What are the accepted philosophical terms that help differentiate between the object and the representation of the object, what is observed and the observation, the territory and the map.

Question: Are there standard philosophical terms that identify the two?

A paper that I read to used the terms "ontic" and "epistemic" to describe this sort of thing.


Have you heard these terms used in this way before? Are there more appropriate or more commonly used terms?

  • Wouldn't it be just object and representation or perhaps image? (Not sure, I'm not a native speaker) – user2953 May 16 '13 at 6:31
  • Related blog-reading (on PBR) can be found here, here, and here. (And w.r.t. having heard ontic and epistemic used: Yes, all the time.) – user3164 May 16 '13 at 7:56
  • @Keelan I mostly agree with you. There are situations however - such as stuff falling to the ground and the law of gravity - where 'object' and 'representation' might not be truly appropriate. In any case, I am just trying to explore what terms 'real' philosophers would use (unlike my naive foolosophy ;-). – Theo May 16 '13 at 20:18
  • @Gugg Thanks for the links and confirmation. PBR looks like a fascinating discussion.. – Theo May 16 '13 at 20:21
  • Of course, that's why I didn't make it an answer ;-) (foolosophy, should remember that term!) – user2953 May 16 '13 at 20:40

The distinction between 'ontic' and 'epistemic' might serve your purposes. 'Ontic' is an adjective meaning 'having to do with being, or the way things really are.' 'Epistemic' is an adjective meaning 'having to do with what is known, understood, or knowable.'

So the actual state of affairs of this galaxy, for example, is an ontic matter. What we know about this galaxy (where the respective planets & moons are, e.g.) is an epistemic matter.

Philosophers talk about things-in-themselves (an ontic category) and things-as-represented or things-as-understood (an epistemic category). Fans of German Idealism use the term "noumena" to refer to things-in-themselves, and the term "phenomena" to refer to things-as-experienced. I think this way of thinking & talking (ontic/epistemic) will do justice to the kinds of distinctions you mention.

A note on quantum states (referred to obliquely in the comments to your question): The Schrodinger's Cat paradox hinges on the notion that whether or not the cat is alive (before the researcher peeks in the box) is ontically unsettled, not merely unknown. It is this that makes the scenario paradoxical.

There are further distinctions that philosophers make that should not be confused for the ontic/epistemic one.

Ontic--having to do with being, reality;

Ontology--the study of being, reality (includes determinations about what category of being is most basic, e.g. 'materialism' is an ontological view)

Ontological--having to do with ontology

Epistemic--having to do with knowledge

Epistemology--the study of knowledge (e.g., what we can know & how)

Epistemological--having to do with the study of knowledge

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