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Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.
The compound word ontology ("study of being") combines onto- (Gr. ὄν , on,gen. ὄντος, ontos, "being; that which is") and -logia (Gr. -λογία, "logical discourse"). See classical compounds for this type of word formation.
While the etymology is Greek, the oldest extant record of the word itself, the New Latin form ontologia, appeared in 1606 in the work Ogdoas Scholastica by Jacob Lorhard (Lorhardus) and in 1613 in the Lexicon philosophicum by Rudolf Göckel (Goclenius).
The first occurrence in English of ontology as recorded by the OED ( Oxford English Dictionary , online edition, 2008) came in a work by Gideon Harvey (1636/7–1702): Archelogia philosophica nova; or, New principles of Philosophy. Containing Philosophy in general, Metaphysicks or Ontology, Dynamilogy or a Discourse of Power, Religio Philosophi or Natural Theology, Physicks or Natural philosophy, London, Thomson, 1663.The word was first used in its Latin form by philosophers based on the Latin roots, which themselves are based on the Greek.
Leibniz is the only one of the great philosophers of the 17th century to have used the term ontology.
Some philosophers, notably in the traditions of the Platonic school, contend that all nouns (including abstract nouns) refer to existent entities.[ citation needed ] Other philosophers contend that nouns do not always name entities, but that some provide a kind of shorthand for reference to a collection either of objects or of events. In this latter view, mind , instead of referring to an entity, refers to a collection of mental events experienced by a person ; society refers to a collection of persons with some shared characteristics, and geometry refers to a collection of specific kinds of intellectual activities. [ need quotation to verify ] Between these poles of realism and nominalism stand a variety of other positions.
Principal questions of ontology include:[ citation needed ]
Various philosophers have provided different answers to these questions. One common approach involves dividing the extant subjects and predicates into groups called categories.[ citation needed ] Such lists of categories differ widely from one another, and it is through the co-ordination of different categorical schemes that ontology relates to such fields as library science and artificial intelligence. Such an understanding of ontological categories, however, is merely taxonomic, classificatory. Aristotle's categories are the ways in which a being may be addressed simply as a being, such as:
Further examples of ontological questions include:[ citation needed ]
Essential ontological dichotomies include:[ citation needed ]
Philosophers can classify ontologies in various ways, using criteria such as the degree of abstraction and field of application:
Ontology features in the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy from the first millennium BCE.
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In the Greek philosophical tradition, Parmenides (fl. late sixth or early fifth century BCE) was among the first to propose an ontological characterization of the fundamental nature of existence. In the prologue or proem to his poem On Nature he describes two views of existence; initially that nothing comes from nothing, and therefore existence is eternal. This posits that existence is what may be conceived of by thought, created, or possessed. Hence, there may be neither void nor vacuum; and true reality neither may come into being nor vanish from existence. Rather, the entirety of creation is eternal, uniform, and immutable, though not infinite (Parmenides characterized its shape as that of a perfect sphere). Parmenides thus posits that change, as perceived in everyday experience, is illusory. Everything that may be apprehended is but one part of a single entity. This idea somewhat anticipates the modern concept of an ultimate grand unification theory that finally describes all of existence in terms of one inter-related sub-atomic reality which applies to everything.[ citation needed ] Most of western philosophy (especially the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza) — including the fundamental concepts of falsifiability — has emerged from this view.
The opposite of Parmenides' Eleatic monism is the pluralistic conception of being. In the 5th century BC, Anaxagoras and Leucippus replaced [ citation needed ]the reality of Being (unique and unchanging) with that of Becoming and therefore by a more fundamental and elementary ontic plurality. This thesis originated in the Hellenic world, stated in two different ways by Anaxagoras and by Leucippus. The first theory dealt with "seeds" (which Aristotle referred to as "homeomeries") of the various substances. The second was the atomistic theory, which dealt with reality as based on the vacuum, the atoms and their intrinsic movement in it.
The materialist atomism proposed by Leucippus was indeterminist, but Democritus (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) subsequently developed it in a deterministic way. Later (4th century BC) Epicurus took the original atomism again as indeterministic. He saw reality as composed of an infinity of indivisible, unchangeable corpuscles or atoms (atomon, lit. 'uncuttable'), but he gives weight to characterize atoms whereas for Leucippus they are characterized by a "figure", an "order" and a "position" in the cosmos. [ page needed ]Atoms are, besides, creating the whole with the intrinsic movement in the vacuum, producing the diverse flux of being. Their movement is influenced by the parenklisis (Lucretius names it clinamen) and that is determined by the chance. These ideas foreshadowed the understanding of traditional physics until the advent of 20th-century theories on the nature of atoms.
