Literature Review: Ontology
Ontology refers to the meaning of being or existence itself. To describe ontology clearly, we will use an Heideggerian lens to grasp its fundamental concept. Heidegger, is interested in what it means for entities to exist, he is interested in modes of being, or existence.
In Being and Time ( 1996) Martin Heidegger talks about what it means to exist, in a sense he looks at existence as an activity – our mode of being, or mode of existence. He believes that human existence is open to, vulnerable to and defined in relation to the world surrounding it.
Heidegger says that being-in-the-world, means the world is a part of our beings existential structure, it is the projection of possibilities based upon a history of experience. In this way we always understand things through experience, at this level, things, which are revealed to us, are believed to be true. What we understand is based on what we already know, and what we already know comes from being able to understand (Winograd & Flores, 1987).
Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus (1997) in their book Disclosing New Worlds describe all pragmatic activity as being organized by a style. Style is our name for the way all the practices ultimately fit together, (Spinosa et al.,1997)claim that a style is not an aspect of things, people, or activity but, rather, constitutes them as what they are.
Accompanying the concept of style is, Heidegger’s notion of a worldhood, which is an interdependent and interrelated set of meanings, that is complete. He calls this a worldhood because we constantly project it as we move through our experience of the world. Disclosing a worldhood, by definition means having an experience of a certain way of being. With this experience of a world, I bring with me, the capacity to experience it, which means it gets revealed to me. That is that “any individual, in understanding his/her world is continually involved in activities of interpretation. That interpretation is based on prejudice or pre-understanding (Winograd & Flores, 1987).”
A world for Heidegger, has three characteristics; Inclusively non-related pieces of equipment, which are used to perform a specific task. These tasks achieve certain purposes, which enables those performing them to have identities. These identities are the meaning or point of engaging in these activities (Flores, Spinosa, & Dreyfus, 1998).
For this reason, Heidegger argues that the separation of the subject and the object denies the more fundamental unity of being-in-the-world (Dasein). From the distinction that I (the subject) am perceiving something else (the object), means I have stepped back from the pre-eminence of experience and understanding itself, which operates without reflection. In other words, “The interpreted and the interpreter, do no exist independently, existence is interpretation and interpretation is existence (Winograd & Flores, 1987).”
This view of the world as interpretation (from a distinctly Heideggerrian perspective) is called Hermeneutic Phenomenology. This is an appropriate ontological stance for our investigation because it is interested in ontological design. This means we are specifically engaged in designing bridges between multiple and varied ontological stances in a synthetic and integrative manner. The task of the ontological designer then is to disclose worlds, which are based on shared sense making or shared hermeneutic foundations.
To explore this further we operate within the world based on a basic hermeneutic process or sense making. This ‘way’ of making sense of things and experience is what determines the way we act within that world – we can call this the style in which we act in the world. Therefore in ontological designing we are interested in unearthing the sense generating machinery between differing ontological stances; and through that difference disclose new possibilities for being.