Project: The Nature of Existence - Neglected Questions at the Foundations of Ontology

Lay summary:

This project brings together a group of metaphysicians to investigate questions about the nature of existence, in order to provoke novel and productive lines of research into the foundations of ontology. The foundations of ontology—or metaontology, as it is known—is a wide-ranging branch of philosophy concerned with the metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, methodology, and theoretical prospects of ontology: the branch of philosophy that asks, "which kinds of things exist?". Although ontological questions about which kinds of things exist are extensively discussed in the contemporary philosophical literature, metaontological questions about what it is for a thing to exist at all have been unduly neglected in until quite recently, despite their ancient pedigree and their broader importance to ontology and metaontology. The primary contributions of this project will be to bring distinctively metaphysical questions about the nature of existence back to the forefront of metaontology, and to investigate their implications for ongoing research in ontology.

To achieve these two goals, the overall project will be organized around two independent, yet complementary, research questions within the scope of two Subprojects:

Subproject A: Are there many fundamentally different ways to exist?

This research group will investigate the recently revived dispute over whether different kinds of things can enjoy different kinds of existence, and explore implications for classic disputes in metaphysics.

Subproject B: Are there any shared essential characteristics of existence?

This research group will investigate whether there are any interesting truths about what it is for a thing to exist, focusing on whether facts about the existence of particular things are (i) reductively unanalyzable, (ii) intrinsic, or (iii) metaphysically fundamental.

It is rare in contemporary philosophy that an opportunity emerges to make major advances on such a broad, canonical topic as the nature of existence. The primary ambition of this project to provide a groundbreaking and comprehensive research platform that will rejuvenate discussions of this topic and help set the agenda for further investigations into the nature of existence for years to come.

Funding Institution:

Swiss National Science Foundation.

Project number: 10012_150289

Principal investigators:

Fabrice Correia

Kevin Mulligan