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Re: [ontolog-forum] to concept or not to concept, is this a question?

To: paola.dimaio@xxxxxxxxx
Cc: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2007 12:15:37 -0500
Message-id: <p0623090bc297232a70d4@[]>
I agree with Pat C (below), but here's my special 
worry and why I'm going to try to do without the 
c-word. Take an example. Right now at weekends Im 
restoring an old house. My first Saturday task is 
to cut some furring strips: long thin pieces of 
wood nailed to the studs, used to make a wall a 
bit thicker (to give room for a drainpipe.) So, 
here's my question: is "furring strip" a concept? 
Hmm, I don't know. I certainly think about 
furring strips, and so if thinking involves 
concepts then there must be a furring strip 
concept, I guess. But I don't think I need to 
refer to it or talk about it. Concepts aren't the 
kind of thing that one can drive a nail through, 
and furring strips are. So apparently furring 
strips themselves are not concepts. And 'furring 
strip' is an English noun phrase, which I guess 
isn't a concept either; and the phrase means the 
wooden thing (or maybe the class of such things, 
or the property of being such a thing, or 
whatever: but not a concept, anyway). So concepts 
don't seem to come into the language story or the 
house-building story. Suppose I set out to make a 
house-restoration ontology and I have an OWL 
class called oldHouse:FurringStrip (which is a 
subclass of oldHouse:SmallWoodPart, etc.); then 
the class name is a URI and the class itself is a 
OWL class, and I don't need to speak of concepts 
to make sense of this. The OWL semantics doesn't 
mention concepts anywhere. So where do the 
concepts come into the story? What I certainly 
want to avoid is saying or implying that either 
the English 'furring strip' or the OWL 
oldHouse:FurringStrip *mean* or *denote* a 
concept. They both refer to something physical, 
or a class of physical things. I don't get houses 
built with concepts: I have to buy real, heavy 
stuff from Home Depot and drive it there in my 
truck. The safest way to avoid this mistake, I 
think, is to just not mention the concepts at 
all. I don't seem to need to mention them.    (01)

Pat    (02)

>Deborah, Patrick
>thanks -
>I have scanned Barry's  (intringuing) paper, but 
>do not have time to study in detail - being o 
>and c
>not central to my problems right now - I also 
>did  a keyword search in the paper for 
>concept,conceptual and  and conceptualization, 
>with zero results (bug in my world? - or have 
>they manged to make the c world disappear 
>without trace and still discuss the notions 
>attached to  it in the paper? - please indicate 
>what page/line is the argument if you could)
>Will  study in more detail when I have time.
>You mean there is no actual concrete proposal to 
>ban the term 'concept' from the discourse, 
>rather an informal suggestion or just avoid it - 
>I would agree that we need to objectivize what 
>is in our mind, and that ontology building is 
>part of that effort. But the mind (individual) 
>is the only organ that we have capable of 
>producing abstraction
>and not sure if we should detach ourselves from 
>the only generic term that we have to refer to 
>the representation of that abstraction (the 
>conceptualization) that we are capable of. 
>I need to project the product of my mind (a 
>concept) into the physical world, and need an 
>umbrella term for it (apologies for the 
>circularity).  Linguistic fuzziness has a role, 
>although I agree it is not always the best 
>I remember when I went to school teachers asked 
>us to avoid using the term 'thing' and asked us 
>to make an effort to use a more appropriate word 
>, for example, instead of saying I feel 
>something (undefined) we should look for a more 
>appropriate vocabulary (I feel an emotion, or I 
>feel this and feel that), thus helping us to 
>develop our linguisti skills by learning how to 
>use more precise words
>I am not sure that our languages are adequately 
>developed to be able to support and express all 
>the abstract generalizations/ concepts that the 
>mind can conceive, maybe thats why we use a 
>generalization of something abstract that we do 
>not have words for as 'concept'. Generalizations 
>are necessary because they allow anyone to 
>visualize their own thing, 
>But if it is a choice of words that you are 
>after (avoiding to use a term which is 
>potentially confusing to some) then I respect 
>the choice, except that I wont be able to find 
>relevant paragraph where the notion of 'concept' 
>is discussed if you avoid it.
>I still think if we avoid 'concept' and derived 
>words, we need to find a set of valid 
>substitutes, lest we find ourselves lost for 
>words - representation of the abstraction 
>perhaps is an equivalent expression, or should 
>we avoid that too, and the entire class of terms 
>that refer to generic abstract representations?
>I think 'notion' is a word I use as a synonym of 
>concept, (rather than umbrella?), but somehow it 
>is not so 'expressive' , and maybe would end up 
>with the same issue later on?
>Or maybe, just maybe, the word concept is a 
>little abused, a cover word for when we dont 
>know what to say really. The rather than avoid 
>it, we should learn how to use it only when 
>boh -  what a  problem eh?
>((ignore me))    (03)

Sorry, I won't ignore you, you raise such nice issues.    (04)

>On 6/14/07, Cassidy, Patrick J. 
>    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:
>a general notion or idea; conception.
>an idea of something formed by mentally 
>combining all its characteristics or 
>particulars; a construct.
>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.
>On Behalf Of 
>Sent: Thursday, June 14, 2007 8:17 AM
>To: [ontolog-forum]
>Subject: [ontolog-forum] to concept or not to concept, is this a question?
>I am writing up against a deadline and suddenly 
>I realise that one of the foundational artifacts 
>in ontology is being questioned on this list 
>'the concept'. and 'the conceptualization'
>  If I take out the word concept from all the 
>papers that I am referencing, ontology as a 
>science end ups like a colander, full of holes
>If I take out concepts from my mind, my brain 
>stops thinking. I cannot see anything anymore. I 
>go blind Everything in my mind is a concept, as 
>far as I can tell.
>Yet I now feel that, given these discussion, 
>maybe I should justify the word 'concept each 
>time I use it (by concept I mean....)
>somehow this is slowing me down This question has started to bug me
>I personally think that 'concept' is a rather 
>elementary and necessary expression of thinking 
>and a artifact of knowledge representation
>Have you,  guys who don't think with concepts, 
>written a paper, are you serious, or just 
>joking? What are you going to substitute concept 
>Thanks a lot
>Paola Di Maio *****(slightly disturbed)
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>Paola Di Maio *****
>School of Information Technology
>Mae Fah Luang University
>Chiang Rai - Thailand
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