Contrarily, John, I think much more has been learned about the semantics of natural language by the development of formal semantics. Logical models of semantic phenomena have increased our understanding of what natural language does and how it works. Prior to the rise of model-theoretic
methods and formalization in NL semantics, yes by Montague and others in the late 60s and 70s, there was a whole lot of rigmorole about semantic features, your features, my features, his and her features, and no systematized approach that could be rigorously built on. Prior to the greater adoption of logic in AI in the early-mid 1980s, I saw the same situation, i.e., very loosely characterized, informal, and often ad hoc models or even worse, implemented systems that purported to demonstrate and explain complex human cognitive capabilities. Yes, there were formalists prior to that, e.g., in particular John McCarthy and Pat Hayes, but the use of logic was not dominant at all, as many "semantic networks" demonstrated.
Additionally, I see the rise of the use of formal ontology in information systems, i.e., applied ontology, since the early-mid 1990s as one of the biggest advances in information systems, for very similar reasons: ontologies formally
model aspects of the real world, which are relatively precise, testable against reality, reusable, and interpretable to some extent by machines.
If we didn't have formal models, I fear that we would forever remain in the anecdotal and ad hoc world of system-building, and not appreciably advance science, nor sound engineering that builds on science.
I don't think that NL *is* logic, or ontology *is* logic. I think that logic and mathematics, i.e., formalization, is one of our best tools for advancing understanding about phenomena of the world.
Other comments below.
> This seems to arise from a combination of overenthusiasm for Western scientific method
> and a misunderstanding of the nature of language that borders on fear. In this view, language
> is a messy and highly imperfect medium that is not to be trusted, but rather must either be
> sidestepped entirely or be
beaten into submission by means of logic and formalism.
> This seems like an anti-science and anti-logic quotation, I hope out of context.
> It seems it is hard to be a computer scientist or engineer if you don't believe
> in science and logic.
I think that Leo doesn't get the point that Graeme is trying to make.
My interpretation of Graeme's comment is that certain logicians, such
as Frege, Russell, Carnap, and Montague, were hopelessly misguided
about the nature of language and its relationship to logic.
LEO: I think we will forever disagree about this, John, since I don't hold these folks in the same disfavor as you do. I think they helped build a principled foundation on which NL semantics could be analyzed, modeled, and issues and problems advanced.
JOHN: I completely agree with that interpretation. My three favorite
philosophers are Peirce, Whitehead, and
Wittgenstein. As logicians,
they were just as brilliant as the four above. But they also had
a much deeper and more realistic understanding of the nature of
language and its relationship to the world and to the people who
use it to talk about the world.
LEO: Also, I do not hold these folks in disfavor. I won't comment on whether they had a deeper understanding of the nature of language.
In my paper "The Role of Logic and Ontology in Language and Reasoning",
I make the point that it is disastrously misleading to claim that the
semantics of NLs is *based on* logic. Instead, it is more appropriate
to say that every version of logic and ontology that anybody has ever
proposed has been invented as an *abstraction from* NLs.
LEO: John, of course we use natural language to arrive at our models, our methods, our theories, our science. But the value of logic and mathematics, as it is to
other sciences, is that their use adds precision, testability, predictability, to what is often otherwise endless arguments that make no progress in building usable knowledge. Disputation is all good and well, but we want to have progress.
> I don't think the answer is to throw our hands up and say
> "Oh, language is ineffable, inscrutable!"
I completely agree. Peirce, Whitehead, and Wittgenstein would never
say that. See my paper with quotations from them.
LEO: Good. I think that logic, mathematics, and science helps us to get to a better understanding of what natural language is.
Dr. Leo Obrst The MITRE Corporation, Information Semantics lobrst@xxxxxxxxx
Information Discovery & Understanding,
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