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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontology vs OWL implementation

To: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Bill Andersen <andersen@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 1 May 2008 15:36:11 -0400
Message-id: <F2D9E9B7-AAF6-4B47-B97F-83EA4583B103@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

On May 1, 2008, at 15:03 , Pat Hayes wrote:

At 2:41 PM -0400 5/1/08, Bill Andersen wrote:

And yes, that is an ontology. Its not a very interesting ontology, but I see nothing whatever to be gained by trying to give criteria to distinguish 'mere assertions' from 'real ontologies'.

I did not advocate that position.  Others did; I stayed on the fence.

It seems pretty clear which side your legs are on, though.


I'd like to think there is something there.  I do not know that there is.  I do not know that there is not.  But it seems to me pretty basic that the failure to prove a proposition does not entail its falsehood. 

This kind of distinction is impossible to make precise, cannot be based on anything other than intuition or prejudice, and in any case is not the slightest use. So, to hell with it. To ignore it is good engineering, good methodology and (I submit) good philosophy. I propose to ignore it, and urge others to do the same.

The problem I have with the use of the term "ontology" in the way you suggest is that it is thereby just a synonym for perfectly useful and well-understood technical terminology that we already have.  Namely "logical theory".

Right. Though since not all ontology languages are really logics, it might be taken to have a wider extension.

I would expect you to be the first to pounce on them if they were not logics nor reducible to a theory in some logic.  I suspect we both take some kind of explicable formal semantics as a necessary condition for "ontology" in the engineering sense.

The only reason I can see for the use of the term "ontology" in this connection is to increase the chances of winning funding from people who still attach mystic significance to the term "ontology" that they would not to "logical theory"

Quite. But isn't that the only reason for using the word "ontology" under any circumstances?

No.  One would only be using it cynically if they were convinced there was nothing to the term other than in the sense of "logical theory" but chose to use "ontology" instead for tactical reasons.  A person could believe (wrongly in your view, but nevertheless earnestly) that there is something to "ontology" not captured by "logical theory".  That person might be wrong, but they are not being cynical.  Whether they are wrong is, I believe, an open question.

Surely you can't be in favor of introducing a new term that does no more and no less work than established terms of art in logic and automated theorem proving, can you?

I wouldn't be if the term really were new (and I resolutely ignored it when it was first introduced)

You mean the 1993 "new" or the 1600-something "new".  If the former I wish you'd go back to the old Pat :-D  I think you were better off.

but its no longer new, and we are now stuck with it. But it does a lot less harm if its merely a synonym than if its supposed to have some mystical importance inherited from philosophy or the latest vogue in management theory. Certainly I don't think we should be trying to invent some way to separate it from 'logical theory' simply in order to justify its existence.

No, certainly not.  

So, let's toss the word "ontology" for the moment and talk about the technologies and practices associated today with the use of that term.  Someone else a few message back asked what the difference is, then, between these practices and what data modeling practice and technology have been concerned with for the last 40-50 years.  What is new with the advent of these technologies and practices?

  * Lifting the burden of explicit management of identifiers as elements of data models?  Check.
  * Making things exchangeable on the web?  Check.
  * Automated theorem proving.  Bzzzt - not new

I don't see anything else (but I'm willing to be convinced).  Proceeding from the assumption there is nothing else, I say who cares?  All of the energy poured into the Semantic Web concept has all been based on an unsubstantiated hypothesis that somehow, coherence will emerge from little pieces of web-exchangeable logic floating around, the net effect of which will be measurably better than what IT has achieved in the 45 years preceding the Semantic Web.

Pat, you're big on evidence.  What evidence is there that the above hypothesis is correct?  What evidence is there that it is more correct than the hypothesis that there is something more to "ontology" than data modeling or automated theorem proving or the "new" features cited above?


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