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Re: [ontolog-forum] Presentism (was Re: Ontology of Rough Sets)

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2011 10:22:45 -0600
Message-id: <A8D78718-795A-4769-B23D-54D2FCAF81D5@xxxxxxxx>
On Feb 3, 2011, at 5:03 AM, Ronald Stamper wrote:
Dear Pat,

I refer to your message, below.

There's no contradiction.  Using signs to represent (by signifying rather than denoting) things in the past does not entail any claim about the existence of those things:

You can't make the contradiction go away simply by asserting that it doesn't exist. Pat's point is that, in the standard semantics of classical logic, the meaning of a name is the thing that it refers to.  Hence, under that semantics, you cannot consistently assert (a) that only things in the present exist and (b) some names refer to things that do not exist in the present.  (NB: It doesn't help to change the name of the semantic relation in question to "representation" rather than "denotation" or "reference"; the problem has to do with the fact that, for the presentist there are no things in the past for names to bear any semantic relations to.)  At the least, you need to provide an alternative semantics for names. Unfortunately, most all current work in ontology and the semantic web is based on classical logic.

for example, the characters and events in the novel I'm now reading and in last week's news reports.

There is, on the face of it, a very big difference between actual, concrete objects in the past and fictional objects.  At the very least, you cannot just glibly assert that there is no problem.  The literature in philosophy and linguistics on this topic is very large and the issues are complex and controversial.

Despite the non-existence of the things represented, those presently existing signs are useful to me now.  Past, future, distant and fictional things are semiological constructs available to me now.

So now we need a theory of semiological constructs, it would appear.

The fictional behaviour of Mr Pecksniff and Martin Chuzzlewit help me to adjust my evaluative norms and the reports about the overthrow of the Tunisian dictator read by my Egyptian friend cause him to alter his political behaviour.  

Indeed, you responded on 3 Feb to a MESSAGE I wrote on 27 Jan, not to me.  I may have died.  You, the highly intelligent, courteous scientist of whom I have an image may not exist but I'm willing to believe you exist because of the messages I get from the ontolog forum and especially from some of its other participants whom I remember meeting etc, making up a convincing theory to that effect that you are not a fiction.  

You would like me to live, as you claim to do, "in a world with a past and a future" but I resist because I am only confident that I live in a present filled with signs that provide vivid images and accounts that I can  TALK OF as a past or a future realisiing that I cannot visit them. 

I loose nothing by being a presentist but I gain the discipline of having to take less for granted and, as an information systems engineer, having to examine more thoroughly the information I use and the grounds on which its authority stands.

I can't think of a single argument why adopting a classical semantics in which it is possible to refer to objects in the past (as we seem unproblematically to do all the time in ordinary discourse) requires less discipline with regard to vetting the information we use than a presentist ontology. Moreover, there are strong pragmatic reasons for rejecting presentism, as allowing oneself the freedom directly to refer to and quantify over past individuals enables one to use the dominant logical framework for writing and reasoning upon ontologies without having to engage in a lot of sophisticated philosophical acrobatics (like "semiotic constructs").

Also as an IS engineer I gain insight into a very different kind of ontological structure, one that helps me to construct more robust systems.

Argument needed. I myself would find it enlightening if you would (a) provide an account of what a presentist system designed to support, say, scholarly work on the history of Ancient Rome would look like, detailing in particular how it would differ from a system based on classical semantics and (b) describe exactly the ways in which your system would be more robust than a classically-based system.

Chris Menzel

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