Your example suggests a somewhat trivial illustration of the approach I
have been trying to take. This approach is to try to use any existing
ontology or taxonomy that has already been defined by competent
authorities - I prefer the idea of a competent authority as a setter of
terms rather than an isolated exercise among ontologists. One competent
authority relevant to your example is Linnaeus and the taxonomy is the
Linnaean Taxonomy of Species. I gather this is maintained
gives us all the axioms we would need (and any changes to axioms) in
distinguishing one species from another. For example, when dogs were
reclassified as not being a distinct species but as members of the wolf
species, it didn't take an ontologist to change the axioms. The
competent authority updated the taxonomy.
One thing I have not yet found a satisfyingly authortitative ontology
for is legal terms, though there is some interesting work in Holland
which I intend to follow up. In the example you give here, members of
one species, homo sapiens, have additional legal facts about them. These
are nothing to do with Linnaeus but are additional axioms which would
ideally come from another ontology. I think that regardless of local
jurisdictional differences, it is pretty well established that certain
members of the species homo sapiens have an additional, legal fact about
they are able to be a citizen of a country, with certain
legal rights (the precise age of majority may vary from one jurisdiciton
to the next). This was obviously only universally applicable since the
abolition of slavery (finally outlawed in Saudi Arabia in 1954). The
same set of legal foundational terms would include additional
definitions of "Legal persons" as defined in different jurisdictions, of
which there is a great deal of commonality e.g. a company incorporated
by the issue of shares is a pretty universal kind of legal person. So if
and when there is a single, semantic standard for basic legal terms,
these concepts would be present. It would make sense to use these and
not to either replicate locally (as we have to at present) or to look to
some overarching FO project.
So in your example there are simple axioms that can be defined which
would address the question about whether an elephant
can be a citizen of
India (cows may pose a more interesting question...). These facts would
be found in a legal ontology and not (as your example seems to suggest)
through some observation of the differences between a human and an
elephant or an ape - those are not legal differences so would not be in
the legal ontology.
The point being that it should be possible, with a little effort and
research, to source the relevant axioms all and only from established
and authoritative sources of facts.
I've been meaning to chip in to this conversation for a while, but I
would like to suggest that it would be more productive to identify
formal sources of semantics that are widely recognised and use these as
the basis for foundational ontology material. In most cases these will
be simpler than dictionary terms as Pat C is suggesting, and more useful
for computer interoperation since many are developed
for applications in
which we use computers (for example XBRL for financial reporting). No
doubt not all of those standards will have mutually comprehensible
terms, and many will contain terms which are reducable to something more
primitive but are not (check out the UN FAO ontology for examples), but
what they would have is some provenance (and maintenance) of meaning.
Many industry standards still live in the era of data model or XML or
other messaging but would benefit from something reverse engineered into
a formal logical notation and perhaps we can help them with that. Many
are used in sharing of information among computers about things that
people care about and have common legal grounds (e.g. commerce,
financial, insurance) , so we should be unsurprised if the existing
interoperability of many data standards would be reflected by a useful
commonality in semantics, including identifable and
"primitives" or simple, extendable terms such as legal person, human,
goods, services and so on.
Ed Barkmeyer wrote:
> Pavithra wrote:
>> Dr. Sowa,
>> - An Elephant is an animal
>> - Clyde is an elephant
>> - Therefore Clyde is an animal
> Fine. Now let us use our very limited vocabulary in the following way:
> A citizen of a country is a person born in that country.
> A person is an animal.
> An elephant is an animal.
> Clyde is an elephant.
> Clyde was born in India.
> Is Clyde a citizen of India?
> Maybe. We can't deny the proposition.
> The problem is that we also need a vocabulary that provides the terms to
> distinguish "person" from
"elephant", and the definition of "person" has
> to include those "distinguishing characteristics". A person is an
> animal with some specific properties that distinguish "person" from
> "elephant" and, more problematically, from "ape" (or not). Experience
> teaches that it takes an enormous vocabulary to explicitly make all the
> distinctions people's brains have learned to make. It is in making all
> the necessary distinctions that the 2000-word vocabulary breaks down.
> The alternative of course is that you only need an axiom: No person is
> an elephant. But then you need a lot of axioms just to sort out
> persons, elephants, tigers and mongoose. And the volume doubles when
> you move to Australia.
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