Ontology of Men and Women

Lately I’ve seen a few people on social media spout that men and women have different ontologies. They say this as a way to attempt to show that women by our very ontology are inferior to men. I am not going to touch on their reasoning or try to change anyone’s mind regarding inferiority and subordination of one sex to another. Instead I’m going to get right to the philosophical heart to obliterate the faulty presupposition.

What is Ontology?

Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that is concerned with being and identifies the kinds of things that actually exist. It also has to do with the category of being. In other words, ontology deals with categorizing things that exist. Starting with the definition, it seems odd to separate men and women into two different categories of being. After all, categories of living creatures are usually divided up by species, and no one would say that men and women are separate species.

According to evolutionary anthropology, ontology of humanity is based on the individuation of humans. This is how they separate the ontology of persons from those who are not. While in the modern evolutionist’s mind, this is simply the difference between homo sapiens and human ancestors and animals, at one time evolutionists made ontological distinctions among humans. Anyone who has examined the implications of social Darwinism understands how dangerous it is to separate the ontologies of personhood among different classes of homo sapiens. Someone could point out that just because truth is dangerous when applied wrongly does not make it untrue. I agree, so the question to be posed is is it true that women are separate in their category of being from men? Do women possess a different ontology of personhood from men? The burden of proof lays on anyone who would say yes, as he would have an insurmountable and illogical hill to climb. However, even though the burden of proof is on those who claim different ontologies within a single species, I will show from both philosophy and the Bible that men and women are ontologically the same.

Ontology in Philosophy

In classic metaphysics, being is often associated with substance. According to Aristotle, a substance is implied in its predicate. Leibniz, a Lutheran philosopher, wrote, “The predicate is in the subject.” What this means is that what we do is inseparable from who we are. “The nature of an individual substance or of a complete being is to have a notion so complete that it is sufficient to contain and to allow us to deduce from it all the predicates of the subject to which this notion is attributed.” Leibniz states this while explaining his notion of substances and to argue for compatibility of free will. For our purposes, I will focus on his understanding of substances. The predicate of human is contained in the substance and definition of human. Other than the scientific definition of homo sapien, what is human? And what does it mean to be human?

Aquinas wrote, “Wherefore, since the rational soul is the proper form of man, there is in every man a natural inclination to act according to reason: and this is to act according to virtue.” In contrasting humans and animals, Augustine of Hippo wrote that reason “does not grasp itself by anything other than itself… How would you know that you had reason unless you perceived it by reason?” By using reason, we perceive that we have reason. If we did not have reason, we would not be able to contemplate whether we had it or not. It is through this use of reason that we can learn of things outside of ourselves that we cannot directly perceive. Further, of all the material creatures it is only humans, men and women, who possess reason.

From these two great philosophers and men of God, we see that rationality is the form of the substance of a human being. The form of a substance is its ontological existence. Animals cannot perceive their existence through reason, but both men and women as humans and as the bearers of the imago Dei can.

Ontology in the Bible

Lastly, R. Scott Clark made an argument from Scripture that men and women share the same ontology. Clark wrote, “According to Scripture, both sexes are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). Both sexes fell in Adam (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12–21). Both sexes are redeemed by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone. Apart from the grace of God and a personal faith in Christ, both sexes shall stand condemned before God on the last day.” As beings created in the image of God that share the same telos, we also share the same existence and category of being.

While there are biological differences between men and women that helps to give us differing but complementary spheres, activities, and unique points of views within this world that should be fully utilized and celebrated, the fact remains that God created men and women to be His image bearers as rational creatures. Even with our differences, we are the same ontologically.

One thought on “Ontology of Men and Women

  1. I’m interested in paradigms and ontologies, and I’d like to know more about what people on social media were saying about the supposedly different ontologies of men and women when you wrote this post, if the links are still available. My own nascent thoughts on the question can be found in the post “The Special Case of Masculine-Feminine” on my own blog, which is about oppositional paradigms and their relationships.

    In general, I’d comment that ontologies, in the modern sense of the word, are flexible sets of “things that exist,” where the “existence” of something depends on the paradigm in use. For example, a strictly materialist paradigm holds that atoms exist fundamentally, while emotions do not; at best, emotions are some complex derivative of the behaviour of atoms. An artistic paradigm, on the other hand, might hold that emotions exist fundamentally, and have no use at all for a concept such as “atoms”; thus its ontology does not need to include atoms, and to this extent, atoms do not “exist.” Of course, in the real world, people straddle paradigms all the time, so that we adopt some when talking about physics, and others when talking about novels or films; and accordingly, we adopt different ontologies to carry on the discussion; and sometimes, we get mixed up and confuse the ontologies of different paradigms, in what Gilbert Ryle called a “category mistake.”.

    When it comes to the ontology of men and women, we might be using a physical paradigm of body parts, or a social paradigm of expected behaviours, or a biological paradigm of species of living things; and in each case we would talk about men and women in different ways, sometimes saying that they are essentially the same, and sometimes saying that they are essentially different. The question with respect to your own blog, is whether “essence” is an immutable given which we can find objectively in the world, or whether it is a human construct placed over our experience, by which we interpret that experience.


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