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Re: [ontolog-forum] a skill of definition - "river"

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Mitch Harris <maharri@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2009 00:08:14 -0500
Message-id: <553db06d0902152108y196a1894he237e505532d9e7e@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
On Sun, Feb 15, 2009 at 2:20 PM, John F. Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Mike and Mitch,
> I would like to comment on the following point:
> MB>> According to that definition the Okavango is not a river.
> MH> The Okavango surely is a strange kind of river.
>  >
>  > Do you really expect to hold natural language to the same
>  > strictness standards as formal ones?
> This question has nothing to do with the differences between
> natural languages and formal languages.    (01)

You say some interesting and relevant things in your exegesis below,
but I still think the difference between natural (maybe informal or
intuitive is better) and formal is relevant.    (02)

> As Kant observed, precision depends on the kind of concept, not
> on the kind the language used to define the concept.
> As Waismann observed, if you state a precise definition for an
> empirical concept (such as 'river'), you will simply exclude
> many reasonable examples, such as the Okavango River.    (03)

To address your Kant quote, natural language has a tendency to be
imprecise and formal language tends towards precision, there is the
relevance. Natural language will easily (reasonably) allow the
Okavango to be a river, but a formal language, or rather the
particular description given in a formal language (in the Ordnance
Survey link way above)  plainly does not, and I presume that that
particular language was not a default logic (which language might
allow as part of its formalism an exception like the Okavango).    (04)

Some languages are more precise than others, whatever the concepts
they attempt to describe.    (05)

Mitchell A. Harris
Research Faculty (Instructor in Computer Science)
Department of Radiology
Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School    (06)

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