- Metaphysics incorporates two levels of inquiry: ontology and metaontology.In the first, questions about what exists and about the properties and relations of various existents are posed and answered. The array of entities whose existence and properties are of concern ranges from the more familiar objects of everyday life, such as tables and persons, to the more exotic realms of numbers, fictional characters, propositions, and possible worlds. Given the enormous variety of things concerned, the questions ontologists address often remain highly general. Ontological questions may concern, for example, what exists, what sort of stuff makes up those entities that do exist, in what kinds of relations existents stand with one another, the categories of existents, etc.
- Metaontology takes as its subject ontology itself. One may ask how, for instance, are ontological questions to be understood, and what really is at stake in raising and attempting to answer them? Or one may wonder by what standard are we to decide between competing answers to these questions? Or whether there are beliefs, statements, and/or practices that reveal antecedent commitments regarding answers to ontological questions (or antecedent constraints on the range of tenable answers)?
- While most, if not all, significant figures in the history of western metaphysics have held at least tacit views concerning these metaontological questions, careful and sustained work in metaontology is a relatively recent phenomenon. The single most significant episode in the brief history of metaontological inquiry was the mid-twentieth-century debate between the leading exponent of the logical positivist movement, Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970), and the leading critic of that movement, W.V. Quine (1908–2000).
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