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Re: [ontolog-forum] {Disarmed} Reality and Truth

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 2 May 2007 11:23:45 -0500
Message-id: <0606D34A-5165-48D7-A39C-27C0B60FA830@xxxxxxxx>
On May 2, 2007, at 8:35 AM, John F. Sowa wrote:
> ...
> Following is a book with lots of good illustrations of
> that point:
>     Schiappa, Edward (2003) _Defining Reality:  Definitions
>     and the Politics of Meaning_, Southern Illinois
>     University Press, Carbondale.
> A quotation from that book:
>     "When are definitions political?  Always."    (01)

Yes, I've always been particularly suspicious of the definition of  
"prime number".  I mean, by singling 2, 3, 5, etc out as "prime", are  
we not thereby marginalizing those numbers that are tarred as "non- 
prime"?  Are we not in danger of driving them inevitably toward a  
radical "composite" ideology? :-)    (02)

> One of Schiappa's examples is the word 'wetlands', whose definition  
> is a political football -- being kicked around by every conceivable  
> special-interest group.    (03)

I think there is a very good point here, but we should at the same  
time be wary of those who see a political motivation behind every  
action.  A definition *could* be controversial in some cases, if the  
term in question ("wetland" is a great example) is one that already  
carries a lot of political baggage.  But for the most part the point  
of a definition in an ontology is simply to make explicit one's  
intended meanings in order to enhance sharing and reuse; if your  
definition of T doesn't agree with mine, we simply find some way of  
marking the term differently if we want to integrate our ontologies.   
(Fully qualified URIs, of course, serve exactly this purpose in the  
context of the SWeb.)  Even when a definition in an ontology is  
controversial, the fact that it is explicit is a virtue that enables  
rather than hinders discussion.  Too often, controversy and  
contention in the public sphere is driven by vague, ill-defined and  
emotionally loaded terms; cf, e.g., the uses of "liberal", "terror",  
"freedom", etc by Hannity, Limbaugh and their America-hating ilk.   
(Oops, too political? :-)    (04)

Chris Menzel    (05)

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