GFO Part I Basic Principles
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4 Ontological Levels

We assume that the world is organized into strata, and these strata are classified and separated into layers. We use the term level to denote both strata and layers. According to Poli (45,46) (based on the philosopher Hartmann), we distinguish at least three ontological strata of the world: the material, the mental/psychological, and the social stratum. Every entity of the world participates in certain strata and layers. We take the position that the levels are characterized by integrated systems of categories. Hence, a level can be understood as a meta-category whose instances are categories of certain kinds. Among these levels specific forms of categorial and existential dependencies hold. For example, a mental entity requires an animate material object as its existential bearer.

According to (45), we use the matter-form distinction to explain and understand specific relationships between certain kinds of entities. Thus, an atom may be understood as the matter of a molecule, the latter being already endowed with form, the molecules are the matter of the cell, and cells are the matter of multi-cellular entities. Each of these levels is captured by a system of categories. These categorial systems imply certain granularities; hence, granularity is a derived phenomenon. The passage from the material to the mental level cannot be understood as a matter-form dependency, here, new aspects occur with a new series of forms. The social stratum captures phenomena of communication, of economic and legal realities, language, science, technology, and morals etc.

Figure 1: Structure of the Material Stratum

According to (45), we have outlined the structure of the material stratum in figure 1. At the top, figure 1 shows the three main layers of the material stratum, which can be further refined. Every sub-level has its own family of objects; according to (45, table II, p. 268) there are:

ecology $\iff$ ecosystem
ethology $\iff$ population
physiology $\iff$ organism
cytology $\iff$ cell
genetics $\iff$ gene

In accordance with Poli's work, we divide the psychological/mental stratum into a layer of awareness and a layer of personality. Awareness is comprised mostly of cognitive science subjects, such as perception, memory, and reasoning. Personality, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the phenomenon of will, and an individual's reaction on her experiences.

The social stratum is subdivided into Agents and Institutions. Agents are the bearers of the social roles that humans play. Institutions are defined as systems of interrelated social components. A social system can be considered as a network in which businesses, politics, art, language (and many other facets) both present their own features and influence each other.

Robert Hoehndorf 2006-10-18


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