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

To: Ontolog <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Jon Awbrey <jawbrey@xxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 08 Aug 2007 10:22:14 -0400
Message-id: <46B9D196.7CD842FA@xxxxxxx>
o~~~~~~~~~o~~~~~~~~~o~~~~~~~~~o~~~~~~~~~o~~~~~~~~~o~~~~~~~~~o    (01)

EB = Ed Barkmeyer
JA = Jon Awbrey
JU = Jenny Ure
PH = Pat Hayes
RM = Richard Murphy    (02)

Re: http://ontolog.cim3.net/forum/ontolog-forum/2007-08/msg00177.html
Note.  New comments by JA unindented below, tacitly correcting typos.    (03)

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.    (04)

EB: 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.    (05)

JA: Of course this is true to a very large extent.  One of the foremost
    utilities of information or knowledge is the fact that something that
    someone learns in one context can often enough be tranferred to someone
    else's advantage, or to the advantage of one's own later self, in another
    context of purposes.  Let's call this the "transfer property" of information
    or knowledge, or if you'd prefer a Kantian flavor, the "analogy of 
    And the fact that one can succeed in doing this at all is a symptom of being
    in what some have called a "learnable environment".  Now, it has to be one
    of our regulative assumptions that we reside in a learnable universe, or
    else there is little hope of our surviving, much less advancing at all.    (06)

EB: 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.    (07)

JA: The names for this "reference ontology" are probably legion.
    We have most recently Richard Murphy's mention of Barwise and
    Seligman's "channels" and "cores", and also Peirce's "commens":    (08)

RM: http://ontolog.cim3.net/forum/ontolog-forum/2007-08/msg00159.html#nid03    (09)

JA: In the context of information processes, it reminds me a little of things
    like "prior distributions".  I do not know if all these things are the same,
    but they do appear to be indicating something alike at "core", so to speak.    (010)

EB: 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.    (011)

JA: In some of my own writing, I have referred to a theme that I dubbed
    "Big Pragma, Little Pragma", the obvious point being that we always
    work within a context of supergoals and subgoals, arranged no doubt
    in some Great Chain Of Doing that abides immanent in all that we do.    (012)

JA: It is generally recognized that the aspect of semiotics that we call
    "pragmatics" has something to do with context, but Peirce's theory
    of triadic sign relations handles context in a somewhat different
    way than many later approaches to pragmatics try to deal with it.
    To my way of thinking, Peirce's way is more general, insightful,
    and more successful, but that of course is up for discussion.    (013)

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".    (014)

EB: So "semantics" is about "meaning" in a context of pure knowledge?    (015)

I don't have much experience with any form of knowledge that I'd dare
call "pure", but it's certainly a rule of thumb to say that semantics
is about meaning.  The road forks at that point -< some people saying
that meaning is a matter of the relation that a sign bears toward its
objects, some folks thinking that meaning is a matter of the relation
that a sign bears toward its intended concepts or qualities, and then
the road forks again -< what in the world do we intend by our notions
of "concepts" and "qualities", anyway?  Then there are those pilgrims
that jump on their donkeys and ride off on all of those paths at once.    (016)

The first path out of the first fork is usually described clearly enough
as the path of "denoting objects" or "referring to referents" -- Frege's
"Bedeutung", more or less -- while the second path is rather more hemmed
and hawed about under the lights of the "connotative" concept of meaning.
The varieties of logic and semiotics that follow Peirce will tend to try
various different ways of integrating these two or more aspects of sense.    (017)

Have to break here ...    (018)

Jon Awbrey    (019)

EB: 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 term-
    inological assemblies, we can be just that sure that
    the intended semantics of the producer is the same
    as the received semantics of the consumer.    (020)

EB: 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".    (021)

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.    (022)

EB: And at the same time, I think it is not necessarily a hope of many.    (023)

EB: Aristotle and "academic ontologists" may capture knowledge for its own sake.
    But most governmental and industrial organizations have much more 
    motives -- they capture only the knowledge they believe is relevant to a set
    of classes of processes they believe they will/may perform.    (024)

JU: Very telling then that a distinguishing characteristics of
    social systems, communities, is shared purposes and processes.    (025)

EB: *A* common characteristic is correct.  And I would have said "shared 
    and joint/interactive processes".  The individual processes of the 
    members may be enacted to achieve individual goals as well as, or instead 
    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.    (026)

EB: (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 
    need to rationalize it that way.)    (027)

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