Plato (lived 420s BCE to 348/347 BCE) developed the distinction between true reality and illusion, in arguing that what is real are eternal and unchanging Forms or Ideas (a precursor to universals), of which things experienced in sensation are at best merely copies, and real only in so far as they copy ("partake of") such Forms. In general, Plato presumes that all nouns (e.g., "Beauty") refer to real entities, whether sensible bodies or insensible Forms. Hence, in The Sophist Plato argues that Being is a Form in which all existent things participate and which they have in common (though it is unclear whether "Being" is intended in the sense of existence, copula, or identity); and argues, against Parmenides, that Forms must exist not only of Being, but also of Negation and of non-Being (or Difference).[ citation needed ]
In his Categories, Aristotle (384–322 BCE) identifies ten possible kinds of things that may be the subject or the predicate of a proposition. For Aristotle there are four different ontological dimensions:
According to Avicenna (c. 980 – 1037), and in an interpretation of Greek Aristotelian and Platonist ontological doctrines in medieval metaphysics, being is either necessary, contingent qua possible, or impossible. Necessary being is that which cannot but be, since its non-being entails a contradiction. Contingent qua possible being is neither necessary nor impossible for it to be or not to be. It is ontologically neutral, and is brought from potential existing into actual existence by way of a cause that is external to its essence. Its being is borrowed – unlike the necessary existent, which is self-subsisting and is impossible for it not to be. As for the impossible, it necessarily does not exist, and the affirmation of its being is a contradiction.
The concept of 'ontological formations' refers to formations of social relations understood as dominant ways of living. Temporal, spatial, corporeal, epistemological and performative relations are taken to be central to understanding a dominant formation. That is, a particular ontological formation is based on how ontological categories of time, space, embodiment, knowing and performing are lived—objectively and subjectively. Different ontological formations include the customary (including the tribal), the traditional, the modern and the postmodern. The concept was first introduced by Paul James' Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalismtogether with a series of writers including Damian Grenfell and Manfred Steger.
In the engaged theory approach, ontological formations are seen as layered and intersecting rather than singular formations. They are 'formations of being'. This approach avoids the usual problems of a Great Divide being posited between the modern and the pre-modern. From a philosophical distinction concerning different formations of being, the concept then provides a way of translating into practical understandings concerning how humans might design cities and communities that live creatively across different ontological formations, for example cities that are not completely dominated by modern valences of spatial configuration. Here the work of Tony Fry is important.
According to Edward N. Zalta, the ontology of fiction analyses such sentences as (1) 'Nero worshipped (the god) Mars', (2) 'the god Mars does not exist', and (3) 'in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle is a flower girl'.
According to Amie L. Thomasson, fictional discourse can be of four sorts: (1) uttered within works of fiction, (2) philosophical exercises such as 'Captain Marvel does not exist', (3) treating fictional characters as if they were 'real', such as 'Superman can leap tall buildings', and (4) discourse about works of fiction, such as 'Professor Higgins was created by George Bernard Shaw'.
Jeremy Bentham distinguished three kinds of entity, the real, the fictitious, and the fabulous. For him, really existing entities were those that can be perceived, or can be inferred from perception. His fictitious entities were abstractions that referred to perceptible things. His fabulous entities were to be found only in the imagination, and he held that the word 'exist' applied to them only in the sense that they did not really exist.
Francis Herbert Bradley thought that real things exist respectively at particular times and places. He recognised several kinds of entity: the genuinely historical, the fictional, the real, the merely imagined, the existent, and the non-existent.
Alexius Meinong would put fictional entities into the category which he called subsistence. This category contains objects that neither exist spatially or non-spatially. However, they do have properties. The properties are given to these objects in the way they are said to be described. For example, we can talk about the tall unicorn even though the tall unicorn does not exist. We can say the unicorn is in fact tall because this follows from the properties in which the object is characterized.
René Descartes, with je pense donc je suis or cogito ergo sum or "I think, therefore I am", argued that "the self" is something that we can know exists with epistemological certainty. Descartes argued further that this knowledge could lead to a proof of the certainty of the existence of God, using the ontological argument that had been formulated first by Anselm of Canterbury.[ citation needed ]
Certainty about the existence of "the self" and "the other", however, came under increasing criticism in the 20th century. Sociological theorists, most notably George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman, saw the Cartesian Other as a "Generalized Other", the imaginary audience that individuals use when thinking about the self. According to Mead, "we do not assume there is a self to begin with. Self is not presupposed as a stuff out of which the world arises. Rather, the self arises in the world". [ citation needed ]The Cartesian Other was also used by Sigmund Freud, who saw the superego as an abstract regulatory force, and Émile Durkheim who viewed this as a psychologically manifested entity which represented God in society at large.
