Wikipedia lists some basic issues of ontology, which are roughly the same question:

"What can be said to exist?"
"What is a thing?"
"Into what categories, if any, can we sort existing things?"
"What are the meanings of being?"
"What are the various modes of being of entities?"

It then lists 14 more specific question some of which are again another form of another question (like 1 and 10, 7 and 9, etc).

  1. What is existence, i.e., what does it mean for a being to be?
  2. Is existence a property?
  3. Is existence a genus or general class that is simply divided up by specific differences?
  4. Which entities, if any, are fundamental?
  5. Are all entities objects?
  6. How do the properties of an object relate to the object itself?
  7. Do physical properties actually exist?
  8. What features are the essential, as opposed to merely accidental attributes of a given object?
  9. How many levels of existence or ontological levels are there? And what constitutes a "level"?
  10. What is a physical object?
  11. Can one give an account of what it means to say that a physical object exists?
  12. Can one give an account of what it means to say that a non-physical entity exists?
  13. What constitutes the identity of an object?
  14. When does an object go out of existence, as opposed to merely changing?
  15. Do beings exist other than in the modes of objectivity and subjectivity, i.e. is the subject/object split of modern philosophy inevitable?

Now, can anyone tell which, if any, of these question has found an answer (meaning an answer agreed by [almost] everyone) and who was the author?

P.S.Could you explain what is the level mention in question 9?


the response is generally odd: posing an unanswerable question would be really stupid, like elucubrating about the "angels on a pin" ( whereof one cannot speak....).

But ontology is not concerned with supernatural phenomena, being is something everyone directly experiences, so "what can be said to exist?" "what is a thing" are quite answerable questions, and should be just intelligent and useful definition to be used in further inquiries. They are not much more difficult to answer than "what can be said to live/ when is one alive??" answers may be diverse and apt for different situations.

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    The "main business" of Philosophy is the enquiry about basic (unanswerable) questions. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 24 '19 at 10:23
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA, that's a very dim view, it is about posing questions and trying to resolve them or at least to find useful definitions that can be agreed upon. – user157860 Sep 24 '19 at 10:51
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    @user157860 And every time that happens, the philosophy immediately becomes a science or some other kind of discipline. So what is left is basic, unanswerable questions. Physics peels off into its own subject, Utilitarianism becomes economics, Marxism becomes political science... What remains philosophy is the kind of question where you cannot productively use an answer, but can definitely make use of a map of the possible answers. That is what ontology tends to offer -- "What are the consequences of delimiting reality in each of these possible ways..." – user9166 Sep 24 '19 at 16:25
  • There is nothing dim about it, answering questions and coining definitions is the function of sciences, not of philosophy. That is its distinctive feature. Philosophy is about reflecting on experience, exploring options for understanding it, etc., not settling on answers. It is unfortunate that Wikipedia et al. misrepresent philosophy by trying to fit it into handy templates they think are easier for casual readers to digest, like lists of "unresolved problems" begging to be "resolved". – Conifold Sep 24 '19 at 19:54
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    i sympathize with the question. if philosophy is not "resolving" questions, then in what way is it producing knowledge rather than confusion? – user38026 Sep 25 '19 at 15:25

There are well-endorsed answers for all these questions but you will not find them in the academic philosophy of our universities, as is indicated by the answers and comments here. The question of whether there are any widely agreed answers is easily answerable by pointing to the widespread agreement on their answers in the Perennial tradition. Regrettably, it would not be possible here to explain what they all are.

If you cut the question down a bit for a shorter list of ontological questions I would have stab at giving the answers according to the Buddha and Lao Tsu. Otherwise I'd suggest reading the literature. Perhaps Bradley's Appearance and Reality would be an accessible place to start. Or maybe you could study Kant's discussion of the 'thing-in-itself'.

It would be important to note that the discussion you quote from Wiki makes no mention of the non-dual philosophy of the mystics, giving the false impression that ontological questions have no workable answers. They do have answers and they are widely endorsed, but to find them you'd have to study the whole of philosophy and not just the standard academic curriculum.

If this seems critical of the philosophy profession then so be it. It does not study the whole of philosophy and is unable to answer ontological questions. The criticism is important in order to counteract the impression given by the Wiki discussion that philosophy cannot answer these questions. It is not philosophy that cannot do so, it is individual philosophers.

The idea that these questions are unanswerable is ad hoc and undemonstrable. All the questions you list have workable answers. To say more would require mounting an assault on the philosophy department so I'll stop here, but there's plenty of literature to substantiate this view. Most notably this would include Nagarjuna's logical proof in his Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way that nothing really exists or ever really happens, which transforms ontology and any naively realistic view of existence. Ontology is a done deal in the Perennial tradition.

