Ontology of Finance

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Venue: Park 141, University at Buffalo (North Campus)

Date: Saturday, May 7, 2022

This will be a hybrid meeting. Those intending to participate in person should contact Gloria Sansò <gsanso@buffalo.edu> before May 5.

The workshop is funded by the International Social Ontology Society (ISOS) and by the Department of Philosophy, University at Buffalo


φ = speaker will be physically present

9:00 am Barry Smith: Introduction and welcome φ

9:15 am Achille Varzi: Derivatus Paradoxus φ

10:00 am Olivier Massin: Providing, exchanging, selling


10:45 am Francesco Guala: Performativity rationalized

11:15 am Emiliano Ippoliti: What is a financial crisis?

11:45 am Asya Passinsky: Cryptocurrency: commodity or credit?


13:15 pm Samir Chopra: From artifact to agent: artificial agents and the law of legal agency φ

14:00 pm Gloria Sansò: Foundations for an ontology of finance φ

14:30 pm Christian Sprague: Towards a market ontology φ

(All indicated times are EST - Eastern Standard Time)


Derivatus Paradoxus - Achille Varzi (Columbia University)

Providing, exchanging, selling - Olivier Massin (University of Neuchatel)

On the standard view, an exchange consists in a transfer of goods motivated by inverse preferences. On the action theory I developed with E. Tieffenbach, an exchange consists in mutual provisions of goods or services motivated by convergent preferences and prompted by offers. I shall address two questions left open by the action theory. First, by providing a taxonomy of the various ways in which entities can be provided to persons. And second by proposing a definition of what selling and buying consist in.

Performativity rationalized - Francesco Guala (University of Milan)

Can the models of economics and finance be “performative"? Sociologists have been criticized for using the term “performativity” in a way that seems unfaithful to Austin’s notion. I will defend this usage, in particular against the claim that economic theories cannot constitute illocutionary acts. I will argue that a performative speech act in Austin’s sense is essentially a correlation device, and I will illustrate how such a device may work, focusing on MacKenzie’s study of the Black–Scholes model of option pricing. The goal is to show that Austin’s speech acts and the models of economic theory may perform similar functions in certain conditions. So economics may be performative in Austin’s sense.

What is a financial crisis? Why a crisis? Some remarks on its ontological and epistemic preconditions - Emiliano Ippoliti (University of Rome - La Sapienza)

What is a financial crisis? Why a crisis? The answers to these fundamental questions require that we characterize the ontological as well as the epistemic state of a financial market, by identifying the causes of a financial crisis, the basic entities involved, and the relations between them. In my talk, I will examine some of the main theories on financial systems — such as the efficient market hypothesis, the reflexive market hypothesis, econophysics, and so forth — in order to conceptualize financial crises. In more detail, I analyze how these theories: a) distinguish different causes (e.g. ‘endogenous’ vs ‘exogenous’ factors, ‘remote’ vs ‘proximate’); b) vary in the way that they conceive the basic entities and units of analysis (e.g. individuals vs aggregate); c) define what we can know about those causes and entities, and what they can reveal about an impending financial crisis. I use stock market crashes as an example to outline some of the ontological and epistemic preconditions for a financial crisis.

Cryptocurrency: commodity or credit? - Asya Passinsky (Central European University)

To this day, many theorists regard the commodity theory and the credit theory as the two main rival accounts of the nature of money. Yet cryptocurrency has revolutionized the institution of money in ways that most commodity and credit theorists could hardly have anticipated. Given that cryptocurrency is a new form of money, the question arises whether the commodity and credit theories can adequately account for it. I argue that they cannot. I first offer an interpretation of the commodity and credit theories according to which these theories uphold differing claims about the origin of money, the ontology of money, and the function of money. I then argue that thus understood, neither theory can accommodate cryptocurrency. I conclude by proposing a novel hybrid account of money that draws on aspects of both the commodity and credit theories, and I argue that this hybrid account can accommodate cryptocurrency.

From artifact to agent: artificial agents and the law of legal agency - Samir Chopra (Brooklyn College, CUNY)

Foundations for an ontology of finance - Gloria Sansò (University at Buffalo)

In this paper, we offer preliminary thoughts on some entities that are central to a BFO-conformant ontology of finance. We focus especially on three terms: ‘act of investment’, ‘investor role’, and ‘investor role requirements’. We first show that, unlike many other social roles such as minister, president, and Phd student, the role of investor is rarely acquired by fulfilling formal requirements. Most of the time, a person acquires the role of investor simply by investing. We then consider ‘act of investment’ and its placement in the taxonomy of social acts. We tentatively argue that ‘act of investment’ is a sub-class of ‘act of buying’.

Towards a market ontology - Christian Sprague (Cornell University)

In this paper we propose three terms that lay the foundation for a Market Ontology (MO) that is conformant with Basic Formal Ontology (BFO). Finance, marketing, and economics professionals use a wide swath of market related terms, but currently do not use them in reference to a domain ontology. MO is intended as a tool that situates these terms into a representational artifact which can be reused in contexts that address human social behavior related to economic activity. In this paper we present our definition for three terms: market, marketplace, and market region. To do so, we first compare several definitions for the term “market”, highlight the common features ascribed to the term, and propose our definition. Next, we propose definitions for the terms marketplace and market region. We conclude with a forward-looking discussion on the development of a MO.


Barry Smith is a well-known contributor to both theoretical and applied ontology

Achille Varzi

Olivier Massin is professor of philosophy at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. He has published on forces, efforts, touch, mixtures, desires, pains, pleasures, emotions, exchanges, ownership, determinables, continua, values, optimism

Francesco Guala is a philosopher and experimental economist interested primarily in the foundations and methodology of social science. He teaches at the University of Milan, where he is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Philosophy, and director of the PhD programme in Mind, Brain and Reasoning

Emiliano Ippoliti

Asya Passinsky is an assistant professor of philosophy at Central European University in Vienna. She works in metaphysics, social philosophy, and feminist philosophy

Samir Chopra is Professor of Philosophy at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has worked on logics and legal theories for artificial intelligence, and the philosophical implications of free software. He is a certified philosophical counselor and is currently writing a book on philosophical theories of anxiety, contracted to Princeton University Press

Gloria Sansò is a PhD student at the University at Buffalo and a member of LabOnt - Center for Ontology. Her main interest is social ontology with a special focus on the financial sector

Christian Sprague is completing his graduate work at Cornell University in the Systems PhD program. Christian’s transdisciplinary research looks at the markets through the lens of complex systems science. He combines applied ontology, complexity economics, and agent-based modeling to represent and analyze market structures and processes. His framework gives new understanding for defining markets, monitoring how they work, and guidance on directing their evolution