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Re: [ontolog-forum] Just What Is an Ontology, Anyway?

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 23 Oct 2009 13:42:33 -0400
Message-id: <4AE1EB09.8080508@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed, Adrian, and Chris,    (01)

I agree that is a necessary condition:    (02)

EB> What makes written knowledge an "ontology" is that the language
 > has a grammar and an interpretation of the grammatical constructs
 > that is suitable for automated reasoning.    (03)

But there are many kinds of knowledge that would not qualify as
an ontology.  A database full of low-level facts is suitable
for automated reasoning, but it is not an ontology.  The
knowledge of how to ride a bicycle is not an ontology,
even if it were translated to a form that could be used
for some kind of reasoning.    (04)

AW> For modern usage, I'd rate Ed Barkmeyer's definition
 > of 'ontology' as the most satisfactory so far.    (05)

It would be fine, provided that the kind of knowledge
needed for an ontology were distinguished from other
kinds that are not ontologies.    (06)

CM> what makes written knowledge an ontology is that it is expressed
 > in a logic (i.e., a formal language + model theory) with a
 > complete proof theory.    (07)

That is more precise, but it still requires the criteria that
distinguish an ontology from other kinds of knowledge.    (08)

In order to clarify the issues, I'd like to cite Tom Gruber's
definition:    (09)

    "An ontology is the formalization of a conceptualization."    (010)

That's a good definition of the conceptual schema work of
the 1970s.  It focuses on how people think and how a database
(or a knowledge base) can be organized in a way that represents
what people think or say in a way that a computer can process.    (011)

But by definition, the field of ontology is devoted to the
study, analysis, and specification of the kinds of entities
that exist, did exist, or may exist.  An ontology about
bicycles would include the fact that they're designed for
people to ride.  But it would not include knowledge or
conceptualization about specific bicycles or about how
people learn to ride them.    (012)

In short, we should distinguish ontology from knowledge.
If there is no difference, then I suggest that we drop the
more esoteric term 'ontology' and use the word 'knowledge'
or 'conceptualization'.  If there is a difference, then
it should be stated explicitly.    (013)

John Sowa    (014)

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