Schools of subjectivism, objectivism and relativism existed at various times in the 20th century, and the postmodernists and body philosophers tried to reframe all these questions in terms of bodies taking some specific action in an environment. This relied to a great degree on insights derived from scientific research into animals taking instinctive action in natural and artificial settings—as studied by biology, ecology, [ citation needed ]and cognitive science.
The processes by which bodies related to environments became of great concern, and the idea of being itself became difficult to really define. What did people mean when they said "A is B", "A must be B", "A was B"...? Some linguists advocated dropping the verb "to be" from the English language, leaving "E Prime", supposedly less prone to bad abstractions. Others, mostly philosophers, tried to dig into the word and its usage. Martin Heidegger distinguished human being as existence from the being of things in the world. Heidegger proposes that our way of being human and the way the world is for us are cast historically through a fundamental ontological questioning. These fundamental ontological categories provide the basis for communication in an age: a horizon of unspoken and seemingly unquestionable background meanings, such as human beings understood unquestioningly as subjects and other entities understood unquestioningly as objects. Because these basic ontological meanings both generate and are regenerated in everyday interactions, the locus of our way of being in a historical epoch is the communicative event of language in use. For Heidegger, however, communication in the first place is not among human beings, but language itself shapes up in response to questioning (the inexhaustible meaning of) being. Even the focus of traditional ontology on the 'whatness' or quidditas of beings in their substantial, standing presence can be shifted to pose the question of the 'whoness' of human being itself.
Some philosophers suggest that the question of "What is?" is (at least in part) an issue of usage rather than a question about facts.This perspective is conveyed by an analogy made by Donald Davidson: Suppose a person refers to a 'cup' as a 'chair' and makes some comments pertinent to a cup, but uses the word 'chair' consistently throughout instead of 'cup'. One might readily catch on that this person simply calls a 'cup' a 'chair' and the oddity is explained. Analogously, if we find people asserting 'there are' such-and-such, and we do not ourselves think that 'such-and-such' exist, we might conclude that these people are not nuts (Davidson calls this assumption 'charity'), they simply use 'there are' differently than we do. The question of What is? is at least partially a topic in the philosophy of language, and is not entirely about ontology itself. This viewpoint has been expressed by Eli Hirsch.
Hirsch interprets Hilary Putnam as asserting that different concepts of "the existence of something" can be correct.This position does not contradict the view that some things do exist, but points out that different 'languages' will have different rules about assigning this property. How to determine the 'fitness' of a 'language' to the world then becomes a subject for investigation.
Common to all Indo-European copula languages is the double use of the verb "to be" in both stating that entity X exists ("X is.") as well as stating that X has a property ("X is P"). It is sometimes argued that a third use is also distinct, stating that X is a member of a class ("X is a C"). In other language families these roles may have completely different verbs and are less likely to be confused with one another. For example they might say something like "the car has redness" rather than "the car is red". Hence any discussion of "being" in Indo-European language philosophy may need to make distinctions between these senses.[ citation needed ]
In human geography there are two types of ontology: small "o" which accounts for the practical orientation, describing functions of being a part of the group, thought to oversimplify and ignore key activities. The other "o", or big "O", systematically, logically, and rationally describes the essential characteristics and universal traits. This concept relates closely to Plato's view that the human mind can only perceive a bigger world if they continue to live within the confines of their "caves". However, in spite of the differences, ontology relies on the symbolic agreements among members. That said, ontology is crucial for the axiomatic language frameworks.
According to A.N. Whitehead, for ontology, it is useful to distinguish the terms 'reality' and 'actuality'. In this view, an 'actual entity' has a philosophical status of fundamental ontological priority, while a 'real entity' is one which may be actual, or may derive its reality from its logical relation to some actual entity or entities. For example, an occasion in the life of Socrates is an actual entity. But Socrates' being a man does not make 'man' an actual entity, because it refers indeterminately to many actual entities, such as several occasions in the life of Socrates, and also to several occasions in the lives of Alcibiades, and of others. But the notion of man is real; it derives its reality from its reference to those many actual occasions, each of which is an actual entity. An actual occasion is a concrete entity, while terms such as 'man' are abstractions from many concrete relevant entities.
