In metaphysics (in particular, ontology), the different kinds or ways of being are called categories of being or simply categories. According to the Aristotelian tradition, a being is anything that can be said to be in the various senses of this word. Hence, to investigate the categories of being is to determine the most fundamental senses in which things can be said to be. A category, more precisely, is any of the broadest classes of things - 'thing' here meaning anything whatever that can be discussed and cannot be reduced to any other class.
An exhaustive account of the categories that humans need be concerned with continues to be hoped for. Some have desired ontological category schemes that were more than exhaustive, by virtue of admitting nonexistent or even logically impossible objects. The category schemes of Alexius Meinong are a case in point. A distinction between such categories, in making the categories or applying them, is called an ontological distinction. An exhaustive scheme makes many distinctions.
The common or dominant ways to view categories as of the end of the 20th century.
Any of these ways can be criticized for either seeking to make distinctions that aren't as universal as claimed (greedy reductionism), for serious bias in point of view (subject-object problem or God's eye view), for relying on theological or spiritual claims a priori, for relying too much on surface conflict or current investigative priorities to point out differences, for ignoring action, for ignoring the perceived or biospheric context, or the cognitive mechanisms that perceive and invent categories or for relying on a complex empirical process of investigation that is poorly understood and only recently embarked upon. In process philosophy, this last is the only possibility, but historically philosophers have been loath to conclude that nothing exists but process.
A seemingly simpler way to view categories is as arising only from intuition. Philosophers argue this evades the issue. What it means to take the category physical object seriously as a category of being is to assert that the concept of physical objecthood cannot be reduced to or explicated in any other terms - not, for example, in terms of bundles of properties but only in terms of other items in that category.
In this way, many ontological controversies can be understood as controversies about exactly which categories should be seen as fundamental, irreducible, or primitive. To refer to intuition as the source of distinctions and thus categories doesn't resolve this.
Modern theories give weight to intuition, perceptually observed properties, comparisons of categories among persons, and the direction of investigation towards known specified ends, to determine what humanity in its present state of being needs to consider irreducible. They seek to explain why certain beliefs about categories would appear in political science as ideology, in religion as dogma, or in science as theory.
A set of ontological distinctions related by a single conceptual metaphor was called an ontological metaphor by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, who claimed that such metaphors arising from experience were more basic than any properties or symbol-based comparisons. Their cognitive science of mathematics was a study of the embodiment of basic symbols and properties including those studied in the philosophy of mathematics, via embodied philosophy, using cognitive science. This theory comes after several thousand years of inquiry into patterns and cognitive bias of humanity.
Nowadays, these categories are commonly seen as having a value that is merely historical, in part because Aristotle's notion of substance is commonly rejected. This rejection often stems from a misunderstanding of his real meaning, which was that substance is that which exists of itself and not in another.
In special relativity, the term; 'invariant mass' means the same as if we would say; (Aristotle's)substance of mass. The difference being that, 'substance' may be used to describe properties of several other concepts than mass. Given this understanding, to deny that substance exists amounts to saying that everything exists in another, which in turn implies that nothing exists. But if we assume that things do in fact exist, then at least one substance must be admitted, unless we allow things to nest in other things in either an infinite or a circular fashion. The latter option seems rather implausible, but the former option is conceivable if matter is assumed infinitely divisible, i.e., if atoms are denied.
Charles Peirce, who had read Kant closely and who also had some knowledge of Aristotle, proposed a system of merely three phenomenological categories: Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, which he repeatedly invoked in his subsequent writings. Edmund Husserl (1962, 2000) wrote extensively about categorial systems as part of his phenomenology.
Contemporary systems of categories have been proposed by Wilfrid Sellars (1974), Grossman (1983), Johansson (1989), Hoffman and Rosenkrantz (1994), Roderick Chisholm (1996), and Barry Smith (ontologist) (2003).
Properties, relations, and classes are supposed to be abstract, rather than concrete. Many philosophers say that properties and relations have an abstract existence, and that physical objects have a concrete existence. That, perhaps, is the paradigm case of a difference in ways in which items can be said to be, or to have being.
Many philosophers have attempted to reduce the number of distinct ontological categories. For instance, David Hume famously regarded Space and Time as nothing more than psychological facts about human beings, which would effectively reduce Space and Time to ideas, which are properties of humans (substances). Nominalists and realists argue over the existence of properties and relations. Finally, events and propositions have been argued to be reducible to sets (classes) of substances and other such categories.
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