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Re: [ontolog-forum] Terminologies and Ontologies

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 2011 17:39:26 -0400
Message-id: <4DBB300E.4030905@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Azamat,    (01)

The first point I want to emphasize is that the distinction between
formal vs. informal is not a value judgment.  There is no suggestion
that an ontology expressed in logic is better than one expressed
in ordinary language.    (02)

On the contrary, there are very many formal ontologies that are
significantly *worse* than informal ones.  Please note the poem
by Henry Kautz (copy below) which have quoted on many occasions.
In particular, note the following sentence:    (03)

    "With sufficient formality, the sheerest banality
     will be hailed by all as miraculous."    (04)

I also like to quote a statement attributed to Lord Kelvin:    (05)

    "Better a rough answer to the right question
     than an exact answer to the wrong question."    (06)

> In fact, Ontology is a description of the world. A formal ontology
> is a formal theory/account/model/specification of the world.    (07)

It would be very nice to have a formal ontology of everything,
but a prerequisite would be a finished, completely specified
theory that answered every open research question in science,
engineering, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc.    (08)

That won't happen for a long, long time, if ever.  But there are
many useful informal theories that are sufficient to cover most
of our requirements for our daily lives.    (09)

> As all sciences, one can divide ontology into three broad categories:
> descriptive, normative and exact (as in the ontology lattice diagram).    (010)

I had some serious concerns about that division.    (011)

First of all, nothing in science is normative.  The only normative
fields are aesthetics, ethics, and the law -- and for law, you
always have to ask about the authority of the lawgiver and the
extent of the jurisdiction.    (012)

Second, there is no such thing as absolute exactness in science.
A statement of a theory in mathematics can be exact.  But there
is no guarantee that the theory is true beyond those conditions
for which it was tested and the level of precision of the measuring
instruments.    (013)

Third, the most important criterion for any scientific theory
to be more than a summary of data is that it has predictive
power:   it can make predictions about what will happen in the
future, given certain observations in the past.    (014)

Since ontology is closer to science than it is to aesthetics,
ethics, or the law, the normative issue is not applicable.
Exactness is possible (i.e., an ontology can be formal), but
formality is no guarantee of truth or relevance.    (015)

________________________________________________________________    (016)

If your thesis is utterly vacuous,
Use first-order predicate calculus,
    With sufficient formality,
    The sheerest banality
Will be hailed by all as miraculous.    (017)

But for theses you fear indefensible,
Reach for semantics intensional.
    Over Montague grammar
    Your committee will stammer,
Not admitting it's incomprehensible.    (018)

                         --Henry Kautz    (019)

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