|To:||"[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>|
|From:||"Cassidy, Patrick J." <pcassidy@xxxxxxxxx>|
|Date:||Thu, 14 Jun 2007 09:43:04 -0400|
I feel your pain.
I believe that "concept" in most communities is used as a vague non-technical term that means "any mental structure used in thinking", and is useful for talking about things (mental structures in the brain - the result of neurological processes) whose exact structure we do not presently have the technology to discover, and in that sense is perfectly useful in general and technical discussions as well, provided that we do not try to actually fix on some rigid definition as the only possible meaning. Here are dictionary definitions from The Random House Webster:
1. a general notion or idea; conception.
2. an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct.
3. a directly conceived or intuited object of thought.
The issue that Barry Smith is particularly concerned about is whether the mathematical/logical structures we put into our ontologies should represent some mental structure in our brain, or represent the physical objects and processes in the real world. Whether there is a "real world" of abstract things like numbers that can be represented independently of how we think about them is another issue.. The way I have viewed the issue is that it is indeed my intention, like Barry's, to represent things in the real world as the "referent" for the structures in my ontologies. But I am acutely aware that in fact I am representing my own understanding of those things in the real world - and so is everyone else, which is why our ontologies differ and we have these wonderful stimulating discussions.
If I understand him, Barry's point of avoiding "concept" is to focus on the things that are significant in the physical systems we deal with, and avoid excessive, experimentally unverifiable, and potentially confusing abstractions. That's reasonable. I myself personally don't think it is necessary to avoid using the term "concept" in technical matters, provided that we are clear that it is a vague general term not intended to have any precise technical meaning.
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