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Re: [ontolog-forum] Separating Pragmatics And Semantics -- Or Not

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 07 Aug 2007 11:51:41 -0400
Message-id: <46B8950D.7010609@xxxxxxxx>
Jon Awbrey wrote:    (01)

> JA = Jon Awbrey
> JU = Jenny Ure
> PH = Pat Hayes
> PH: Exchanging terms defined using an assertional language at least
>     holds out the hope of allowing information to be separated from
>     the processes which use it, which seems to be a prerequisite for
>     useful information exchange.    (02)

Being very careful, it is important to segregate the "body of sharable 
information" from the various processes that use it.  What is true is 
important to many intents, some of which are unforeseen.  But at the same 
time, we must realize that the motivation for communicating information is the 
accomplishment of some "joint" process.  So the information contained in a 
given communication is that which is relevant to the purpose/process at hand.    (03)

 From a technical point of view, I want to distinguish the "reference 
ontology" (the "body of shared meaning") that is the basis for communal 
interaction from the information set that is actually exchanged in a given 
communication.  In most cases, the latter is highly eclectic.  It eliminates 
both that which is irrelevant to the purpose at hand, and that which is 
presupposed to be common knowledge of the communicants.    (04)

And the "purpose at hand" is a major part of the "pragmatic context" for 
interpreting an utterance.  That purpose identifies the presupposed common 
knowledge that is relevant to the utterance.  It disambiguates otherwise 
ambiguous statements and references, and it overloads terms with connotations 
that are part of the intended meaning.    (05)

> JA: By "impractical semantics" I should have meant the notion that
>     one can detach semantics from pragmatics so radically that it
>     is possible to treat them as separate modules, in effect, to
>     "hold out the hope of allowing information to be separated
>     from the processes which use it".    (06)

So "semantics" is about "meaning" in a context of pure knowledge?  And is 
there such a thing?  I understand "semantics" to be the meaning that a body of 
speech or text (or some other communication form) is intended to convey.  To 
the extent that we can use a formal language and define precisely the meaning 
of its terms and terminological assemblies, we can be just that sure that the 
intended semantics of the producer is the same as the received semantics of 
the consumer.  So semantics-the-discipline is about getting precision in the 
relationship between communication forms and intended meaning.  But it is 
still all about what the producer WANTED to convey.  Semantics is about 
achieving intent.  So the question is really about the relationship between 
"intent" and "process".    (07)

> JA: I think it makes sense to do this as much as possible,
>     but the hope of making an absolute separation is what
>     I would consider a delusive hope.    (08)

And at the same time, I think it is not necessarily a hope of many.    (09)

Aristotle and "academic ontologists" may capture knowledge for its own sake. 
But most governmental and industrial organizations have much more "pragmatic" 
motives -- they capture only the knowledge they believe is relevant to a set 
of classes of processes they believe they will/may perform.    (010)

> JU: Very telling then that a distinguishing characteristics of
>     social systems, communities, is shared purposes and processes.    (011)

*A* common characteristic is correct.  And I would have said "shared purposes 
and joint/interactive processes".  The individual processes of the individual 
members may be enacted to achieve individual goals as well as, or instead of, 
common goals.  But subprocesses of those processes, whatever the overall 
objectives, involve interactions with other members of the community toward a 
local objective that somehow relates to the goals of the interacting 
participants.  When I buy from a shop, my purpose in the acquisition is my 
own; and when the shopkeeper sells, his purpose is to earn his livelihood. 
And yet a town is an effective community precisely because the roles of 
different individuals fill one another's needs, even though no one's 
particular objective is to make the town, or each other, succeed.
(It seems to be innate in humans to form emotional bonds that cause us to 
assist one another even when we don't see a direct benefit.  But ultimately 
that makes us take actions that help the community succeed without having the 
need to rationalize it that way.)    (012)

-Ed    (013)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (014)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (015)

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