----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 9:58
Subject: [ontolog-forum] Artificial
Intelligence, Ontology and Epistemology
In the area of artificial intelligence, we are interested in developing
systems capable of exhibiting intelligent behavior. Some approaches to AI,
especially the most related to the symbolic paradigm, assume that the
knowledge about the world is a key aspect of the system to be able to do this.
These approaches usually take a stance "representationalist" that there is an
external world, a priori, to be represented internally using symbols. For
these systems, the world is what can be represented symbolically in
Working in this context of AI, I raised several questions, which to me
are intuitively related. But I still cannot verbalize this relationship
explicitly. I'll list a few...
I always had doubts about the status of the relationship between ontology
and epistemology in conceptual modeling and especially in AI. I found some
articles, like those of Roberto Poli, that explore the relationship between
these two areas:
"The Interplay Between Ontology as Categorial Analysis and Ontology as
In some sections, Poli said that ontology deals with "objects", while
epistemology deals with "concepts". What do you think of this?
In foundational ontology, as the UFO, which deal with universals and
particulars. Universals can be viewed as "objects" categorized by these
Guarino also makes some statements about these issues, in his article:
"Formal Ontology, Conceptual Analysis and Knowledge Representation". Then, I
highlight an excerpt:
"Epistemology can be defined as “the field of philosophy which deals
with the nature and sources of knowledge” [Nutter 1987]. The usual logistic
interpretation is that knowledge consists of propositions, whose formal
structure is the source of new knowledge. The inferential aspect seems to be
essential to epistemology (at least for what concerns the sense that this term
assumes in AI): the study of the “nature” of knowledge is limited to its
superficial meaning (i.e., the form), since it is mainly motivated by the
study of the inference process.
Ontology, on the other side, can be seen as the study of the
organisation and the nature of the world independently of the form of our
knowledge about it. Formal ontology has been recently defined as “the
systematic, formal, axiomatic development of the logic of all forms and modes
of being” [Cocchiarella 1991]. Although the genuine interpretation of the term
"formal ontology" is still a matter of debate [Poli 1994], this definition is
in our opinion particularly pregnant, as it takes into account both the
meanings of the adjective "formal": on one side, this is synonymous of
"rigorous", while on the other side it means "related to the forms of being".
Therefore, what formal ontology is concerned in is not so much the bare
existency of certain individuals, but rather the rigorous description of their
forms. In practice, formal ontology can be intended as the theory of a priori
• among the entities of the world (physical objects, events, regions,
quantities of matter...);
• among the meta-level categories used to model the world (concepts,
properties, qualities, states, roles, parts...)."
The Guarino's statement raises three issues on which I had been thinking.
Two of them concern the relationship between ontologies, epistemology and AI,
and one that is a philosophical question.
1-I am starting to work with ontologies. But by the definitions of
ontology and the way they are presented in the literature, I suspected that
the inferences are not subject of ontology. I'm working with expert systems in
the field of Geology. In this expert system, from the description of the
visual features of the rocks (described in terms of a domain ontology), one
can generate interpretations about the physical processes that created this
rock. This relationship between the visual characteristics of the rock and the
physical processes seems a matter of epistemology. Am I correct? Can someone
help me clarify this relationship?
2-How the ontology and epistemology are related in this case? Even though
this relationship (between rocks and processes) is empirical, it uses the
domain ontology. These inferences (occurring in the mind of an expert), seem
to be a matter of epistemology. The inference seems to involve a visual
comparison between the expert's knowledge (a pattern, perhaps represented in
an inference rule) and what she/he sees. But ontology seems to play a
structural role here. Without ontology, we would not have rock and process
concepts. Am I correct? What do you think?
3-In the ontology, as philosophical activity, the ontology is an outcome
of a top-down process, a bottom-up process or an interplay between both? It
presupposes a relationship with the sensible world, or we are working with "a
priori" contents? We perceive objects without first conceptualize them (turn
them into a category in an ontology)? This question seems to be related to the
philosophy of Kant. In ontology, what's more, my mind or the world? What do
PS: My English is not very good, unhappily.
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