Of course, who is right about all this is a question only you can decide.

EDIT: The OP asks in a comment about who exactly endorses the view I call 'Perennial'. This is a useful but woolly term and a clearer description would refer to it as the 'non-dual' view. In metaphysics it would be all those who endorse a 'neutral' metaphysical position. If you wish to look into this it is the view endorsed by the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Plotinus, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Rupert Spira, Rumi, Al Hallaj, Francis Bradley, Spencer Brown, Osho, Sadhguru, Paul Ferrini, Ibn Arabi, Ulrich Mohrhoff, Plotinus, the Baghavad Gita, A Course in Miracles, the Upanishads, Erwin Schrodinger, Chuang Tsu, Alan Watts, Nagarjuna, Milerepa and afaik the Dalai Lama.

The list is endless. Few discuss metaphysics in what an academic philosopher would call a straightforward way, but the common bond would the Unity of the Universe and Oneness of Consciousness for this requires a non-dual or neutral metaphysical theory. You can usually recognise those who endorse this view by their seemingly-paradoxical use of language. Indeed, looking at this issue the other way around C.S. Peirce comments that it is easy to identify those 'still at the dual stage' by their use of language. This works both ways. So wherever you see a philosopher talking in riddles, as Diogenes Laertius accuses the Gymnosophists and Druids of doing, chances are they are endorsing the Perennial view and the Unity of All.

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  • hi, thanks for your enticing reply. It would be nice if you added one answer (here or maybe on your blog) to an issue of your choice and a summary to who agrees on it, to give us a rough idea of what you mean,btw, Buddha and Lao Tse are the most profound thinkers in the history of mankind . Any answer that makes sense is right, I believe – user157860 Sep 26 '19 at 6:56
  • @user157860 - I don't think I should argue this way or that beyond what is required to make it clear that there are people who provide answers (right or wrong) to ontological questions. I do not claim that the Buddha and Lao Tsu are the most profound thinkers, but would say that they have a secure knowledge of the most profound issues. If you're suggesting adding a list of philosophers who agree on these issues then this seems like a good idea and I may come back and add one to this answer. Usually I just lump them together under 'Perennial philosophy' or 'Mysticism'. . – user20253 Sep 26 '19 at 12:43
  • @user157860 - I added an edit. Does it help? – user20253 Sep 26 '19 at 13:13
  • @user157860 - Happy to do so. I don't know how to do it either but it's time I did so I'll have a look. – user20253 Sep 27 '19 at 12:01
  • @user157860 - Done. You should get a notification. – user20253 Sep 27 '19 at 12:11

Yes, of course, every comprehensive philosophy is a set of such answers, but agreement is not a valid criterion to choose among them.

Consensus is relevant in science because of the scientific methods, where repeatability of an experiment produces a scientific consensus. Philosophy does not have the same luxury of a well structured epistemic framework (and can't), and so whatever consensus there is or isn't on a specific issue means nothing in itself.

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The Wikipedia article on ontology that the OP cites notes that answers have been provided but they may not have been accepted by others:

Various philosophers have provided different answers to these questions.

This should be enough to answer the main question:

Now, can anyone tell which, if any, of these question has found an answer (meaning an answer agreed by [almost] everyone) and who was the author?

Although answers have been provided there is no harm in assuming that these answers have not been accepted by almost everyone. However, even in a scientific context there are often competing answers or theories explaining reality. For example, Jacob D. Bekenstein introduces his survey of current gravitational theories as follows:

Of the scores of rivals to general relativity formulated over the last half century, many have failed various experimental tests, but the verdict is not yet in on which extant relativistic gravitation theory is closest to the truth.

Although "the verdict is not yet in", there was a time prior to the 1910's when the verdict was in and Newton's universal gravitation

was accepted as the correct and complete theory of gravitation.

Even scientific questions need not get answers that everyone agrees with. Furthermore given the expectations that scientific theories should be falsifiable rather than verifiable, one should expect such answers always to be provisional and subjected to tests that will break them.

Regardless being able to come up with answers is important for philosophers. Michael Dummett provides the following assessment of a philosophy that cannot come up with answers:

The layman or non-professional expects philosophers to answer deep questions of great import for an understanding of the world. Do we have free will? Can the soul, or the mind, exist apart from the body? How can we tell what is right and what is wrong? Is there any right and wrong, or do we just make it up? Could we know the future or affect the past? Is there a God? And the layman is quite right: if philosophy does not aim at answering such questions, it is worth nothing.

