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Re: [ontolog-forum] Two ontologies that are inconsistent but both needed

To: "Smith, Barry" <phismith@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, Pierre Grenon <pierre.grenon@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 17:22:03 -0500
Message-id: <p06230914c293742c2b69@[]>
Big snips to shorten the message...    (01)

>>>>After thinking and arguing about endurance and perdurance for 
>>>>longer than I care to remember, I have come a rather mundane 
>>>>conclusion which can be summed up as follows: the 
>>>>continuant/occurrent distinction is basically a distinction 
>>>>between *how we use names* when talking about spatiotemporal 
>>>>entities. It should not be seen as a fundamental ontological 
>>>>distinction: it is merely a linguistic distinction between modes 
>>>>of expression. Things we call continuants are things for which we 
>>>>tend to use the same name at different times, so it is natural to 
>>>>encode changes to their properties by attaching the temporal 
>>>>parameter to their properties and relations rather than to them: 
>>>>we write things like
>>>>(inside Fritz Bratwurst Morning)
>>>>but we don't tend to talk of Fritz having temporal parts. Special 
>>>>terminologies are used to distinguish these temporally-sensitive 
>>>>relations and properties: "fluents", "roles".
>>>>Occurrents, on the other hand, are things that we do tend to 
>>>>speak of as having temporal parts or 'episodes', so it is natural 
>>>>to formalize temporally-relative talk of those entities by 
>>>>attaching the temporal qualifier to the name itself. If Fritz and 
>>>>the Bratwurst were occurrents, we might write
>>>>(inside (episode Morning Fritz)(episode Morning Bratwurst))
>>>So there is a distinction between continuants and occurrents which 
>>>is prior to our use of names -- for otherwise in virtue of what 
>>>would we attach the first kind of name to the first kind of entity 
>>>and the second kind of name to the second kind of entity?
>>Simply from linguistic habit.
>If you apply term A to some sorts of things, and term B to other 
>sorts of things, then there has to be something about the As (the 
>things which get called 'As') and the Bs (the things which get 
>called 'Bs'), which allows us to make the assignment. It does not 
>seem to be entirely random.    (02)

Not random, no. It may be rooted in the noun/verb distinction. But 
this, it seems to me, is a matter best left to the linguists. There 
is a case to be made, which you seem to think is obvious, that a 
linguistic difference must reflect an ontological distinction. (I 
think this is often assumed without adequate justification, and is 
often false. Thinking about the history of 20th-century English 
philosophy, one might call it the Oxford fallacy :-)    (03)

>Moreover, it seems to be a habit which we all share, and are good at 
>exercising. Yet more evidence that there is some easily 
>apprehendable corresponding difference on the side of the entities.    (04)

Or simply that we all speak the same language, or languages with a 
common ancestor and similar structure.    (05)

But surely you do not think that a rigid, logically necessary, 
distinction can be based simply on a loose verbal habit?    (06)

>>My point is that such a habit does not necessarily indicate a true 
>>ontological distinction between kinds of entity. (At most, it would 
>>likely be a difference in scale or social importance. We give some 
>>atmospheric rotary events names, not others, based largely on the 
>>wind velocity in them.)
>Scale would precisely be the sort of differences I have in mind. 
>(Social importance wouldn't work, because that too would rest upon 
>some underlying [though perhaps oft' changing] difference on the 
>side of the entities.) But here it is not one or scale. What is it 
>then?    (07)

Well, since you ask, I think it arises from the fact that English is 
normally used in the present tense to speak about present 
circumstances. This A-series view produces many of the intuitions 
that seem to be used to justify the continuant idea of a thing that 
endures (just stand still and watch it enduring as time is 
passing...) while being always the same thing (of course its the same 
thing, it hasn't teleported or morphed into something else, or 
vanished and reappeared) and can be changing in its properties (see, 
its redder than it was a while ago) and is always wholly present when 
it is present (of course its all here now, where else would it be?). 
This set of intuitions and ways of thinking is very strong and very 
useful to creatures, like us, who are themselves inhabiting time. But 
this way of describing the world is not a good one to adopt for 
information (like an ontology) which is going to be archived, so 
which cannot possibly be thought of as inhabiting a moving present, 
an A-series. It has to be put into B-series language of earlier and 
later, times and dates. Continuants are ghosts of the A-series 
framework injected into the B-series, where they don't belong. This 
is both why we humans find them congenial and why they are a damn 
nuisance for a formal reasoner.    (08)

>>And in any case, for almost any such habit one can find cases where 
>>the opposite convention is used, and yet which are widely 
>>understood without explanation: which surely ought to be impossible 
>>or incoherent if indeed it reflected a true ontological difference 
>>between kinds of entity.
>This sounds like a famous (bad) Wittgensteinian argument against p 
>(for any 'p'). "There might be people behind a distant hill who 
>believe not-p."    (09)

I fail to see how this analogy applies. You are presuming that a 
linguistic difference must indicate an ontological distinction in 
reality. My point is that many things in the real world can be 
described in either way, so the linguistic difference cannot be such 
an indicator. In fact, virtually anything can be described in either 
...    (010)

>The principal biological ontologies make the distinction clearly, 
>and can talk perfectly well about continuants where needed and about 
>occurrents where needed. They are also increasingly well engineered.    (011)

I know the ontologies do. My point however is that the users often 
seem to have trouble making the distinctions. And certainly some 
ontologies would be improved, by being simpler and more transparent, 
if they did not make these distinctions.    (012)

>>>>Ive never seen any convincing pragmatic or engineering argument 
>>>>for insisting on this as a rigid distinction.
>One pragmatic argument is that it would be at this stage practically 
>impossible to turn great ships of state such as the gene ontology 
>through the necessary 180 degrees in mid-flow.    (013)

I am awed by such a stately analogy. But in fact no 180 degree turn 
is involved. A better metaphor might be to remove the sails that were 
put there because it was felt that all ships needed them. (Brunel 
made exactly such an adjustment to his first steam ship.)
...    (014)

>>>  I just choose (like driving on the left). I choose to distinguish 
>>>between continuants and occurrents.
>>Fine. But then the question arises as to whether your ontological 
>>framework, which requires this distinction, is of more use than a 
>>similar one which does not.
>I think we need to test this empirically. So far we are winning -- 
>the GO is, by several measures,the world's most successful ontology.    (015)

Ah, that is more like it. I agree you are winning. And it is 
refreshing to see philosophical arguments replaced by straightforward 
appeals to power and funding. As I have no funds to compete with, you 
will no doubt go on winning :-)    (016)

>>Should I take it that my impression from all the above is mistaken, 
>>and that you do not believe that this distinction is inherently 
>>important, but that it amounts simply to a convention?
>You are trying to tempt me once again into engaging in a 
>philosophical argument.    (017)

Hardly a philosophical argument. I asked you a question about your 
position, which to me at this point seems just the teeniest bit 
ambiguous. If you give me either answer, yes or no, I will not ask 
the question again.    (018)

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