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[ontolog-forum] [ontology-forum] Stuff (follow on from primitives discus

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From: "Ian Bailey" <ian@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 2010 10:50:21 -0000
Message-id: <045d01caa651$049ed3c0$0ddc7b40$@com>



As a test for just how feasible a foundation ontology is, maybe it’s worth looking at one particular “primitive” (I don’t think I’m implying a logical primitive here, but an ontic primitive). Most ontologies I’ve seen have, somewhere near the top of their type hierarchy, some class whose members are physical things. What those members are depends on what decisions were made when the ontologists set out to build their ontology. Chris P calls these “metaphysical choices”, and as Pat H rightly pointed out, these tend to be the cause of the ossification in large ontologies.


My question is whether we can build an ontology covering all these types of physical thing. I have heard there are ontologies that:


1)      Go fully 4D (b-series, perdurance theory). In this case, anything that has a spatio-temporal extent is a member of the class usually called “Individual” (IDEAS), “Possible Individual” (ISO15926) or “Element” (BORO). There may be other fully-4D ontologies with different names for spatio-temporal extent, but I’m not aware of them. These spatio-temporal things can have states, and this is usually how change over time is treated – e.g. I can talk about the state that is me yesterday, or me today and make assertions that are only true for those states.

2)      Go partially 4D – endurance theorists believe in enduring processes, but not enduring objects. Processes can have states, but objects cannot. Note that for a perdurant ontology (1), the process is just another individual/element – it is the mereological fusion of all the parts of the individuals that participate in the process. I think BFO is in this category (though I haven’t looked in detail)

3)      Go 3D – I don’t know much about how these ontologies work, but I’m told they constitute the majority of ontologies.

4)      3D+1 – I have absolutely no idea what this is, but a UK Govt research centre recently rejected a proposal I put in because they had concluded 4D wasn’t required and they were adopting a “3D+1” approach. If anyone has the slightest idea what this is (I suspect they didn’t) then I’d welcome some input


(this is almost certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s certainly large enough to illustrate there is a problem to solve)


Now, despite religious differences on the treatment of time, it is tempting to think there is some common theme to these things. They are all descriptions of physical stuff, after all. If so, how do they relate ?  I’m not entirely sure the relationships can be accurately identified.


I think that unless this can be modelled, there is no hope for a foundation ontology. What’s more, this is not the only issue that would have to be cleared up. Some ontologies (I think DOLCE is one) are intensional in their use of classification – i.e. two classes can exist with the same members but different names. Others, such are extensional – the class is uniquely identified by its members.





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