One should expect that philosophers answer these questions. That most of them agree on specific answers may be too much to ask. Finding new answers may be as important for philosophy as attempting to break old theories are for science. Getting almost everyone to agree on some answer might be a sign that either the answer is trivial or people are socially prohibited somehow from offering alternatives.

Jacob D. Bekenstein. Gravitational Theories. Retrieved on September 24, 2019 from https://ned.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/ESSAYS/Bekenstein/bekenstein.html

Michael Dummett. The Logical Basis of Metaphysics. (1991) Harvard University Press. Retrieved on September 24, 2019 from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/logicalbasisofme0000dumm/page/n20

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, September 17). Ontology. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:56, September 24, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ontology&oldid=916118715

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Now, can anyone tell which, if any, of these question has found an answer (meaning an answer agreed by [almost] everyone) and who was the author?

"Almost everyone" is a very ambiguous term. It's tough to see explicit agreement on metaphysical principles because many people never consider them, but go about their business thinking without thinking about thinking; however, there are universal characteristics of human culture, and one can suppose that these are due to near universal metaphysical presuppositions, but showing that might be tough. I think it's best approach is to ask how do people generally reach agreement on these questions, to which the answer is that people in fields tend to agree to degrees. For instance, going back to ancient Greece, one can find reference to the physiki and theologi which are those who answer those questions without supernaturalism (modern day science), and those that answer with it in the form of God (theologians). The more closely the alignment on these sorts of questions, the more the alignment in philosophical dispositions. As the world moves towards cultural homogenization, one can presume there is increasing metaphysical alignment, but this is all speculative, of course.

P.S.Could you explain what is the level mention in question 8?

Due to how the mind organizes concepts, causality is often recognized as asymmetric in regard to existence. In science, which has become a popular approach to structuring experience, minds depend on brains, and not vice versa. These principles are generally the core of physicalism. Supervenience and the rejection of Cartesian duality are very popular, particularly among contemporary philosophers of mind, and lead to a hierarchy in organizing concepts. One example is Edward O. Wilson, who in his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, argued for consilience among the sciences.


These "layers" are a recognition that a society is a collection of minds, and minds arise in biological systems which are understood in terms of the chemical principles at play which are ultimately explained in terms of physics. One's beliefs on reductionism give more detail to how categories relate.

Even in a field like biology, phenomena are often organized in layers. Take biology where:


prevails as a layered approach to understanding the anatomy and physiology of living creatures.

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This will be more of a "meta" answer towards the class of questions, of which this is one, that try to find what "progress" philosophy has made, most often in comparison to science.

The challenge is generally put in the form: "Ever since the ancient Greeks, topics such as "what is moral", "what kinds of things exist", "can we have knowledge" ete have been discussed by philosophers. But, goes the challenge, philosophers are still debating them. Is two thousand years not enough time to say that, perhaps, either these questions can't be answered, or philosophy is the wrong tool for the job.

Some distinctions are in order. There's several levels of question in an academic subject. There's the "big one" of every subject. Physics has some like "What types of stuff is there, and how does it interact with itself to explain the behaviour of the universe", for example. Obviously, Physics hasn't answered that yet. But of course not; that would just be to have solved the field, it's answered smaller problems like what pulls matter together, how does space interact with time, and so on. Those smaller problems are converging towards, perhaps, an answer to the big one.

The standard philosophical questions that get trotted out are questions of this order. "What is moral", "what is the nature of existence" etc. To answer these is to solve on area of philosophy, in the same way that solving all problems related to gravity closes one area of physics. But this has to be stressed: an area of philosophy is not the same kind of thing as an area in physics. Ethics is a fundamentally different subject compared to, say, philosophical logic (even if they have implications for each other). What makes them both philosophy is that the methodology you use to tackle them; deductive reasoning, critical analysis of intuitions (where they come from, are they justified, are they misleading us, etc), thought experiments and so on. We're forced to use this loose methodology because empirical methods can't, in principle, answer the question (when we find that they can, the subjects turns into a science).

This means that instead of thinking about disciplines in terms of "physics, chemistry, philosophy, biology, history, maths", it should be thought of as "Science: physics, chemistry, biology..." and "Philosophy: metaphysics, ethics, epistemology..."

When we consider progress in philosophy, we should keep this clear. The "unsolved" problems of a philosophical discipline aren't just a run of the mill problem in any given field; philosophy makes that progress same as anyone else. What we're talking about is problems of the size of the "big" questions in a scientific discipline.

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