Philosophy (2002), 77:2:235-260 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2002

Does Ontology Exist?

Hans-Johann Glock 


Early analytic philosophers like Carnap, Wittgenstein and Ryle regarded ontology as a branch of metaphysics that is either trivial or meaningless. But at present it is generally assumed that philosophy can make substantial discoveries about what kinds of things exist and about the essence of these kinds. My paper challenges this ontological turn. The currently predominant conceptions of the subject, at any rate, do not license the idea that ontology can provide distinctively philosophical insights into the constituents of reality. I distinguish four main sources of analytic ontology—Strawson's descriptive metaphysics, Kripke's realist semantics, the Austro-Australian truth-maker principle, Quine's naturalistic conception of ontology—and indicate briefly why the first three do not rehabilitate ontology. In the remainder, I concentrate on the most influential and promising position. Quinean ontology seeks to bring out and reduce the ontological commitments of our best scientific theories through logical paraphrase. Against this programme, I argue that Quine's conception of ontological commitment is inadequate, and that his logical paraphrase cannot contribute to the exploration of reality, but at most to the clarification of our conceptual framework.