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Re: [ontolog-forum] Fwd: Re: Using controlled natural languages for onto

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2011 14:03:42 -0500
Message-id: <0E3EA70D-F220-4FA2-B2F1-94A7BBE164B3@xxxxxxxx>
On Mar 19, 2011, at 7:40 PM, John F. Sowa wrote:
> Chris,
> I realize that it's not easy to get the point across...    (01)

That assumes you've got a point to get across. ;-) I'll accept that it's not 
easy to make your argument in a short space.    (02)

> ...but the short summary is that Frege was throwing the baby out with the 
>bathwater    (03)

>>> ... But there is some justification for it.  Frege
>>> (1879) set out "to break the domination of the word over the human
>>> spirit by laying bare the misconceptions that through the use of
>>> language often almost unavoidably arise concerning the relations
>>> between concepts."
>>> That sounds a lot like a witch hunt.
> CM
>> Against confusion and unclarity, I'd agree.  Against those
>> holding alternative philosophical viewpoints?  I don't see it.
> No.    (04)

In the spirit of constructive conversation, may I suggest "I disagree" as a 
superior alternative when it comes to differences of interpretation (as opposed 
to matters of demonstrable fact)?    (05)

> The claim that there is something wrong with NLs is
> a very strong and, I claim, misguided philosophical viewpoint.
> My claim is that NLs are just as precise as they need to be
> for whatever application they are used for.
> Frege's fallacy is a result of the value judgment is that precision
> is better than vagueness.  He explicitly said that a concept with
> vague boundaries isn't even a concept.  And he restated that view
> again and again throughout his writings.    (06)

But you need to bear in mind that Frege's central philosophical project was not 
the analysis of natural language generally but its application to the project 
of constructing a sound logical foundation for all of mathematics, where 
vagueness is not acceptable.  His apparently derogatory remarks about natural 
language have to be interpreted in that light.  The analysis of natural 
language generally was not his project.    (07)

> As late as 1970, Montague claimed that there is no essential difference 
>between natural languages and formal languages. His version of language had a 
>perfectly Fregean foundation, but it was useless for practical NLP.    (08)

Nevertheless, Montague Grammar yielding a great insights into the semantics of 
natural language that had never before been appreciated.  So it's not a 
complete picture and, in particular (if you are correct), doesn't address 
issues that are essential to NLP.  Let's not throw the baby out with the 
bathwater here, John. ;-)    (09)

> CM
>> This is of course an older and wiser Carnap, but it's a beautiful
>> expression of freedom to postulate whatever ontological categories
>> are useful for solving a given problem.
> Carnap wasn't a bad guy, but he drank too much of Frege's Kool Aid.    (010)

Or, perhaps, simply tried to hard to push a powerful paradigm beyond its 
intended limits.    (011)

> CM
>> Far from a villain, Quine (along with Church and, frankly, the
>> later Carnap) is one of the heroes -- perhaps the greatest --
>> in the story of the revival of metaphysics in the 20th century.
> No.    (012)

Vide above.    (013)

> I learned a great deal from Quine and Carnap, but they drank the Fregean Kool 
>Aid and never recovered from it.    (014)

The Jonestown analogy of unwitting drones under the spell of a megalomaniacal 
charlatan peddling false hope and a distorted reality is, to say the least, 
wildly inaccurate (not to mention rather comically grotesque). Far from slavish 
subservience, Quine scarcely mentions Frege in his work.  Frege's most direct 
influence is probably seen in Quine's work on set theory, which was however 
more directly influenced by Russell (who, of course, was himself strongly 
influenced by Frege).    (015)

As far as I can see, the only substantive criticism you've given is that 
Quine's project lacked the sensitivity to natural language that is necessary 
for NLP.  Perhaps you are right.  So what?  How does this lessen Quine's many 
positive (not to say, uncontroversial) contributions -- the indeterminacy of 
reference and translation, the underdetermination of belief/theory by evidence, 
the regimentation of language as a methodology for ontological investigation, 
the consequences of his uncompromising commitment to naturalism, etc?    (016)

> It's impossible to refute them in the same way that it's impossible to refute 
>a Freudian, a Marxist, or a Solipsist. They have a closed system that does not 
>admit any axioms to the contrary.    (017)

Really, John, I just do not understand the source of your animus.  The actual 
history of logic and philosophy in 20th century is much more subtle and complex 
than it is in your re-imagining of it.  Frege, Russell, Carnap, and Quine, in 
particular, were all far more flexible thinkers than you suggest.  They might 
well have gotten some important things wrong that negatively affected 
subsequent philosophical history, but the conspiratorial spin you give to that 
history  much which, rather ironically, you lay out with admirable detail, 
clarity, and insight in a lot of your own writings  is just not credible.    (018)

-chris    (019)

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