by Prof. Nino B. Cocchiarella
Formal ontology, we have said, is a discipline in which the formal methods of mathematical logic are combined with the intuitive, philosophical analyses and principles of ontology. What we do in formal ontology is bring together the clarity and precision of the methodology of logical analysis with the philosophical insights of ontological analysis. One of the fundamental issues in ontology is the problem of universals, which formally is represented by the problem of predication, which includes not only the problem of what, if anything, predicates stand for, but also how we are to account for the nexus of predication in language, thought, and reality.
The three main theories of universals in the history of philosophy have been
nominalism, realism, and conceptualism.
In nominalism, there are no universals that predicates stand for, and there is only predication in language. In conceptualism, predication in thought is what underlies predication in language, and what predicates stand for are concepts as rule-following cognitive capacities underlying our use of predicate expressions. In realism, what predicates stand for are real universals that are the basis for predication in reality, i.e., for the events and states of affairs that obtain in the world.
We distinguished two types of realism in previous lectures, namely Bertrand Russell’s and Gottlob Frege’s different versions of logical realism as modern forms of Platonism, and several variants of natural realism, one variant of which is logical atomism, and another variant of which we will discuss today is a modern form of Aristotleís theory of natural kinds, or what is usually called Aristotelian essentialism.