I have been giving a lot of thought to the realm of ontology as of late, especially with regards to the nature of concepts as they dwell in the mind and how being plays a role in that.
This has been initiated in me by virtue of a book I am reading by the name of Medieval Philosophy Redefined: The Development of Cenoscopic Science, AD354 to 1644 (From the Birth of Augustine to the Death of Poinsot). Not the catchiest of titles, I know. But it constantly brings up the idea of conceptualism. This has been built on in my thinking by a series of lectures I have been listening to as of late by Hans Boersma, an excellent theologian who teaches at Regent College in Vancouver. One of his talks brought up the topic of nominalism, terminalism, and conceptualism, that things exist in the mind independent of the reality which they signify.
Anyways, because of all this, I have begun to wonder that perhaps concepts are not so abstract and independent as we like to think. What I am about to say is based in what I find to be in North American culture at least to be a very strong anti-intellectualism. We see ideas as abstract, not based in reality, having no basis in the real world. Ideas, for most people, are seperate. They live in their own world of the mind and have no real connection to the reality of life. We can thank Kant for that, as well as people such as William of Ockham. This view proposes that thinking about things is a pointless exercise because thinking and ideas are not practical. When people say this, you can replace the word “practical” with the word “real” because that is the meaning they intend. Ideas are not really real, they are only things that float in the mind independent of reality. People see the external world and the internal mind as totally and completely separate from each other. Of course I am universalizing here, but I think it is a fair view of our cultural attitude in North America.
So, what does this all have to do with ontology? First, for those who do not know what ontology is, it is simply a fancy term to talk about the study of being, the study of things as they are, the study of things in their essence. People tend to see beings as autonomous atoms. This person is different from that person and thus there is no real union or participation between these two people. The same is said with regards to inanimate objects, such as rocks, or chairs (chairs are a favourite example of philosophers 🙂 ). There is no real relation between one being and another, only a perceived relation which occurs through an interaction through the senses. Thus, when I sit in the chair, there is a relation that is perceived, but in the end that which I am sitting on has no real connection with me because it is different and autonomous from me.
But what I am getting at with this is the concept of…concepts! If we look at a chair, then we have an idea of a chair in our minds, and we can even have an idea of this particular chair. The issue is that we see the concept in our mind as totally and completely detached from the real object in reality. We see this chair as a chair, but my thought about the chair has no real bearing on me or on the world. It is in most of our eyes an abstraction and thus not truly real.
I wish to challenge this notion by proposing a more traditional ontology, and that is an ontology that is both relational and participatory (ie: sacramental). A sacramental ontology presupposes both relations and participation. It sees a real connection between what is in the mind and what is in reality. There are intermediaries (hence why it is a sacramental ontology) because we cannot have the chair actually in our mind, for example. But when we look at a chair, we have an image of that chair in our mind and it evokes the sense of chairness in our mind. We cannot deny the real relation; our mind is participating in the reality of this chair as it is and in the essence of chairness. Our mind is fundamentally changed by virtue that our person has interacted with a being in a new way.
This is all rather scattered, overly universal, and does not have the sufficient nuances yet. It is simply an idea I am toying around with, but wanted to get on paper. But if we see the world and ideas as intimately related instead of violently divorced, then we come to see that, truly and really, ideas have consequences and that ideas are not abstractions but are practical in every sense of the word because they are real for they are a mental representation of the reality in which we interact in.