Trouble Up at t’Ontological Mill: An Inconclusive Dialog

Cosmos + Taxis 4 (4):64-66 (2017)
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Grenon and Smith (2004) propose a framework for the ontology of things in space and time involving and invoking the distinction between continuants and occurrents, which has become a key element of Basic Formal Ontology (BFO). The terminology of SNAP (from “snapshot:” state of a continuant at a time) and SPAN (how an occurrent develops over an interval or timespan) occurs in that paper’s title. While any commonsense ontology will have a place for both continuants and occurrents, there is much room for philosophical debate on whether one of them is more basic than the other, or can be reduced to the other, or whether they are equally fundamental, or whether they are two different perspectives on the same reality. Grenon and Smith opt for the last of these. They call the accounts of continuants (SNAP) and occurrents (SPAN) both “ontologies.” They do not have a single ontology of all that is in space and time. This dialog throws a few of the common arguments around a bit and comes to no sure conclusion. But one of the characters bears a faint resemblance to a certain Buffalonian philosopher.

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Peter Simons
Trinity College, Dublin


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