I am trying to understand some very basic concepts in ontology and can't figure out if being is used as a noun or a verb. Sometimes it seems some authors use being to refer to (1) that which is, which exists and some others seem to allude to (2) the act of being, of existing. I believe that interpretation of the term should be context-specific but since being is such a fundamental concept in ontology, would you say the most frequent acceptation is (2)?

  • See Different conceptions of ontology : "As a first approximation, ontology is the study of what there is. Many classical philosophical problems are problems in ontology: the question whether or not there is a god, or the problem of the existence of universals, etc. These are all problems in ontology in the sense that they deal with whether or not a certain thing, or more broadly entity, exists. But ontology is usually also taken to encompass problems about the most general features and relations of the entities which do exist." Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 18:59
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Will check it out, thanks. Would you agree that the passage refers to being as a noun, as those things which exist and not the act of being?
    – Zweifler
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 19:21
  • See Aristotle's Categories : "Philosophical interest in categories may be traced back to Aristotle who, in his treatise Categories, attempts to enumerate the most general kinds into which entities in the world divide." Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 19:24
  • What is the "act of being" ? is it existence ? Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 21:03
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I guess my question is whether being is to be understood as a property of objects or an object itself. Does this make more sense?
    – Zweifler
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


This is a muddled and unresolved issue in Western thought and Christo seems correct to say the use of 'being' is author specific. 'Being' (upper-case) is usually a noun and a universal while 'being' (lower-case) is usually a noun referring to a particular. For a verb 'becoming' would be the usual choice.

The problem is that Being cannot be a property because it would have to be a property of a being in order to be a property. That is, a being has to be a being 'in itself' in order to 'have' the property of being. This is the 'problem of attributes' and it remains a logical riddle for theories that define beings only by their attributes or properties. If we adopt realism of any kind then whatever a being is it cannot be merely its properties but must have some 'essence' that is not a property but is what it actually is. Yet no such property-less being can be found.

Here is Colin McGinn as a teenager...

“…[P]icture me sitting on a bench staring at a British mailbox on a blustery spring day in Blackpool. I had just been reading about the questions of substance and qualities, and was suitably transfixed. Is an object the sum of its qualities or does it have an existence that is some way goes beyond its qualities? The mailbox had a variety of qualities - it was red, cylindrical, metal, etc. - but it seemed to be more than just the collection of these; it was a thing, a “substance,” that had these qualities. But what was this substance that had those qualities? Did it lie behing them in some way, supporting them like the foundation of a house? If so, what was this underlying thing like - what qualities did it have? If it had some qualitities, wouldn’t there be the same problem again, since it would also have to be distinct from these qualities? But if it had no qualities, what kind of thing could it be? How could these be something that had no qualities? So maybe we should say that there is nothing more to a mailbox than the qualities it manifests. And yet how can an object be just a set of abstract qualities? Isn’t it more solid and concrete than that? … I had a vague mental image of a grey amorphous something that constituted the underlying mailbox, to which its various manifest qualities mysteriously were attached… Yet as soon as I replaced this fuzzy image with the qualities by themselves, trying to think of the mailbox as just a “bundle of qualities,” the object itself seemed to disappear.”

Colin McGinn The Making of a Philosopher


In everyday language 'being' is context specific, and usually in a transparent manner, for instance: "With John being late, should we go ahead?", or "John being a counselor, we should expect him to be late." In technical or philosophical writing the word will most likely be used in the same way by a particular author. In other words for the purposes of this Question, 'being' is author specific.

There is a deeper issue exposed by this Question: Some people see the world as objects, things in themselves, related to each other; and if you add time, movement occurs, change come into play. Others sees time as inextricable, 'objects' are the sum of their relations, actors known by their effects... Obviously the technical use of 'being' will differ between these views. (This is a very crude explanation, maybe someone will comment something more lucid.)

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