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Interview with Julio Olalla

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Interview Conducted by William Bergquist

[This article first appeared in the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, 2008, 6(2), 6-33. Reprinted with permission of Professional Coaching Publications, lnc.]

Bill. When I look at your work, obviously a key word is ontology, which has a long history, meaning many things.  What a crazy thing to do to try to capture that word and revitalize it.  Tell me, how did you pick this term, ontology?

Julio. Actually, it came from, I would say, a confusion in the beginning when we centered our work on language.  We talked about the ontology of language specifically- that was the issue. We said that the ontology of language, from the Greek up to now, was fundamentally the ontology of description. Language was descriptive. But then we said we needed a new ontology of language. Language cannot be seen only as descriptive; language needs to be seen as generative.

So, we changed the ontology of language from the Greek tradition. I’m making a generalization, of course, but in a general sense, we moved to the ontology that was proposed by Wittgenstein and Searle and Austin. When we speak, we generate a new future, not just describe ‘how things are’, so the words we use, the story we tell, impact what is possible and not possible for us as human beings.

Bill. One of the philosophical traditions is that of defining ontology as something about the nature of being, and, in the Western tradition, bring is a very static concept. I am this and I am not that. So, you’re going right into the dragon of static philosophy and you’re trying to make it generative. That’s gutsy.

Julio. So, for anyone who doesn’t know the term ontology, ontology means a theory of being, that’s what it is. So, we were challenging the theory of being that we had engaged in as Western culture for 25 centuries.  That is an extraordinary work of people like Wittgenstein, Searle and other philosophers.

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