According to Whitehead, an actual entity must earn its philosophical status of fundamental ontological priority by satisfying several philosophical criteria, as follows.
Whitehead proposed that his notion of an occasion of experience satisfies the criteria for its status as the philosophically preferred definition of an actual entity. From a purely logical point of view, each occasion of experience has in full measure the characters of both objective and subjective reality. Subjectivity and objectivity refer to different aspects of an occasion of experience, and in no way do they exclude each other.
Examples of other philosophical proposals or candidates as actual entities, in this view, are Aristotle's 'substances', Leibniz' monads, and Descartes ′res verae' , and the more modern 'states of affairs'. Aristotle's substances, such as Socrates, have behind them as more fundamental the 'primary substances', and in this sense do not satisfy Whitehead's criteria. Whitehead is not happy with Leibniz' monads as actual entities because they are "windowless" and do not cause each other. 'States of affairs' are often not closely defined, often without specific mention of extension in physical Minkowski space; they are therefore not necessarily processes of becoming, but may be as their name suggests, simply static states in some sense. States of affairs are contingent on particulars, and therefore have something behind them.One summary of the Whiteheadian actual entity is that it is a process of becoming. Another summary, referring to its causal linkage to other actual entities, is that it is "all window", in contrast with Leibniz' windowless monads.
This view allows philosophical entities other than actual entities to really exist, but not as fundamentally and primarily factual or causally efficacious; they have existence as abstractions, with reality only derived from their reference to actual entities. A Whiteheadian actual entity has a unique and completely definite place and time. Whiteheadian abstractions are not so tightly defined in time and place, and in the extreme, some are timeless and placeless, or 'eternal' entities. All abstractions have logical or conceptual rather than efficacious existence; their lack of definite time does not make them unreal if they refer to actual entities. Whitehead calls this 'the ontological principle'.
There is an established and long philosophical history of the concept of atoms as microscopic physical objects. They are far too small to be visible to the naked eye. It was as recent as the nineteenth century that precise estimates of the sizes of putative physical atoms began to become plausible. Almost direct empirical observation of atomic effects was due to the theoretical investigation of Brownian motion by Albert Einstein in the very early twentieth century. But even then, the real existence of atoms was debated by some. Such debate might be labeled 'microcosmic ontology'. Here the word 'microcosm' is used to indicate a physical world of small entities, such as for example atoms.
Subatomic particles are usually considered to be much smaller than atoms. Their real or actual existence may be very difficult to demonstrate empirically.A distinction is sometimes drawn between actual and virtual subatomic particles. Reasonably, one may ask, in what sense, if any, do virtual particles exist as physical entities? For atomic and subatomic particles, difficult questions arise, such as do they possess a precise position, or a precise momentum? A question that continues to be controversial is 'to what kind of physical thing, if any, does the quantum mechanical wave function refer?'.
In the Western Christian tradition, in his 1078 work Proslogion , Anselm of Canterbury proposed what is known as 'the ontological argument' for the existence of God.Anselm defined God as "that than which nothing greater can be thought", and argued that this being must exist in the mind, even in the mind of the person who denies the existence of God. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it only exists in the mind, then an even greater being must be possible—one which exists both in the mind and in reality. Therefore, this greatest possible being must exist in reality. Seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes deployed a similar argument. Descartes published several variations of his argument, each of which centred on the idea that God's existence is immediately inferable from a "clear and distinct" idea of a supremely perfect being. In the early eighteenth century, Gottfried Leibniz augmented Descartes' ideas in an attempt to prove that a "supremely perfect" being is a coherent concept. Norman Malcolm revived the ontological argument in 1960 when he located a second, stronger ontological argument in Anselm's work; Alvin Plantinga challenged this argument and proposed an alternative, based on modal logic. Attempts have also been made to validate Anselm's proof using an automated theorem prover.
More recently, Kurt Gödel proposed a formal argument for God's existence. Other arguments for God's existence have been advanced, including those made by Islamic philosophers Mulla Sadra and Allama Tabatabai.
Jaakko Hintikka puts the view that a useful explication of the notion of existence is in the words "one can find", implicitly in some world or universe of discourse.
