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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: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 17:08:24 -0500
Message-id: <p06230901c296170697a7@[]>
>At 04:22 PM 6/11/2007, Pat Hayes wrote:
>>Big snips to shorten the message...
>>>>>>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", 
>>>>>>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.
>>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 :-)
>>>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.
>>Or simply that we all speak the same language, or languages with a 
>>common ancestor and similar structure.
>>But surely you do not think that a rigid, logically necessary, 
>>distinction can be based simply on a loose verbal habit?
>The issue is independent of the 'rigid, logically necessary', and in 
>any case points in the opposite direction. In virtue of what do we 
>reliably apply A rather than B (say to dead sheep lying in the 
>middle of the read) and B rather than A (say to incidents where 
>trucks send said sheep flying)?    (01)

Again, I think the answer is the business of psychologists rather 
than philosophers, but my guess would be that we tend to speak of 
entities which we ourselves can be located in, or be part of (even in 
imagination) in one way, while entities that we observe as a whole 
from the outside we tend to speak of in the other. Growing up in 
England, I always thought of a rainstorm in the 'occurrent' way, as a 
series of environmental changes that happened in sequence (sky 
darkens, temperature falls, it gets windy, raindrops fall, etc.), 
until the time I was driving east out of the Rockies and saw a huge 
plain extending to the horizon, with three huge, darkish objects 
floating above it which puzzled me until I saw that they were 
rainstorms, seen by me suddenly for the first time as actual objects 
stable in space and lasting for a time: in fact, as 'continuants'. I 
believe it was exactly the fact that they were things in the same 
space as me but seen from the outside that made me think of them as 
'objects' rather than 'processes', since when experienced from the 
inside, as it were, a storm has no boundaries, so can't be a 'thing'. 
The intuitive distinction between a cloud and mist has a similar 
basis. There is of course no real difference between mist and cloud.    (02)

A dead sheep can't be experienced from the inside, but an incident 
involving a truck can be. By the way, the incidents can be reasonably 
described as either continuants or occurrents; and a dead sheep, if 
not attended to, will quite quickly turn into something much more 
like a process than a continuant.    (03)

But of course my point is that these distinctions, while no doubt 
hard-wired into our pre-scientific  common-sense experiences of the 
everyday world, and hence incorporated into our language, have no 
actual objective meaning as ontological distinctions. They don't 
carve nature at her joints. They project onto nature a set of 
distinctions that have evolved in us, in our heads. Which is why they 
are both so seductive to our intuitions and also so clumsy when used 
to make a conceptual framework which is of wider utility, especially 
in the sciences.    (04)

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