Ontology is one of the best known and most important branches of metaphysics - the study of "things", of "beings", or of "what there is" (in oppose to what "there isn't").

I have a few questions about the opposite of ontology:

(0. Is there any meaning to ask questions outside of the ontological scope?)

  1. First and foremost, is there a branch of metaphysics that focuses on the "opposite" of ontology, or more precisely, the "things" that don't exist in our ontological world? (but rather maybe "exist" [though it can't be stated to be "exist" when the term is used inside the ontological branch itself] in other worlds)

If yes then:

  1. Is there any research (active or not) in such branch?

  2. What are the influences (past or possible ones) of such branch to the ontological branch?

[Those questions can be easily answered by "no" to the first question, but I think I've read something about such branch, I don't recall where so I don't even know where to look (so don't ask me, I've searched Google but couldn't find anything). It might not be an "official" branch maybe? I don't know.]

  • @CriglCragl except the obvious terminological connection I don't see any relation to the question. Would you care to elaborate how do you see the relation? – Yechiam Weiss Mar 7 '18 at 23:47
  • If "ontology" is taken narrowly (being about objects as opposed to entities more broadly) and one admits, say, laws and relations as non-derivatively existing those would be outside "ontological scope", I guess. Other parts of metaphysics, like cosmology or mereology, thematize other aspects of being, see related thread. What you are asking sounds like modal metaphysics, see Nonexistent Objects and Impossible Worlds – Conifold Mar 8 '18 at 1:25
  • Heidegger and the students of Heidegger, the so-called pre-Socratic approach. Vattimo. Levinas. I guess Gadamer too. What they are really leaving behind is the overarching "cause of" and the "reason for". Heidegger de-emphasizes the present-to-hand and he emphasizes the ready-to-hand or a kind of coping. – Gordon Mar 8 '18 at 7:01
  • G. Vattimo's "Of Reality" is influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger and also Levinas, though I don't think he mentions Levinas. Levinas I think mentioned that an ontology is a type of assertion of power (English: power play). Vattimo calls for a weaker, less controlling, thought. – Gordon Mar 8 '18 at 7:04

The study of what exists is implicitly the study of what doesn't. To the same degree that ethics is also the study of potential violations, ontology is also the study of impossibilities and mere potentialities.

There is a sub-field of modal logic that at root mostly about ontology. Names such as Meinong, Kripke and David Lewis figure in this area, (along with Aristotle, Quine and other ordinary logicians who try to cover it as a sideline) They have been mentioned in this forum several times each, so maybe finding those posts will net you more interesting names.

The point of departure for thinking about these thins come the fact that there seem to be layers of tenuousness to the existence of things, from the actual to the fictional to the merely potential to the potentially desirable yet not possible...

Since we discuss impossibilities, negation is a factor. Various strains of non-duality also figure in here, and raise questions of how these areas might have boundaries and why they probably can't. It remains interesting then, if they don't actually have boundaries, why we can discuss them rather distinctly.

Psychologically, the kinds of impossible things that occur in thought is interesting, particularly to psychoanalytic types, Freud and Klein, Jung, and Lacan all have theories about stories, falsification and other forms of modality.

  • Yeah I thought of distinguishing studies that look at boundaries of ontology (similarly to pseudo-science and science) from what I really wanted in the question - studies of non ontological "things" explicitly, not implicitly. While studying the boundaries are interesting, it isn't what I'm looking for in this question. Do you think I should edit the question accordingly? – Yechiam Weiss Mar 7 '18 at 23:03
  • 1
    Do you understand the first paragraph? "Non-ontological things" are not possible because what are and are not "things" is a core part of ontology. It is like saying "Non-legal crimes" or "Non-ethics-related morality." There may be statutory and informal laws, but if something is a crime, the field involved is Law. – user9166 Mar 7 '18 at 23:08
  • that's why I say "things", because I'm trying not to put that term into the ontological meaning of it. But do you mean that those "things" are also discussed in ontology? Like how Law discuss crimes, not as something not-legal, but on its own, something like criminology. Not sure if the comparison I make is good enough. – Yechiam Weiss Mar 7 '18 at 23:23
  • The law never discusses crimes as anything but what is not legal. There are unclear boundaries, and there may be dimensions of any given crime beyond whether or not it is legal, things may be partially legal, or in a paradoxical legal status... but there is no notion of crime that is not defined by the notion of what is legal. The idea of crime automatically puts you into the domain of legality. – user9166 Mar 7 '18 at 23:31
  • yes yes I forgot to edit according to the last line - crimes aren't discussed only in the Law field, but as we can see, also in criminology (for example). So in that way, maybe there's a field that discuss those "things" not in their ontological sense, but a different one. (and this comparison is actually better than I thought, because it gives depth to the second and third questions too - there's definitely active research in criminology, and it obviously influences the Law.) – Yechiam Weiss Mar 7 '18 at 23:38

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