In philosophy, being means the material or immaterial existence of a thing. Anything that exists is being. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies being. Being is a concept encompassing objective and subjective features of reality and existence. Anything that partakes in being is also called a "being", though often this usage is limited to entities that have subjectivity. The notion of "being" has, inevitably, been elusive and controversial in the history of philosophy, beginning in Western philosophy with attempts among the pre-Socratics to deploy it intelligibly. The first effort to recognize and define the concept came from Parmenides, who famously said of it that "what is-is". Common words such as "is", "are", and "am" refer directly or indirectly to being.
Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality. In philosophy, it refers to the ontological property of being.
In philosophy, idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to materialism, idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.
Process philosophy — also ontology of becoming, processism, or philosophy of organism — identifies metaphysical reality with change. In opposition to the classical model of change as illusory or accidental, process philosophy regards change as the cornerstone of reality—the cornerstone of being thought of as becoming.
Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of a system, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.
"Nothing", used as a pronoun subject, is the absence of a something or particular thing that one might expect or desire to be present or the inactivity of a thing or things that are usually or could be active. As a predicate or complement "nothing" is the absence of meaning, value, worth, relevance, standing, or significance. "Nothingness" is a philosophical term for the general state of nonexistence, sometimes reified as a domain or dimension into which things pass when they cease to exist or out of which they may come to exist, e.g., God is understood to have created the universe ex nihilo, "out of nothing".
Mind–body dualism is the view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.
Pluralism is a term used in philosophy, meaning "doctrine of multiplicity", often used in opposition to monism and dualism. The term has different meanings in metaphysics, ontology, epistemology and logic.
The Critique of Pure Reason is a book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. Also referred to as Kant's "First Critique", it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a "critique of pure reason" he means a critique "of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience" and that he aims to reach a decision about "the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics".
In philosophy, metaphysical necessity, sometimes called broad logical necessity, is one of many different kinds of necessity, which sits between logical necessity and nomological necessity, in the sense that logical necessity entails metaphysical necessity, but not vice versa, and metaphysical necessity entails physical necessity, but not vice versa. A proposition is said to be necessary if it could not have failed to be the case. Nomological necessity is necessity according to the laws of physics and logical necessity is necessity according to the laws of logic, while metaphysical necessities are necessary in the sense that the world could not possibly have been otherwise. What facts are metaphysically necessary, and on what basis we might view certain facts as metaphysically but not logically necessary are subjects of substantial discussion in contemporary philosophy.
Modal realism is the view propounded by David Kellogg Lewis that all possible worlds are real in the same way as is the actual world: they are "of a kind with this world of ours." It is based on the following tenets: possible worlds exist; possible worlds are not different in kind from the actual world; possible worlds are irreducible entities; the term actual in actual world is indexical, i.e. any subject can declare their world to be the actual one, much as they label the place they are "here" and the time they are "now".
Process and Reality is a book by Alfred North Whitehead, in which the author propounds a philosophy of organism, also called process philosophy. The book, published in 1929, is a revision of the Gifford Lectures he gave in 1927–28.
We diverge from Descartes by holding that what he has described as primary attributes of physical bodies, are really the forms of internal relationships between actual occasions. Such a change of thought is the shift from materialism to Organic Realism, as a basic idea of physical science.
In philosophy, potentiality and actuality are a pair of closely connected principles which Aristotle used to analyze motion, causality, ethics, and physiology in his Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics and De Anima, which is about the human psyche.
In ontology and the philosophy of mind, a non-physical entity is a spirit or being that exists outside physical reality. Their existence divides the philosophical school of physicalism from the schools of idealism and dualism; with the latter schools holding that they can exist and the former holding that they cannot. If one posits that non-physical entities can exist, there exist further debates as to their inherent natures and their position relative to physical entities.
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science. Cosmology and ontology are traditional branches of metaphysics. It is concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. Someone who studies metaphysics can be called either a "metaphysician" or a "metaphysicist".
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to metaphysics:
An ontological argument is a philosophical argument for the existence of God that uses ontology. Many arguments fall under the category of the ontological, and they tend to involve arguments about the state of being or existing. More specifically, ontological arguments tend to start with a priori theory about the organization of the universe. If that organizational structure is true, the argument will provide reasons why God must exist.
Philosophy of motion is a branch of philosophy concerned with exploring questions on the existence and nature of motion. The central questions of this study concern the epistemology and ontology of motion, whether motion exists as we perceive it, what is it, and, if it exists, how does it occur. The philosophy of motion is important in the study of theories of change in natural systems and is closely connected to studies of space and time in philosophy.
The question "Why is there anything at all?", or, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has been raised or commented on by philosophers including Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Martin Heidegger – who called it the fundamental question of metaphysics.
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