chapter  9
Propositions to an extension of the Onion Model of Reality
Pages 37

The central task of this chapter is extending the onion model of reality (OMR as presented in Mattessich 1991, 1995a, 2003) by means of a set of informal propositions or rather ‘proposals’. This model was originally conceived to serve a relatively practical purpose; namely, to aid accountants in coming to grips with the question to what extent such basic economic notions as capital, debt, income, etc., can be considered real. Such a pragmatic orientation seems to require relative simple solutions. This may create a dilemma. On one side, accountants might think that such a presentation contains already too much philosophical jargon and intricacies; on the other side, professional philosophers might argue that ontological issues cannot be reasonably discussed without certain conceptual subtleties. I have to disagree with both views. Accountants too are capable of participating in the search for what is real or, at least, in what respect something should be considered real. Undoubtedly, philosophical subtleties enrich the picture and deepen the insights, but everyone is confronted with reality. Hence, sooner or later, all of us have to decide what to take for real and in what respect; and to do so accountants have to familiarize themselves with some basic philosophical terminology. Philosophers and scientists may help us in this quest but, ultimately, every person has to find his own answer – hopefully a thoroughly reflected one. Furthermore, the term ‘onion model of reality’ (originally introduced as a suggestive metaphor) stands ultimately for the evolutionary approach to ontology. There, the evolutionary layers or spheres of reality are centre-stage and form the backbone of ontology. I believe the first step to comprehend reality is to start with its evolution, i.e. with the question ‘how did reality come about?’. And this cannot be answered solely by physics. For example, such book titles as The road to reality: a complete guide to the laws of the universe by Roger Penrose (2004) are misleading because these books (as ingenious they may be) deal almost exclusively with physical reality. But what about biological and social-cultural realities? It is true, in the vastness of the universe these realities and their laws may refer to exceedingly rare instances, but in our world they are immensely important. And despite their dependence on physical laws, they

cannot be reduced to them. They arise from emergent properties created in the cauldron of innumerable chaotic random events – they could not have been predicted with any certainty but can be comprehended – if at all – merely in hindsight. Strangely enough, among the innumerable attempts to construct ontologies, relatively few have bothered to take the evolutionary structure of reality as the central focus. Nicolai Hartmann (1933, 1940, 1948) seems to have been the first, or one of the first, to incorporate evolutionary strata into his comprehensive ontology. Others who took such evolutionary aspects seriously were Mario Bunge (1977, 1979), Donald Campbell (1974a, 1974b, 1990), Konrad Lorenz (1973, 1977), and Roberto Poli (1999, 2001a, 2001b, 2003, 2006), and a group of followers of Hartmann (see Werkmeister 1990; and the website of the ‘Nicolai Hartmann Society’: who acknowledge and propagate Hartmann’s pertinent endeavour.