. instances
  • attributes (or properties)
  • states

There may be others which I can’t remember right now.

I would like to link this observation to the broader web of ideas.

Is there a theory of metaphysics which considers the above, or a somewhat similar list, as some very essential structuring principles of “a world”?

I feel like there is a lot to be said philosophically about why the above may be so indispensable.

For example: we usually have logic introduced to us as a refined theory of meaning, semantics, or truth. But when I tried to describe some systems with it, I realized that time was so much more of a necessary parameter in most real-world assertions than I expected. It opens the question, why should “logical truths” be a-temporal, yet the majority of truths we wish to say about the world are necessarily temporal?

And similarly, why does it seem so unavoidable to have both classes of objects, and instances of objects?

And why does it seem so indispensable to differentiate between attributes of things, vs. states?

To just give one example of what an explanation could look like, we could say that it seems fitting to embed time as nothing more than an index or ordered sequence in a logical system, in the same way that natural numbers are one of the first things we can define in a set theory.

Then perhaps we can define “events” as propositions which have a “time” argument. “Billy is red” turns into “Billy is red at time t”.

As for classes versus instances, we can say that instances are more primary. The world is a totality of objects, or referents. The abstract notion of “the collection of all things with certain properties” is equivalent to the idea of a “class”, but it allows us to reject the “top-down” idea that there are “Platonic forms” of a chair which get instantiated.

And maybe, we can also differentiate attributes vs. states with regards to time: that once the existence of an object is established, we can form atemporal propositions about that object, if they genuinely are time-independent. Otherwise, a time-dependent attribute is just a state.

Maybe, just maybe, it could all be reduced to “two layers”:

Default    | Indexed
class      | object
proposition| event
attribute  | state

We could also add the difference between logical axioms of the world, vs. “physical laws”, which are just time-dependent axioms:

Default    | Indexed
axiom      | time-dependent law

For example, “not not x entails x” is a logical law. But a law of physics could be, “property P is inversely correlated with time”.

Does this sound like any particular approach by any philosopher?

  • 1
    It sounds a lot like the basis for computer programming, to me. But then, I'm a programmer. Are you? Ok, I see it in your page. I find SQL and databases to cover a lot of the ground you asked about.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 21:43
  • Didn't Hume argue that objects (things) are just a bundle of properties. I'm pretty sure that this is also how modern physics treats objects.
    – nwr
    Commented May 25 at 22:12
  • 1
    It sounds rather like Russell's logical atomism to me. Incidentally, as well as attributes, you need relations. Statements about relations between things is not generally reducible to statements about attributes.
    – Bumble
    Commented May 26 at 6:02
  • Your categories can be similar to Kant's approach in his first Critique: Transcendental Aesthetic: time, space; Tr. Analytic: object and categories; Tr. Dialectic: logical and illusive entities.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented May 26 at 6:18
  • The word "ontology" has a classical philosophy meaning and a modern information science one. Your question overlaps both. (And you should add ontology to the tags)
    – Rushi
    Commented May 26 at 7:17

2 Answers 2


Triggered by the comment of @ScottRowe I take up this proposal. It would be an interesting exercise to link the principles of object orientation with the principles of process orientation.

  • The start are the principles of object-oriented programming. But then immediately generalize from a theory of programming to a general ontology. The latter relies on objects, described by attributes, methods and a lifecycle. Objects of the same structure form the instances of classes.

  • The interaction of the objects takes place via mutual calling their methods. The interaction changes the local states, creates and annihilates new/existing objects. The result are processes with global states. They bring the concept of time into the ontology. The specification of the processes should rely on a formal method, e.g. on Petri net theory. A main principle of structuring the ontology are hierarchical relations like part-whole and the subclass-relation.

  • I consider it a challenging task to integrate the static object-oriented view with the dynamic process-oriented view to a formal ontology, from an art of programming to an art of thinking.

    A first domain for testing such an ontology could be the field of enterprise modeling as a part of business informatics.


The main problem is very interesting, but there have been inserted many subquestions, which is hard to be answered one by one. I will try to give a general suggestion.

If you are searching for a compact conceptual domain to be applied to various specific fields, there is no necessity to presuppose at least two things you present: time and state. Of couse there is no problem to utter time-independent logical propositions (T or F propositions) about time (no need of "temporal logical truths", as you say): e.g. a logical proposition about classical or quantum mechanics concerning time is T or F regardless of time. On the other hand what about a conceptual model on interpreting something purely mathematical or logical? Here time offers nothing. If such a model claims to represent and interpret physical world, then time must be added, but not state. State is a "derivative" or time, a secondary concept (e.g. in physics state is the (x(t),p(t))-pair of position and momentum as functions of time).

After that I intensely suggest one of three below approaches as stimuli:

A. Plato's five categories as a result of Sophistes dialogue;

B. Aristoteles' ten categories (you can classify justifiably and attain less);

C. mathematical Category Theory, where you can begin only with objects and morphisms (~"correspondences") between objects.

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